Is the future bright for active travel in Fort William?

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During the coronavirus crisis we have seen big changes around the world in the way people are travelling.

With fewer cars on the roads, the streets are safer and people are out and about walking and cycling. As a result, there has been a vast improvement in air quality, especially in big cities. But will this transformation in the way we travel disappear as we are released from lockdown?  Will more cars return to the roads because people are reluctant to use public transport?  Those currently enjoying the quiet streets may be forced back to their cars.

Many cities around the world are repurposing their streets for people, putting in place measures that will ensure walking and cycling remain a viable option into the future. Roads are being closed, paths widened, and cycle lanes put in place. In Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow are leading the way with road closures, path widening, and new cycle lanes, returning the roads to the people and enabling car-free access to outdoor spaces and places of leisure and work.

At the end of April, the Scottish Government announced a new £10 million fund, “Spaces for People”, to support pop-up active travel infrastructure. At first glance this sounds wonderful. But further investigation reveals that the fund is for temporary short-term measures only, and that the money has been diverted from an existing fund, “Places for Everyone”, which funds long-term active travel projects.

Does the Spaces for People initiative replace a long-term transformational vision for active travel with short-term objectives that will then disappear once the coronavirus crisis is over? Coronavirus is not the only crisis we are facing: the climate crisis is a real and ongoing threat to society, and measures implemented now to maintain public health as we emerge from lockdown, could, if properly designed, also help to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis.

Lochaber Environmental Group’s new Bike Library, which is part of our new Climate Challenge Fund project, Low Carbon Lochaber, has been helping community volunteers during lockdown with the loan of bikes free of charge.  LEG also has the opportunity to deliver an ambitious electric bike hire scheme in Fort William, with plans for 80 ebikes and 15 docking stations located at key locations around the wider Fort William area.

The long-term vision for the ebike hire scheme is to transform the way we travel locally, reduce traffic congestion, and provide an inexpensive, healthy mode of transport that will be available for all to use. With a considerable portion of the project funding already secured, the ebike scheme will only become a reality if LEG can find the required match funding.

The future for active travel in Fort William could be bright, but it requires long-term planning and the funding to take it forward.