Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Active Travel Bill introduced to the Assembly

After a wait of 5 years, an unpassed LCO, and a referendum
a "law governing cycle lanes" has finally made it in front of the National Assembly.
(Pic : Richard & Gill Long via Flickr)

One of the main arguments against the Legislative Competence Order (LCO) system, prior to the yes vote in the 2011 referendum, was that it meant the National Assembly had to ask for permission "to make laws on cycle lanes".

It took THREE YEARS for an LCO relating to cycle lanes - amounting to 3 sheets of A4 - to negotiate Westminster and the Assembly – and it didn't even pass before the referendum date! The frustration and delay led to cycling charity Sustrans ultimately coming out to back a yes vote, with the director of Sustrans Cymru, Lee Waters, being one of the more prominent yes-campaigners.

Since the yes vote, the Assembly now has the power to make a "cycling lane law" unimpeded. Yesterday, Local Government & Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) formally laid the Active Travel Bill in front of the Assembly.

Introducing a Bill" sounds like they throw some sort of debutante ball with light
canapés every time a new piece of legislation is drafted, but "laid in front of the Assembly" sounds....voyeuristic.

The Bill itself is very short – in fact it's only 8 pages long. The explanatory memorandum is more extensive. If anyone reading this is interested in how laws are drafted in Wales, but don't want to sift through loads of pages, this might be a good one to follow.

What does the Active Travel Bill aim to do?

Firstly, the aim is to place a duty on local authorities to create maps of "integrated active travel routes" (pedestrian/cycle lanes) within three years of any Act being passed – submitted to the Welsh Government for approval. The local authority will be able to decide themselves what counts or doesn't count as such a route.

Welsh Ministers will have the power to order local authorities to "revise" these maps if they're not up to scratch. Local authorities will be able to change any approved map, but they have to submit a new map (as I understand it) every three years. These maps will also, seemingly, be available to anyone who wants one.

It'll place a duty on local authorities to outline potential future routes, and improve the "range and quality" of such routes. For example, linking "key destinations" (i.e schools, hospitals, public transport hubs, employment areas) via good cycling and pedestrian facilities.

It's similar to something I tried myself last year for Bridgend (Getting Wales on its bike).

Local authorities will have to plan "related facilities" – that includes cycle parking, toilets, showers and pedestrian/cycling crossings.

It'll also mean having "regard to the desirability of.... provision made for walkers and cyclists" when new highways are constructed. There's also provisions to allow Welsh Ministers to issue guidance to local authorities on things like mobility scooters and electric cycles using cycle lanes.

Benefits and Costs

With beefed up monitoring of cycling/pedestrian facilities,
any newlaw may help take traffic off the roads and improve
public health -  possibly safety too.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Ultimately, this Bill wants to encourage more of us to walk and cycle by placing statutory duties on local authorities to monitor/upgrade cycling and pedestrian facilities to make them more attractive to use.

The explanatory memorandum says that walking and cycling may be seen more as a "leisure activity" than a mode of transport. It's hoped these maps will make it easier for local authorities – especially urban areas – to publicise safer cycling and walking routes.

That would have obvious health and environmental benefits by encouraging exercise and reducing traffic on the roads.

Sustrans estimated, based on scenarios from academic studies, that getting people to walk or cycle regularly could save the Welsh NHS £517million over 20 years (~£26million per year). A "conservative estimate" put the figure at £125million (£6.25million per year).

If local authorities addressed facilities "deficiencies" it may also help reduce road casualties. Although Wales generally has safe roads, the number of pedestrian and cycling casualties in Wales increased slightly between 2010 and 2011. Each road fatality was estimated to cost £1.65million in 2010.

There are economic benefits too. Each additional cyclist is estimated to "add value" to the tune of between £538 and £641 per year – the vast chunk of that through health gains. For every £5million invested in cycling infrastructure, you need to generate an extra 969 cyclists each year for 15 years for that investment to "break even" .

It's estimated the cost of local authority mapping exercises will be around £500,000 over 15 years.

Obviously, the cost of any extra cycling facilities will be significantly greater than that, but it's unclear what would be needed until the local councils carry out the surveys.

