Why many are in favour of Wirral’s new active travel schemes

As new 20mph zones are rolled out across Wirral and a new cycle lane is installed in West Kirby, major changes are happening on Wirral’s roads.

With councillors elected for four years, decisions made in town hall meetings could see some significant changes before the next Wirral Council elections.

This ranges from new walking and cycle routes in central Birkenhead as part of the town’s regeneration to a proposed cycle lane from Birkenhead to Wallasey. As well as cycle lanes, an ongoing project to reshape Bebington is underway along with calls to expand a scheme to make active travel to school easier.

However, the changes have not been uncontroversial with calls to take out the cycle lane installed on Fender Lane arguing it’s made congestion far worse. A cycle lane along Birkenhead Road in Seacombe has also been delayed after opposition from local businesses and the new Labour leader, Cllr Paul Stuart.

The Fender Lane cycle way. Credit: www.fotopiaimages.com

Often arguments against new active travel infrastructure, particularly cycle lanes, are heard at council meetings so the LDRS spoke to people in favour of more being rolled out across the Wirral to find out why they’re in favour.

Barbara Williams (pictured above, main image), 77, an avid cyclist who grew up in Greasby has been cycling since she started school in the 1950s when she remembers the roads being much quieter.

A former teacher, she believes “everywhere needs more cycle lanes and we need people to get out of cars and onto their bikes but they’re not going to.

“I’ve got heart disease and probably not much longer to live. I’ve lived longer than my Dad and the specialists at Arrowe Park say keep doing it as much as you can. It’s so good for your health plus you’ve got the bike it costs you nothing.”

Asked whether she understands why some are against new lanes, she said, “Common sense tells me if you’re a driver and I do drive, you want the cyclist in a different lane. You don’t want them stuck in the middle of all the traffic because it’s hard for you to drive when you’ve got all those cyclists so I can’t see why they don’t see it benefits them.

“I think people should, even if they don’t understand it’s good for your health, should appreciate it makes the road safer for cars as well if the cyclists are in a different bit.”

Simon O’Brien came to meet schools where children are travelling to school by foot, cycle. or on scooters – Town Lane Infant School. Credit: Sustrans

An area of the Wirral that could see some significant changes going forward is Bebington.

The By Ours community project there is working with businesses, residents and schools to redesign streets in the area and create “ a vibrant neighbourhood with cleaner air where more people walk to shops and services, stop and chat to each other, and children can play out safely.”

Lou Henderson, from Sustrans, said, “Rather than it being imposed on them, it’s their ideas. If anything happens, we can say this is what the community wanted. If you can improve the safety of where people want then people will want to do that.”

It’s one of three projects in Merseyside and Lou said it’s had a more positive response than expected. As part of the project, they went to every house in the area delivering 2,600 leaflets getting a response from over 700.

Lou said people want to see issues like litter tackled, improved lighting in parks, better road safety, and new crossings near schools. New scooting and walking zones have already been rolled out.

She believes schemes like this are needed because of high rates of people killed and seriously injured within the Liverpool City Region. In October 2022, a target was launched by the combined authority to get this to zero by 2040.

She thinks the changes will help boost the economy in Bebington, pointing to data suggesting people who walk or cycle spend more in their local area.

However, Lou said they are still making sure to engage with those less in favour, adding, “We have had people turn up not being very positive about it but we take their concerns, We are very much listening to all voices in the community and all the way through we are revisiting the plans and then going back.”

If the scheme is successful, it could see Bebington change significantly in the future.

Elsewhere, a similar active travel scheme is currently being trialled at a few schools on the Wirral which sees roads outside schools closed or traffic limited at the start and end of the day to try and encourage children to walk and cycle in with their parents.

Mike Jones, a resident of Greenleas Close in Wallasey, lives near Greenleas Primary School which was the first to take part in the government-funded School Streets scheme. He said, “As it has been such a success, it would be nice if it was expanded across the Wirral.”

A sceptic at first, he added, “My own view was it was a good idea but how do you implement it? It was dependent on the co-operation of the parents and guardians that they all thought it was a good idea too. There are some parents that ignore it but they are such a minority and they all know the score now.

“Before it started it was really really awful in both the morning and the evening. The parents would abandon their cars all over the place across drives and everywhere so it was pretty bad. We did nothing but complain.”

“When we were told they were planning to do the School Streets scheme, it was all explained, and the neighbours were very involved. Everyone was really really for it. It has made such a difference to the area but it’s also the safety of the children and the environment because they are now walking to school instead of coming in by car.”

Mr Jones, whose grandchildren go to another school taking part in the trial, said issues around childrens’ safety trumped any other issues, adding: “It’s lovely to see parents coming into school and walking. The children can now come cycling or scooting down the middle of the road.”

Main image: Ed Barnes

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