The Labour Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region writes.
Underinvestment in the North’s transport infrastructure has acted as a brake on our economy and a drag on our living standards for too many years.
As Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region I’ve been pushing central government for more investment in the rail network across the north, but also to devolve decision making around how we use that funding.
But I believe that active travel – walking and cycling – could be just as vital for the development of the Liverpool City Region, and the North more broadly. And it’s something we don’t have to wait for Westminster to step up and deliver.
Right now, two thirds of all journeys across the six boroughs of the Liverpool City Region are three miles or less, but half of these are still taken by car. If more of these trips were taken by bike or on foot it would massively benefit the region and the people who live here.
To achieve this we’re talking about nothing short of a revolution in the way people travel. We need to raise the profile and prominence of active travel so that it is natural a choice as hopping on a bus or taking the train. Cities like Copenhagen and Taipei have taken this approach and it has yielded huge benefits for their citizens.
It would have a positive impact on our air quality and help to cut carbon emissions. Earlier this year we became the first city region outside London to declare a climate emergency and the first to set a target to become zero carbon by 2040. As it stands, more than 700 people here die each year as a result of air pollution. We need to bring this to a stop and encouraging people to ditch their cars will be part of the solution.
Greater numbers of people travelling on bike and foot will also help improve public health. Research shows that regular walking and cycling cuts people’s risk of cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and stroke by a third.
And more active travel will grow our economy. High quality walkways and cycle paths have been shown to boost retail spend by 30 per cent, which will help badly hit high streets and town centres.
That’s why, over the next ten years and beyond, we’ll be building a network of 600km of new and upgraded walking and cycling routes linking all six boroughs of the city region – Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and the Wirral.
These routes will not only be safe and easy to use, but – as part of my plans to deliver an integrated London-style transport network – will also be linked to our buses, our iconic Mersey Ferries and our brand new publically-owned metro trains, which will begin running in our city region from next year.
Some £16m of funding for seven initial routes – about 50km in total – has already been committed and the first spade will go in the ground on these projects in the next few months, but to really kick-start a revolution in the way people travel we need to go beyond building infrastructure.
We need a cultural shift, so that people think about walking and cycling as a genuine alternative to the car. That’s why we’re introducing schemes to help people to travel by bike or foot, regardless of their background.
In the Liverpool City Region, we’ve piloted, backed and funded a host of schemes designed to make active travel easier, safer and more accessible to residents. These include training thousands of school pupils in cycle safety, supporting hundreds of co-workers to commute together on foot and providing free bikes to newly employed people to ensure that access to help ensure that access to transport doesn’t impact someone’s potential to keep their new job.
When it comes to active travel, I know our neighbours across the North are also strongly committed to building infrastructure and changing behaviour. Transport for the North is incorporating walking and cycling measures into new highways development, whilst Greater Manchester is putting their own walking and cycling strategy in place.
So while I will never give up calling for the government to redress the historic imbalance around investment in our rail network, in the Liverpool City Region we lead rather than follow. It’s time for a revolution in the way we travel, and it starts here.
Steve Rotheram is the Labour Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region