Chris Boardman has been appointed interim commissioner of a new governmental body, Active Travel England, which has been tasked with implementing the Gear Change strategy, among other things.
The former world and Olympic champion cyclist turned cycling and walking campaigner says there is an opportunity to create “a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children and for future generations,” and that “it’s time for a quiet revolution.”
The creation of the government agency, which will be based in York from this summer, was announced in the Gear Change: a bold new vision for walking and cycling strategy published by the Department for Transport in July 2020.
Launching Active Travel England today, the DfT said that it “will be responsible for driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure and managing the national active travel budget, awarding funding for projects that improve both health and air quality.”
The new entity “will also begin to inspect, and publish reports on, highway authorities for their performance on active travel and identify particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians.
“As well as approving and inspecting schemes,” it will also “help local authorities, training staff and spreading good practice in design, implementation and public engagement. It will be a statutory consultee on major planning applications to ensure that the largest new developments properly cater for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Boardman, who has taken on the role of interim commissioner on a temporary, pro bono basis, will be “closely involved” in setting up Active Travel England, including recruiting its chief executive and management team.
The DfT says that it will be conducting a “a full and open competition for the permanent commissioner role.”
Boardman said: “The positive effects of high levels of cycling and walking are clearly visible in pockets around the country where people have been given easy and safe alternatives to driving.
“Perhaps most important of all, though, it makes for better places to live while helping both the NHS and our mission to decarbonise.”
“The time has come to build on those pockets of best practice and enable the whole nation to travel easily and safely around their neighbourhoods without feeling compelled to rely on cars,” he continued.
“I’m honoured to be asked to lead on this and help deliver the ambitious vision laid out in the government’s Gear Change strategy and other local transport policies.
“This will be a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children and for future generations,” Boardman added. “It’s time to make it a reality; it’s time for a quiet revolution.”
During his racing career Boardman, now aged 53, won Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992 and world championships on the road and track, as well as wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
In retirement, besides heading research and development ant British Cycling, building his own successful bike brand that he sold to Halfords in 2014 for £20 million and his role as a TV pundit, Boardman became increasingly active in campaigning for cycling safety for everyday riders.
His common sense, articulate approach won him many supporters among cycling campaigners, and when the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group – now the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking (APPGCW) – recommended in its 2013 Get Britain Cycling report that the government appoint a national cycling champion for England, Boardman was seen by many as the obvious candidate should such a role be created.
Ruth Cadbury, the Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth and co-chair of the APPGCW, said of today’s news: “The launch of Active Travel England, with Chris Boardman as the interim commissioner, is a fantastic step in the right direction for increasing levels of cycling and walking.
“Having one body responsible for increasing standards of infrastructure, with statutory powers, will help meet the government's ambitious target of half of urban journeys being walked or cycled by 2030.
“We look forward to working with Chris and the whole Active Travel England team so that everyone can enjoy the reduced congestion, better air quality and improved public health that comes with higher levels of cycling and walking,” she added.
Today, the government has also announced £5.5 million of new funding for local authorities, train operators and businesses to encourage various active travel schemes, including a £300,000 top-up to E-cargo bike schemes, £3 million to improve cycling infrastructure around train stations, and £2.2 million to explore ‘active travel on prescription’ schemes.
Trudy Harrison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the DfT with responsibility for active travel, said: “Cycling and walking is not only beneficial for our health and the environment, but can also be great fun and is a brilliant way to connect communities.
“This funding is about giving people across the country the opportunity to different forms of travel, as well as supporting local businesses with the transition to greener transport.”
She added: “I’m very much looking forward to working with our new active travel commissioner to improve standards for everyone.”
During the past five years Boardman, whose mother Carol was killed when she was knocked off her bike by a van driver in 2016, has been developing Greater Manchester’s Bee Network of active travel routes in his role as the city-region’s active travel commissioner and more recently its transport commissioner.
The DfT says that he will be giving up that role to focus on his task at Active Travel England, although he will retain the position of chair to Sport England to which he was appointed in June last year.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.