Cheltenham prioritises walking and cycling as high street reopens
By Matt Hall | 22nd June 2020
Cheltenham Borough Council has put forward ambitious proposals to increase walking and cycling in the town to create space for social distancing.
The latest plans have been drawn up by the council in response to the government's Active Travel Fund - a new emergency fund created to support local authorities to implement temporary interventions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to assist longer term projects that will improve local walking and cycling facilities. These plans are ideas at this stage and will need to be tested if they are supported by the county council.
Last week, much of Cheltenham's high street and non-essential retailers reopened their doors to the public for the first time in almost three months.
Working in partnership with colleagues from Gloucestershire County Council, Cheltenham BID and Stagecoach, Cheltenham Borough Council has introduced a number of new temporary measures designed to enable safe social distancing, including the temporary widening of footpaths and the re-siting of bus stops.
However, these measures are only the start of a range of additional interventions that the borough council is looking for to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 - yet also seek to harness the recent shift towards walking, cycling and more sustainable forms of transport.
These proposals, which have been submitted to the county council for consideration, include pedestrianising sections of Regent Street, Rodney Road and Winchcombe Street during the day to provide additional safe, vehicle-free space for pedestrians in what are high footfall areas of the town. Similar proposals for Montpellier would see a narrowing of Montpellier Street along with the temporary closure of the car parking along Montpellier Walk allowing for additional outside seating for the many cafes, bars and restaurants in this part of town. Cheltenham BID has worked with the borough council to present proposals that would directly support the town's hospitality businesses.
Longer term proposals, which have been drawn from the council's Connecting Cheltenham strategy, include the creation of new neighbourhood zones with reduced vehicles, improvements to existing cycle paths and junctions, increased cycle parking in the town and the development of a new Cheltway Cycle Network.
Councillor Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham Borough Council's cycling and walking champion, said: "The impact and effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our everyday lives has been profound in so many ways. As we now look towards the future and the town's economic recovery, we have an opportunity to use some of the behavioural changes that have been forced upon us to our advantage - including how we sustain healthier and more active lifestyles and continue to switch to more sustainable forms of transport. We know that walking and cycling will make people happier, healthier and it will improve productivity at work too. We also know that the statistics show people who walk or cycle to town will spend more money in shops over the longer term".
"I'm delighted therefore that Cheltenham Borough Council has once again been so proactive in putting forward its priorities and I look forward to working with our colleagues at Gloucestershire County Council to progress these plans at similar pace. Cheltenham has the opportunity to significantly increase the opportunities for walking and cycling, contributing not only to the physical and mental well-being of our residents and visitors, but also contributing to our impact on climate change.
Cllr Nigel Moor, cabinet member for environment and planning, said: "I am really keen to make it as easy as possible for people to choose cycling or walking as we begin to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I want to thank Cheltenham Borough Council, and all of Gloucestershire's district councils, for giving us so many ideas. We are looking really closely at all the proposals to see which are feasible and we will implement as many as we can. In the meantime we're working with Cheltenham on our trial scheme in Bath Road, and will keep supporting all of Gloucestershire's district councils in their works to support our local economy. We have also brought forward scheduled maintenance on our existing cycle network to support the recent increase of cycling in the county."
All submissions from districts to the county council will go through an evaluation and safety audit process. As soon as this is complete and funding is made available by Government the county council will be in touch with districts and local residents affected by this work.
The proposals are seeking funding from the Government's Emergency Active Travel Fund which adds to the recently announced Reopening High Streets Safely Fund (RHSS), which has seen £50m shared between all councils in England aimed at supporting the safe reopening of high streets.
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