This debate comes at an important moment for active travel. Congestion on our roads is growing; we are in the midst of a public health crisis; obesity is on the rise; and we face a climate emergency.
Most of us remember our first bike. I loved riding as a kid, and have enjoyed teaching my children how to ride their bikes. I believe that our passion for exploring the world on two wheels as youngsters does not leave us as adults. However, that passion has a tendency to be overtaken by practicalities, by a lack of safe cycling infrastructure, and by a lack of confidence in a world where the car is king.
It is my job as a mayor, our job as MPs, and the job of those with whom we work closely in local authorities to do all that we can to enable people to walk, cycle and run if they want to. I recently submitted a bid for £220 million from the Department for Transport’s transforming cities fund. If that is approved—fingers crossed—it will unlock major improvements in transport networks across South Yorkshire. I have also brought on board the brightest and the best talent; there is none better than my new active travel commissioner, Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, who is already making a huge impact.
In the Sheffield City region, nearly 40% of car trips are under 1 km, which is the equivalent of just a 15-minute walk. It is no surprise then that our motorways and major roads are under great strain. If we are to safeguard our health, our environment, and our economy, now is definitely the time to act. That is why I have been working closely with other metro mayors, their active travel commissioners, and experts such as British Cycling, Sustrans, the Ramblers and Living Streets. I am also working with Transport for the North to create policy that will shape the North’s infrastructure.
I will rattle through my five asks for the Minister; I hope he will be familiar with them. First, commit to long-term devolved funding for cycling and walking. Secondly, commit to minimum quality levels to ensure that no more public money is wasted on infrastructure that is not fit for purpose. Thirdly, reform policing and enforcement. Fourthly, enable innovation by keeping road traffic regulations under review. Fifthly, ensure that transport investment decisions account for the true cost to society of car use.
This debate is about much more than encouraging people to get on a bike or put on their walking shoes. People do not need to be encouraged; they need to be enabled. That responsibility lies with us and with national Government.