I don’t often compliment the Government, but their latest thoughts on support for active travel (cycling and walking) deserve some praise. Writing in the foreword to the recent report, ‘Gear Change – a bold vision for cycling and walking’, Boris Johnson focuses on cycling: “Vast numbers of car journeys are very short and could easily be travelled by bicycle.”

People often think that encouraging bikes and walking causes congestion – but it doesn’t, if you do it properly, and make the kind of changes we are proposing to streets to improve walking and cycling accessibility.”

And then, “the joy of cycling is that doing it doesn’t just benefit you. It doesn’t just make you happier. It doesn’t just make you healthier. It helps millions of others too, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bike. It means less pollution and less noise for everyone. It means more trade for street-front businesses. It means fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.” Absolutely!

Also announced in the report are two great initiatives I hope we in Herefordshire can bid for. Up to 12 local authorities outside London will be supported to become “mini-Hollands” where cycling and walking benefit from intensive investment with the main focus on replacing short car trips.

As the name suggests, the idea behind mini-Hollands is to create a modest-sized replica of the street scene in Dutch urban areas where cycling and walking are given a lot more priority. They have been very successful in London. Segregated cycle lanes were installed on main roads, low-traffic neighbourhoods were put in, and pedestrians were given thousands of metres of extra space.

In one, cycling increased by 18 per cent and walking by 13 per cent in a single year. Vacancy rates for retailers on the first shopping street to be made low-traffic streets are the lowest they have ever been, according to the council, and trade on those streets has significantly increased.

The second initiative is more ambitious. The Government is looking for at least one small or medium-sized city which wants to create a zero-emission transport system, with extensive bike lanes, an all-electric (or zero-emission) bus fleet, and a ban on nearly all petrol and diesel vehicles in the city centre, with deliveries made to consolidation hubs and the last mile being done by cargo bike or electric van.

This opportunity is surely too good to miss!

Robert Palgrave

How Caple