A few weeks back, I decried the lack of help provided by the Government on making helpful changes or clarifications to the law around traffic orders in the face of Covid-19.
I didn't want to return to the subject, but given the announcement yesterday around funding for walking and cycling in England (the other administrations have this devolved) I had to have a second look.
Sadly, my perpetual cynic's eye wasn't disappointed because there's largely nothing new, although there are a couple of things to be positive about and those are doors we should be kicking down.
On the funding, there was a ripple on social media yesterday afternoon around a £2bn investment. But alas, it's money which was already announced in the last budget - not helped by the announcement's headline "£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking" - well it's going to take that and more to create and maintain that new era.
However, there are two positives. First, £250m is going to be made available within weeks as emergency funding. And given that there are 156 (I think) English highway authorities (thanks Sabre, assuming I've picked the right list) there will be some useful funding in the pipeline. Mind you, it's not a huge sum and it will need to be deployed cleverly and where there are district, town and parish councils involved, there's going to need to be some joined up thinking.
The highway authorities which do take up this funding are best advised to use it for as much as they could make permanent as possible which could be a combination of measures I've already suggested and Experimental schemes around modal filtering which provides a significant impact for modest investment. Trying to built lots of linear schemes will eat that budget up very quickly.
Beyond the funding, the rest of the announcement mentions Greater Manchester which has lots of well-advanced plans and so funding will be useful, but it won't be the £1.5bn the region needs. It also mentions the "bike Tube" network which hasn't been mentioned in London for a few years, but which was part of Boris Johnson's and his cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan's, plans when they were in City Hall. Perhaps one is the PM and the other one of his advisors has led to this flashback!
We're also told of the updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy which is to be launched in the summer. Well given that the current one runs to 2020 this was on the cards anyway. What is good about the announcements, though, is the funding has not be cut to be shifted elsewhere and previous commitments are being honoured. So we'll take it.
The summer announcement will include a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate, higher permanent standards (which I assume is the long awaited rewrite of the Local Transport Note for cycling infrastructure design) and long term budgets as we currently have with road schemes.
The current announcement includes Statutory Guidance produced in accordance with S18 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. This is useful because Statutory Guidance explains what an authority must to do comply with the law and so its contents is both a stick to hit authorities with, but also a comfort for those wanting to do the right thing as implementing the guidance can be relied upon.
In this case S18 Statutory Guidance explains how a traffic authority can meet it's wider obligations under S16, also known as the Network Management Duty. The guidance will be reviewed in 3-months time. Of course there is current Statutory Guidance for S18 and this new guidance simply adds to it. The current guidance came out in 2004 and I'm not convinced that it has been particularly taken that seriously by some in any case.
The guidance provides a compendium of all of the "stuff" that we can do with temporary footway widening, cycle lanes, pop up cycle tracks etc. In fact, it's a list of stuff we could do pre-Covid-19, but an official list I helpful I guess. I know it's stuff we could do previously because the guidance states;
"None of these measures are new – they are interventions that are a standard part of the traffic management toolkit, but a step-change in their roll-out is needed to ensure a green restart."
So, not new, but now more urgent and there's funding coming to help. There's also some new traffic signs coming out to help with social distancing but in fact they are not all new. There's five signs aimed at people on foot reminding them to keep their distance (and the distance can be varied which I assume would fit with relaxing physical distancing rules). The problem is, many footways are not wide enough now and I certainly hope these signs (if used) are nor simply put on the footway!
The other new sign is about a new road layout for social distancing, presumably aimed at people driving who are in a rage that their space has been reduced. The other six signs are existing. To be honest, the signs will have a limited role, but might be useful for some situations.
Further into the Statutory Guidance, there's a list of the traffic orders we can use and a link to the temporary publicity guidance published the other week, but the interesting point is about temporary traffic orders which are for street works, works to prevent danger and street cleansing. It states;
"Temporary: these can be in place for up to 18 months. There is a 7-day notice period prior to making the TRO and a 14-day notification requirement after it is made, plus publicity requirements. These are most suitable for putting in place temporary measures and road closures."
Now, I am not a lawyer, but the last line reads to me that the Government has confirmed that "danger" tacitly means anything related to managing Covid-19. It would have been nice for an explicit confirmation of the law, but this is probably enough comfort to help the willing highway authorities which wanted to use temporary orders but were worried about doing so. My advice remains that using experimental orders would be better, but having the temporary orders being implied as being legitimate might help out.
There are other things which could have been done. There is a reference to School Streets, except outside of London, there is no ability to enforce them by CCTV which has been recently confirmed by Sylvia getting conformation from the DfT, so when the schools do return it's going to be a labour-intensive process using civil enforcement officers or people raising/ lowering bollards. The other matter could have been to deal with the parking in mandatory cycle lanes loophole which Cycling UK has been pushing for.
OK, I'm coming across as being a cynic - well that's because I am. There is some positive news, but I am sure it has only come as a result of the constant pushing by all sorts of people and organisations. Just remember, the Government could be a great deal more radical and the fact it isn't it a choice. Keep battering on that door people!