Active travel commissioner Chris Boardman has urged Rishi Sunak to "just stick with" policies promoting active travel, the comments coming days after the prime minister announced his intention to tackle the "war on motorists" with a series of policies formally announced in more detail at the Conservative Party's conference in Manchester this morning.
Boardman was speaking to the PA news agency at the opening of "one of Manchester's biggest cycling and walking routes", and called on the prime minister to stick with the "fantastic" active travel plans.
"This is win-win, bringing more transport independence & making health an easy choice everyday." Today #activetravel commissioners @Chris_Boardman & @DameSarahStorey officially opened of one @greatermcr @SalfordCouncil's biggest cycling & walking @BeeNetwork routes on Trafford Rd pic.twitter.com/4OviGvXqUz
— Active Travel England (@activetraveleng) October 1, 2023
He did also admit that the language of Sunak's announcement, which called schemes such as low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and 20mph zones "hare-brained" and committed to "slamming the brakes on the war on motorists", was "not the language I would choose" and called on the government to also announce "sensational active travel policy".
"It would be good if these things were said at the same time, in my view," Boardman said. "When you're doing just this one thing it doesn't show that that's important here, so I'd like to see them rolled out at the same time to get balance.
"Everybody wants their kids to be safe, we need to make sure that that's been spoken to, and it's actually in there in the policy, but it hasn't been pushed up front in the last 48 hours."
The former professional cyclist who now heads Active Travel England is yet to see the detail behind the policies being touted, reiterated with slightly more detail by transport secretary Mark Harper during a speech in Manchester this morning, but urged caution around 20mph speed limits, a "really useful tool".
He also pointed out that making the roads less inviting for people who might otherwise cycle could ultimately just leave routes even more "miserable" for motorists.
"So if you actually join the dots, if we don't give reasons not to drive it's going to make life pretty miserable for motorists," he said. "Follow the logic string, it's not a very long one, if driving gets easier then logically more people will want to do it, which is more cars, which makes driving miserable."
Specifically on the subject of LTNs, Boardman said "fear of change" was behind some of the opposition, but suggested there is a "mismatch of perception" as parents usually support the outcome if they see their children's journeys to school are made safer.
He also suggested the "only way that you're going to improve the health of a nation quickly and affordably is to make health easy".
The comments come around 48 hours since Sunak outlined his drive for votes ahead of the next general election by taking an explicit pro-motoring stance.
The so-called 'Plan for Motorists' was met with opposition from active travel groups, the CEOs of Cycling UK, British Cycling, Bikeability Trust, Living Streets, Ramblers, and Sustrans joining forces to say the proposals would deny citizens "their choice, health, and freedom".
Instead of giving people real choice over how they live their lives, Sunak's plan "ignores possibilities for cheap, reliable, and sustainable travel, leaving many with one default option: to drive", the active travel groups said.
Boardman was joined at the official opening of the active travel route on the Trafford Road by Dame Sarah Storey, Greater Manchester's active travel commissioner who described the project as one of "the biggest road improvement projects undertaken in Salford".
— Walk Ride GM (@WalkRideGM) October 1, 2023
She said: "Along the full length of the road, shelters have been added to all bus stops along with higher kerbs from which to board the bus, new pedestrian and cycle-priority crossings have been added to every junction which connect the fully segregated cycle lanes along the entire length."
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.