While the public’s focus has understandably been preoccupied with the global pandemic, and that of planners with the planning white paper, the government has released significant new guidance that could lead to lasting changes to both public health and planning.

Matt Hare

Matt Hare

Gear Change sets out design principles for areas where a high volume of cycling could, or already does, exist – chiefly in larger towns and cities. The aspiration is that cycle routes are logical in their routing, create meaningful connections and are designed for larger numbers of cyclists of all abilities. It proposes more segregation between cyclists and other road traffic and pedestrians. Anyone who has cycled any distance on local cycle paths will have experienced many head-scratching moments when a cycle path suddenly disappears, or a seemingly needless chicane or physical barrier appears. Gear Change wants such experiences to become a thing of the past.

For some time, we have looked to parts of northern Europe and coveted their comprehensive and well-planned cycle infrastructure, so this guidance shift is no knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic.

While this guidance mostly applies to large-scale cycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects, there are also implications for private developers. For example, more land may need to be devoted to pedestrian and cycle infrastructure within new developments.

London cyclists

Source: Shutterstock/ CK Travels

Strict adherence to the guidance may also present some additional urban-design challenges. For example, part of the charm of our urban realm can be the intimate relationships between buildings and roads/paths, and it may be a challenge to replicate such charm where there is a requirement for roads and paths to be of ever-increasing width.

Overall, however, the challenges are not insurmountable. Indeed, where I work in Cambridge, we have both a strong sense of place and good provision of cycle infrastructure. In general terms however, a more logical and comprehensive network of cycle routes nationally will certainly be welcomed by the public.

Matt Hare is partner at Carter Jonas Cambridge