Questions over ‘active travel revolution’ promises

People walking and cycling across Merseyside feel promises of an active travel revolution are “decades away.”

In May 2023, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, which manages travel across the six boroughs of Liverpool, Wirral, Halton, St Helens, Sefton, and Knowsley, said promised plans to “kickstart an active travel revolution” were on track with nearly £70m of funding.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, who has just been re-elected, said millions had already been invested to start creating a network of 600km of walking and cycling routes.

Nearly a year on from that promise, the LDRS spoke to people who walk and cycle to get about. Many felt things have not improved, roads are unsafe, pavement parking, and accessibility are big issues, while shared cycling paths were shifting any conflict between drivers and cyclists to that between cyclists and pedestrians.

A 2023 report by cycling charity Sustrans said 48% of people walk or wheel at least five days a week according to the survey. However, the survey also found 27% of people wanted to drive less but 36% often use a car because there’s no other transport option.  It also found people wanted to walk, wheel, and cycle more but more felt roads are less safe.

Susan Kirkham, from Oxton,  got a cargo bike over a year ago and has now done over 1,000 miles. Often taking her children Sylvia and Terry with her, she said, “You get given a lot more room on the cargo bike. There’s a lot of positive reaction from people who say “What is that?” There’s a couple of times where people come too close but nowhere near as much as when I am on my own.”

Overall, her experience with drivers was positive but on her own, she said, “People drive too close. People overtake and then stop right in front of me. People overtake on my left. People will shout at you. Standard stuff. I cycle up London Road but I am going to avoid that because I am going to get killed coming up it.

“Some bus drivers, I have been pushed off the road by a bus. If I didn’t go onto the pavement I would have been squished.”

Mrs Kirkham, a Royal Liverpool nurse, said, “People need to think that is a human being. That’s is not someone trying to just p*** me off. They are actually trying to get to work. That’s someone’s daughter, maybe I won’t shout at her.”

She said separated cycle routes to workplaces would make things safer, adding, “We are going to lose more people on the roads unless we make it safer. There’s no easy option. There’s no magic solution but we have got to try.

“Should I let it stop me? Then I am giving in aren’t I? It’s hard. There are times when I feel nervous. I have got three friends who have had life changing injuries when on their push bikes.”

Andrew Woodside cycles from Wallasey down to work in Cammell Laird with most of his commute off-road. He said active travel was not about people on expensive bikes or lycra, adding, “It’s the normal people who want to go out in jeans and take their kids. Those are the people who will make the change.

“If there was investment in getting people around and dropping their cars, you may see a change but in the current situation, no. There has got to be significant investment.

“It has been little bits. You have got to look at the roads going down to the prom. There’s little bits here and there but nothing of the likes I could take my grandchildren on. We are fortunate to have the promenade but to encourage people to walk and drop their cars, we are decades away.”

Elaine Cresswell, who lives in Smithdown, would like to cycle around Liverpool but feels cycling is too dangerous. As a car driver, she said, “I look forward to not having it. Paying all this money to insurance companies,” adding, “I enjoy walking but it’s too slow to do as part of your working day. You can’t spare the hour here or there. Cycling would be ideal.”

On the roads, she said, “It’s car chaos. I think everyone is trying to get from A to B to work. We are seeing each other as big blocks of metal rather than as fellow human beings.

“When I am driving, there are so many things to watch. You have got people parking on the pavement. Pedestrians are crossing in front of parked cars. You have got cyclists in very narrow cycle lanes trying to keep in but then need to turn right.

“There’s so much happening as a driver, it’s almost bound to raise stress levels. It’s not a pleasant experience even driving in this community.”

She said smaller initiatives improving streets in communities would help, adding, “If you do not feel safe for 500 metres, you won’t even start. Some people choose not to travel and stay in their area because of it.

“Are you getting everyone from where they are to where they are wanting to go? Not everyone wants to go to town. They want to go to the doctors, the cafe or the supermarket.”

Jenny Carter, from disability advocacy group Together All Are Able, said she nearly had a cyclist ride into her outside Birkenhead’s ASDA, adding, “Cyclists on the pavements shouldn’t be happening but we need to make the roads safer. Cyclists should be on the road and pedestrians should be on the pavements.” She said cars on the pavement and cracked surfaces were a particular issue for disabled people in wheelchairs.

Andi Armitage, from cycling campaign group Cycle Liverpool, moved out of the city to north Wales in 2023. He felt the roads in the city were too unsafe for his daughter who is just starting school, adding walking and cycling “felt like a battle every day”.

He said despite promises about the delivery of active travel infrastructure, he argued “people are being let down on every level” with little evidence of progress pointing to increasing rates of people killed and seriously injured in Merseyside.

According to Department for Transport figures, 6,882 people have been killed and seriously injured in Merseyside between 2013 and 2022 with overall numbers lower now despite increases in 2021, 2022, and in 2023. 231 people were killed between 2013 and 2022.

Mr Armitage said, “I actually felt safer cycling in London in the 1990s than I do now. London didn’t have any infrastructure in the 90s but I felt safer there than I do now. I am very experienced so I can see why those people who do not cycle but who want to cycle do not.

“Liverpool and the Liverpool City Region was given a lot of money for active travel infrastructure and I think the question needs to be asked is, from that money, what has actually happened?”

Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Emily Spurrell said improving road safety was a priority for her and Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. In 2022, they launched the Vision Zero strategy which aims to ensure no one is killed or seriously injured on the road by 2040.

The PCC said, “The fact we’ve seen an increase in road deaths since the launch of Vision Zero strategy is deeply worrying, but it’s important to emphasise that the picture from the last decade shows overall road safety is improving in Merseyside.

“There’s no doubt Merseyside Police has a critical role in this work – enforcement is essential. It goes on all year round, particularly focused on key issues including speeding, distracted driving, people failing to wear a seatbelt and people still taking drugs and driving.”

In 2023, she said Merseyside Police carried out road safety enforcement 85,000 times, nearly 11,000 tickets issued for “obstructive parking offences” in five years, and nearly 4,000 drink and drug driving arrests. She said the police were investing in new technology like aerial cameras to identify offending drivers.

She said she was bidding for extra funding to allow councils to identify accident hotspots. She said, “It’s important to recognise the police cannot make our roads safer on their own; it must be supported by the work of our partners who have a vital role to play in improving the safety of our roads through engineering, infrastructure, and education,” adding, “We know there are no quick fixes.”

A spokesperson for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said it wanted to make walking and cycling the first choice for short journeys, adding, “It’s important that active travel infrastructure works for the people who live in our region, which means consulting directly with local residents, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users on plans for these new routes. This takes time but it is the right approach. By 2026 we expect that more than 260km of the planned 600km network will have been completed.”

The authority pointed to delivered schemes on Princes Boulevard in Toxteth, the Silver Jubilee Bridge in Runcorn, and a new junction outside Lea Green station. Construction work is also starting on a scheme at Conway Street in Birkenhead, and cycle links to Whiston in Knowsley.

The spokesperson added, “On top of the £70m already committed to walking and cycling schemes in the Liverpool City Region, more than £1m has been secured to push forward with detailed planning of routes within each of our boroughs. This work should help connect existing active travel infrastructure to new bike lanes and footpaths in suburbs and towns across our region.

“We’re also continuing to commit funding to trials of secure bike parking in residential areas and to developing and expanding our programme of free all-ages cycle safety training, so people can use bikes with confidence.“

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