Sustrans publishes evaluation of temporary active travel programme

The findings of a comprehensive analysis of the temporary active travel fund, Spaces for People, have been published by Sustrans’ Research and Monitoring Unit.

Spaces for People was a flagship Scottish Government programme launched at the start of 2020, early in the Covid-19 pandemic, to enable people to make essential journeys and exercise during lockdown.

Funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Sustrans Scotland, the £33 million fund was made available to local authorities and other statutory bodies to introduce temporary infrastructure across Scotland. 

The infrastructure was introduced to protect public health and alleviate the effects of lockdowns. 

Short term measures included widened pavements, pop-up cycle lanes and reduced speed limits.

These interventions allowed people to physically distance more easily, and offered them safe access to essential services such as healthcare, food and education, without the need for public transport.

The reports released provide insights on the extent to which Spaces for People achieved its overall aims, as well as how those with protected characteristics were impacted by the programme.  

The report also highlights key learnings and recommendations to be taken forward. 

In total, 30 local authorities, three NHS trusts and Tayside and Central Scotland Transport Partnership (TACTRAN) took part in the programme, with each delivering their own projects.

Together, this resulted in the implementation of 1,298 interventions over a two-year period.

This is an unprecedented rate of delivery within the sector.

Findings show that walking and cycling increased across Scotland while temporary measures were in place.  

The reports also show that public reception of the programme was generally more positive than negative.

One of the key successes of the programme is the large number of temporary Spaces for People measures which have contributed to longer-term plans or new active travel projects locally. 

This includes the closure of the Kelvin Way in Glasgow to motor traffic, and the people-first pedestrianisation of Union Street in Dundee that has benefitted many local businesses. 

Interventions which have served their purpose and are no longer seen as relevant by communities are currently in the process of being removed if they haven’t been already. 

This was the intention of the programme from the outset.

Whilst the broader aims of protecting public health and facilitating essential journeys during the pandemic were largely met, a number of key lessons have also been taken from the delivery of the programme.

Lack of availability of materials early in the pandemic meant that local authorities often had to rely on poorer quality and visually unappealing materials, such as traffic cones, to deliver temporary measures.

This was later rectified in some areas through the use of more welcoming fixtures, such as wooden community planters.

Feedback also highlighted that improved engagement with disability groups to address their concerns, could have increased the overall success of the scheme. 

The learnings from the research will now be fed into a process of learning and continuous improvement over the coming months, through a series of engagement sessions and workshops with delivery partners.

Patrick Harvie, Minister for Active Travel said: “Spaces for People was an emergency response to the global pandemic – across the world, in places like New York, Paris and Berlin, streets were reshaped to meet the big shift in public demand for safer walking, wheeling and cycling.

“These welcome reports from Sustrans Scotland show that many of the Scottish schemes have been successful and local authorities are choosing to make them permanent.

“At the same time, delivering schemes swiftly and at scale, raised issues that we can all learn and build on as we consider new permanent infrastructure.

“The active travel landscape has improved much since Spaces for People was first announced.

“Funding for active travel is now at record levels and set to increase further in future years, and we will work with partner organisations to ensure that inclusive design and accessibility is embedded in designs from the outset.”

Karen McGregor, Sustrans Scotland Director said: “Spaces for People was an enormous undertaking during what was an unprecedented time for all of us.

“We are immensely proud of the successes it has achieved.

“The temporary measures delivered through the programme ensured people across Scotland could safely distance from one another when making necessary journeys to key workplaces, schools, supermarkets and healthcare sites.

“We are hugely appreciative of our delivery partners for their tireless work throughout the pandemic to make sure temporary measures were implemented both swiftly and safely.

“We’d also like to thank Transport Scotland for providing the funding to facilitate the Spaces for People programme.”

Walter Scott, Chair of the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS) said: 
“The Spaces for People programme showed the importance of collaboration and communication between the multiple partners responsible for delivering safe and accessible active travel infrastructure in Scotland. 
 
“SCOTS and our local authority members have been delighted to support the programme and its evaluation.

“We look forward to embedding the lessons learned in developing best practice and continuing our collaborative active travel partnerships”. 

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