To get a rough idea, there's a list of illustrative costs of cycling/walking improvements from Cardiff Council on page 27 of the explanatory memorandum. Here's some highlights:

  • A square metre of footpath - £150
  • 20mph zone signs - £1,000
  • Dropped kerbs & studs - £2,000
  • Pedestrian refuge - £2,500
  • Covered/secured cycle stands - £4,000
  • A new "controlled crossing" - £25,000


My initial reaction to the Bill was – "Is that it!?" It's the first legislation of its kind - so it is a "trailblazer" of sorts - but I'd hardly describe it as "groundbreaking."

However, when you delve deeper into the explanatory memorandum, you realise that there's been quite a bit of thought behind it. Maybe, due to the grand-sounding title, I was expecting something with a little more "oomph".

I suppose, in a way, I'm pleased. It seems as if a bit of what I outlined in "Getting Wales on its bike" has ultimately appeared in the Bill (minus stuff on traffic regulations etc. for obvious reasons). Technically speaking, the point I made about "grading" cycle/pedestrian facilities has made it in as local authorities will be obliged to monitor facilities every few years.

I would be concerned if some local authorities went into over-kill mode and started putting in facilities for the sake of it. The map I made last time, for example, should be considered a wish list rather than "do everything scenario". Obviously, due to budget constraints I doubt any local authority in Wales will do that.

I don't think local authorities will have a hard time mapping, because they already need to produce/keep a "Definitive Map" for rights of way anyway. There are also existing cycling improvement/promotion schemes like "Safe Routes to Schools." If you were unkind, you could sum this Bill up as a cycling/footpath ordnance survey.

Or, you could describe it as a start towards bringing cycling and walking into the mainstream as transport options by treating them with a bit more (official) respect.


  1. A very good bill but my concern is Sargeant is lapping up praise for introducing this, and isn't then going to provide any extra money for cycling infrastructure. Then the Bill will be another "great aspiration" that ten years later is deemed to have missed the target. Really don't want to be negative about this, but this is stuff that environmentally-aware countries have got nailed. It needs to be backed up with investment and a guaranteed fund from the Government, and also using local authority finance and European funds.

  2. It's a valid concern, Anon.

    Obviously there are funding schemes out there - like Safe Routes to School - but everyone building this up as something that'll radically transform transport needs to be careful.

    I think mapping out routes will be a benefit as it'll help councils identify "gaps". Even if cycling facilities are cheaper than road schemes though, I doubt a single road scheme will be postponed to fund all the "gaps" that'll be identified. I doubt local authorities will be too chuffed about funding cycling infrastructure - especially if there's no proven demand. EU funds are more complicated, but I think they've been used in Bridgend for such schemes.

    I think people also forget that the reason countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have such good cycling rates are firstly, they're generally flat (or in Germany's case, the cities).

    Secondly, in the post WW2 economy they had the opportunity to rebuild their infrastructure from scratch via New Towns. Wales only has Cwmbran and Newtown, while Swansea was rebuilt with cars in mind. We have plenty of old railways that can be used, but within towns themselves it's going to be difficult - but not impossible.

    So yeah. It's another "well meant" proposal, and I hope it works, but when this Bill goes through the committee process etc. I hope AMs and anyone called to give evidence points out things like this and clears up the funding issues.

  3. Safe Routes to School is nice, a couple of million pounds per year or something, but it isn't a step chance. A single road scheme costs £50m+.

    EU funds were also used by IWJ to build a cycle route in the Valleys, though that was aimed at tourism, not active travel.

    But I agree. Let's hope finances can be secured. The good thing about cycle and walking paths is that they're cheap.

  4. The thing about those tourist routes, Anon is that (some) could be used for commuting if they were upgraded and maintained to a decent standard. I think people might be put off using them because of things such as poor lighting. There are plenty of cycle paths around here I'd dread to use at night by myself.

    For example, commuting by bike from somewhere like Caerphilly into Cardiff down the Taff Trail could be attractive if the path were widened, there were more priority crossings, vegetation cleared etc. I think that's what this Bill wants to address.

    However, as you and I have pointed out - if improvements are outlined on the local authority maps, where's the money going to come from to pay for them?

    It's great they're cheap, but people actually have to use them to justify the expenditure. On the flipside, people won't use routes unless there's money spent on them in the first place!