Hello pedalling people. It’s about time I put some thoughts on paper for you tireless campaigners in these dystopian times. The role of Active Travel Commissioner couldn’t have been stranger since the outbreak of Covid. Talk about a rollercoaster!!! Where to start?
At the beginning of 2020 I went on a field trip with academics from Liverpool Uni to Holland and Belgium. We met some inspirational people from Delft and in particular Ghent. What a job they have done there. The Mayor and council redesigned their whole cityscape and then, in one weekend, placed barriers and camera traps everywhere to make it really difficult to drive through neighbourhoods and nearly impossible to drive through the city centre. They set up a control centre linked up to traffic cameras and helicopter cameras to be ready to try and manage the ensuing chaos as Monday rush hour started. They were prepared for a week long rethink of their plans. On Tuesday they packed up and went home. There was no chaos. The traffic evaporated as people had realised it was easier to walk or cycle to where they wanted to go. Amazing what is possible with the political will and vision.
A month later all the traffic evaporated in Liverpool as we entered the first lockdown. The pandemic has been so depressing in so many ways but there have been a few positives. I know that stepping out of our front doors on the first day of the lockdown and hearing only birds will live long in many peoples memories. I was asked by Comms to do a series of short videos encouraging people to walk and cycle round their local areas. I needn’t have bothered. Everyone just did it anyway. You will all remember the scenes. A cyclists dream appeared in the middle of a pandemic nightmare.
The government released the Emergency Transport Funding and Liverpool City Council in particular, led by Mayor Anderson, jumped on it. In went the first of six promised ‘pop up’ lanes. Wow this could be it! Are we finally changing direction? Not so fast. As soon as the first routes went in the backlash started. I was even abused on camera while doing an interview for The One Show “get rid off these f**king bike lanes!” The rollercoaster ride continued.
Let’s be frank, some of the ‘temporary’ interventions have been rushed and some are no good but some are amazing and worth fighting for. The New Chester Road, Vauxhall Road extension, Halton bus lane, Kingsley Road to Crown Street. All imperfect but still demonstrate what could be done in a more attractive permanent manner in the near future.
Even the most noisily objected to, West Derby Road, has registered over 40,000 journeys since it was put in. The point is that what the last year has allowed is the chance to try things differently. Will Bold Street ever have traffic again? Surely Castle Street, in the heart of the city, will remain pedestrianised when we all return to ‘normal’?
Invaluable experience and knowhow has also been gained. I know that council members and officers have been on a learning curve as steep as The Big One in Blackpool but they have pressed on regardless. Liverpool, with Councillor Sharon Connor leading the charge, has really held firm and the next tranche of lanes and interventions is still on track to be delivered in the first half of this year. The next few months will be crucial. The Tranche 2 funding is dependent on better consultation with members and stakeholders. My task is to support the politicians and officers in every way I can as they put the case for the plans.
Merseyside Cycling Campaign’s help in any guise will be vital. Lobby, cajole, beg, text message, post. Encourage.
Who would have thought this time last year that the region would be building over 60 miles of segregated bike lanes in just over a year and in some cases at the expense of motorised traffic space? A bold experiment. A little bit of ‘Ghentification’! The rollercoaster ride goes on.