Proposed Welsh cycling and walking law a 'world first'

Sustrans backed bill would make cycle routes mandatory

A white paper recently produced by the Welsh Assembly and claimed as a 'world first' would make it a legal requirement for Welsh local authorities to plan, map and deliver cycle routes, say the bill's chief petitioner Sustrans.

The key proposal of the white paper is that local authorities in Wales have a duty to:

  • Identify and map the network of routes within their areas that are safe and appropriate for walking and cycling;
  • Identify and map the enhancements that would be required to create a fully integrated network for walking and cycling and develop a prioritised list of schemes to deliver the network;
  • Deliver an enhanced network subject to budget availability and following due process;
  • Consider the potential for enhancing walking and cycling provision in the development of new road schemes.

The obvious 'get-out' for cash-strapped local authorities could be the 'subject to budget availability' clause. Despite this it appears a document of great intent, stating:

"We would encourage Local Authorities to develop ambitious proposals for an integrated network to be delivered over a significant period of time ... These improvements are the start of a process that will last for decades, similar to the way that programmes to develop the motorised road network are planned for many years ahead."

The white paper has the backing of an impressive array of health experts from the likes of the National Heart Forum and many others. It is aiming to address the poor levels of cycling in Wales. According to the Assembly's own Walking and Cycling Action Plan only 1.6% of the Welsh population uses a bike as their main mode of travel to work.

BikeRadar spoke to Lee Waters, head of Sustrans Cymru: "At the moment most local authorities don't have a map of walking and cycling routes in their area, so the first thing is to establish what's there and where the gaps are, and then a second map would look to link up the 'trip generators' ie schools and hospitals and the like, and then to identify new provision to link these."

Waters was candid about the work yet to be done and how it might translate into routes on the ground. "The devil of this will all be in the detail, in the guidance and the regulation placed on local authorities in the bill. There will also be a duty to continuously improve the provision as identified. At the very least it will ensure that the money being spent is spent more strategically and that funding is tied to things that will be useful. In the long run we hope it will mean more budget is committed to walking and cycling networks."

The bill has been on the agenda for some time, but it seems to have broad cross-party support according to Waters. That will smooth its passage through consultation (ends August 14th) and to voting in the National Assembly for Wales in spring 2013.

Opposition to some elements is likely to come from specific interest groups such as ramblers says Waters. "The one element I expect to be the most difficult is the issue of shared space," he said.

The Welsh government has already been talking in terms of a law analogous to the Scottish 'open access' situation where there is a presumption cyclists (and walkers) can travel freely on all paths and tracks unless exceptions apply.

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