Preston's pop-up cycle lanes were monitored before being ripped out, say highways bosses
Lancashire County Council says that it properly assessed the popularity of pop-up cycle lanes and protected walking routes introduced during the pandemic before deciding to remove them.
It emerged late last month that a minister had written to all local authorities warning them that if they were deemed to have prematurely scrapped the government-funded schemes - without evidence about whether they were working - they would find themselves at the back of the queue for cash to support similar programmes in future.
Cycle lanes and road closures were introduced in places including Preston last year, after the first lockdown was lifted, in order to encourage so-called “active travel” - and help maintain social distancing on public transport.
The county council was praised at the time by the charity Cycling UK for “highly ambitious” plans to make life easier for cyclists, which saw the authority receive more than its basic share of a government fund established to tempt people to get on their bikes instead of using public transport during the pandemic.
However, the measures were often met with anger from motorists, who claimed that they were pointless and caused unnecessary delays.
County Hall started to remove them from late last summer and many of them were gone before winter.
In Preston, a cycle lane around Winckley Square was condemned for having caused what some residents labelled a “giant cul-de-sac”. It was scrapped in August after the county council said that related closures of several side roads at their junctions with Fishergate had already reduced traffic in the area to make it safer for cyclists.
Probably the most controversial of the cycle routes set-up in the city was the one introduced on Riversway and Watery Lane, which saw the dual carriageway route reduced to one lane in each direction - leading to tailbacks and claims from drivers that riders were not using the lane that had been reserved for them.
It bit the dust in September 2020 when the then county council cabinet member for transport, Keith Iddon, said that not enough cyclists were taking advantage of the closure to justify retaining it.
County Cllr Iddon has since revealed during a Lancashire Post election debate in April that he received angry calls to his home from people who were stuck in traffic jams on the route, asking him if he was “the idiot” who had come up with the idea.
County Hall has told the Post that it had considered how each of the schemes was working before ripping them up or reopening roads like those off London Road in Preston, which were closed completely for several months last summer to encourage cycling and walking.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "We're currently working to turn some of the temporary measures to encourage walking and cycling which we introduced last year into permanent schemes.
"The pop-up cycle lanes and other measures were funded by government as part of the emergency response to the pandemic, to encourage active travel as an alternative to public transport which had reduced capacity due to the need for social distancing.
"Shortly after the cycle lanes were introduced, we began assessing how well they were being used, and some were removed after a few weeks due to low usage, while others were removed more recently in line with the government's timetable for relaxing Covid-19 restrictions. A small number which have proved particularly popular have been kept in place.
"We have extended some of the temporary measures in Preston, Lancaster and West Lancashire while we work to design proposals which would be suitable to replace them on a permanent basis, and where appropriate will carry out public consultation on these proposals in due course."
The county council has created a segregated cycle lane on part of Liverpool Road in Penwortham, close to the new Tesco, building upon a pop-up scheme installed last year which the authority says monitoring showed had proved popular.
A consultation was carried out last month on the creation of an uninterrupted “cycle superhighway” linking that lane with a section already in place across Penwortham Bridge and making Kingsway a one-way street with no access from Liverpool Road.
A short stretch of pop-up cycle lane on Strand Road in Preston - on the northbound carriageway between Liverpool Road and Port Way - is being retained while a broader safety scheme is developed across the railway tracks.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Lancashire County Council is currently developing another ten active travel schemes across five districts:
***Hyndburn Greenway (National Cycle Route 6)
***Lune Valley Cycle Path, Lancaster
***Lancaster University Cycle Paths
***Transforming Friargate and Ringway
***Valley of Stone (Rawtenstall-Bacup-Whitworth)
***National Cycle Route 6
***Ormskirk Eastern Gateway
***Tawd Valley Park
***Cheshire Lines Cycle Path
***Leeds-Liverpool Canal Towpath
WHAT THE MINISTER SAID
In his letter to councils last month about cycle lanes and pedestrian prioritisation schemes, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris said:
“Premature removal of schemes carries implications for the management of the public money used in these schemes and for the government’s future funding relationship with the authorities responsible.
“The department will continue to assess authorities’ performance in delivering schemes and, following the precedent we have already set, those which have prematurely removed or weakened such schemes should expect to receive a reduced level of funding.”
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