UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a plan on Tuesday to get England fit by pledging £2 billion ($2.5 billion) to a countrywide cycling and walking campaign that will offer bike repair vouchers and even bikes on prescription through general practitioners.
The new government initiative titled “Gear change: The cycling and walking plan for England” is a long-term plan to build on the increased cycling habits that have emerged during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and improve the confidence of would-be cyclists through training and support.
The promise of thousands of miles of new cycle lanes seeks to reduce pressures on the National Health Service (NHS) by improving the health of the population through walking and cycling and, at the same time, reduce environmental pollution due to less vehicle emissions.
“From helping people get fit and healthy and lowering their risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face,” Johnson said in a statement.
Other initiatives will include increasing bike racks in towns and cities, and bike storage space at stations and on trains and buses. On-street storage will also be provided for people who don’t have room to store a bike at home.
A new national e-bike program will help older or less fit people to access electric bikes to help them get around, while in certain areas with “poor health rates,” doctors will be encouraged to prescribe cycling and provide access to bikes via local surgeries.
“We’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes for generations to come, and get more people choosing to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.
National walking and cycling organizations Cycling UK and The Ramblers have broadly welcomed the extensive measures.
Pop-up repair shops set up by Cycling UK with £1 million ($1.3 million) from the Department for Transport (DFT) will do no-cost low-level repairs on a potential 100,000 bikes that have been stored in sheds, left unused, or just need a quick overhaul.
Vouchers for 50 pounds ($65) can be applied for online to be used at local repair shops for any further recommended repairs.
“We do see it as far-reaching, it’s comprehensive, it’s actually pretty fantastic,” Sam Jones, Cycling UK’s communications manager, told The Epoch Times.
“But there is a but,” explained Jones, who said the funding was still minimal and not enough to meet the government’s ambitions.
“This is not sour grapes though,” Jones said. “We have a prime minister making an announcement of such magnitude, it shows that it’s serious. … But we’ll see just what seriousness is being attached to cycling and walking in the forthcoming spending review.”
The Ramblers, the UK’s largest walkers’ rights organization, were also positive about the new government measures to kick-start “an active travel revolution,” but added that they would like to see increased support for recreational walking in towns and cities.
“There’s much to welcome in today’s announcement—long term budgets for walking and cycling, funding for low traffic neighborhoods, new mini-Hollands, more school streets and a low emission city. Steps to improve the safety of walkers are also welcome—from plans to change the highway code to give priority to pedestrians, to a move away from shared space for walkers and cyclists,” Gemma Cantelo, head of policy and advocacy for Ramblers GB, said in a statement.
“This is a critical opportunity to increase walking and improve infrastructure for walking and not just for cycling. Increasing access to urban green routes must be part of any government vision for walking and cycling.”