Cllr. Huw David
Leader Bridgend Council
Member of the CCR Regional Cabinet and Chair of the Regional Transport Authority
One of the abiding images of the Covid-19 lockdown is that of empty roads and deserted streets.
It’s a picture that journalists and historians in years to come will return to when they want to convey the impact of the pandemic on ordinary life.
Despite all the anxiety of the lockdown, many people found pleasure in not having to endure the stress of a busy commute, and being able to cross their local street in safety. The sale of cycling equipment rose as people took to their bikes, and families that never normally found the time to walk were now doing so daily. People commented on how clean the air seemed, and on being able to hear the birds sing.
In some respects this forced change in the way we travel anticipated some of the adaptations we need to make as we try to make our transport system more sustainable. For while the coronavirus is something that we shall hopefully master in the not too distant future, the climate emergency demands a more lasting change in our habits.
Recovery must be a Green Recovery
We are looking forward now to recovery from the massive economic impact of the pandemic. But this recovery must be a green recovery; the climate emergency hasn’t gone away, and if we are not careful we could lose some of the precious little time we have to tackle and mitigate some of its effect.
So we need to use the experience of the lockdown to help speed up our move to a more sustainable transport system. There is a real danger that it could have the reverse effect. The use of public transport slumped with the pandemic, and with it the revenues of our public transport providers. As people return to work and to the shops, there is an unsurprising reluctance to use trains and buses. Those vehicles themselves have had to be adapted to social distancing.
We have to expect more people to want to use their own cars, at least in the short term. That’s why it’s important that we press ahead as quickly as we can with moves towards greater use of electric and low emission vehicles. As part of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal we recognise new transport technology as one of our investment priorities. The new Challenge Fund we are setting up will consider low emission vehicles as an area to explore.
Embracing Active Travel
The increase in cycling and walking during the lockdown ties in with the Active Travel agenda that Welsh Government and local authorities have been pursuing for some years. We have an opportunity now to embed this behavioural change and make it permanent, with all the benefits that will bring to wellbeing and environmental health.
But there are practical problems in making that a reality. Our towns and cities have not been designed for Active Travel, especially in circumstances of social distancing. As more people take to cycling and walking, the narrowness of footpaths and the absence of adequate cycleways becomes abundantly clear.
Back in May the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters, announced he would make grant funding available to local authorities for temporary measures to make sustainable transport and active travel in towns and cities safer and more attractive. This could include widening of footpaths, temporary cycle lanes, speed restrictions on roads, and measures to safely incorporate social distancing at bus stops and stations.
By early June the 10 local authorities that make up Cardiff Capital Region had submitted expressions of interest for grants amounting to a total of £26,112,817. A lot of these local measures will initially be introduced on a temporary or experimental basis, but where they are effective they could become permanent.
These steps come on top of our Metro Plus enhancements which include improvements to public transport infrastructure and new park and ride schemes. The philosophy behind it all is a consistent one. We want to make it easier for people to travel from anywhere in Cardiff Capital Region to anywhere else in the region. But we want to do it in a way that protects our environment and safeguards our people’s health and wellbeing.
In the wake of Covid-19, that’s more important than ever.