North East Active Travel Strategy March 2023

Cover of the NE Active Travel Strategy showing people cycling and walking

Transport North East is currently consulting on its draft Active Travel Strategy to encourage more Active Travel – walking, wheeling and cycling – across the North East. This blog sets out SPACE for Gosforth’s response to that consultation.

Following on from their Making the Right Travel Choice strategy published in Nov 2022, the Active Travel Strategy aims to support this strategy by enabling more active travel journeys.

The Active Travel Strategy has outlined a single specific target to increase short active travel journeys by 45% by 2035. 

Who Are Transport North East?

Transport for the North East provides “strategy, planning and delivery services on behalf of the North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC)“.  This committee is made up of the region’s two Combined Authorities (North of Tyne Combined Authority covering Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, and the North East Combined Authority covering Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside). It came into being in as part of legislation enacting the North of Tyne Combined Authority and Mayor.

In March 2021 the North East Transport Plan was published, outlining a Vision and set of objectives for the North East and identifying the transport priorities needed to meet those objectives.  The lead policy of the Transport Plan is ‘helping people to make the right travel choice’.  This then led to the Make the Right Travel Choice Strategy.  The North East Active Travel Strategy will help to achieve this aim by ‘enabling more active travel journeys’.

What Does This Target Actually Mean?

To place this target in context, the data detailing the current number, type and length of journeys in the North East comes from the Department for Transport’s annual National Travel Survey.  This target specifically aims to increase the number of journeys under five miles which are walked, wheeled or cycled.  Our understanding is that the dataset that has been used as a baseline for this target is the 2018/2019 given the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on the sample size of subsequent surveys.

Using this data, active travel choices in the North East currently make up 37% of trips under 5 miles.  An increase of 45% will bring this to 54%, broadly in line with the Active Travel England objective of “50% of trips in England’s towns and cities to be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030.” and the government’s Second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS2, Jul 2022) which has long-term objectives to “increase the percentage of short journeys in towns and cities that are walked or cycled to 50% in 2030 and to 55% in 2035.”

You can read or listen to the strategy here and comment on the strategy here or by emailing until midnight on the 5th March 2023.


Dear Transport North East

Re: Active Travel Strategy March 2022

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Transport North East draft Active Travel Strategy.

We are a community group based in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. SPACE stands for Safe Pedestrian and Cycling Environment. Our group was established in 2015 due to residents’ concerns about road danger and air pollution in our local neighbourhood. You can find our group objectives on our website

We previously responded to Transport North East’s Make the Right Travel Choice consultation in 2022, the North East Transport Plan consultation in 2021 as well as the North East Combined Authority’sWalking and Cycling Survey in 2017.

SPACE for Gosforth supports well-evidenced interventions to enable more people to walk, wheel or cycle more often. Being enabled to travel actively also enables people to access local services and job opportunities, save money and improve their health, which has a wide range of positive impacts both for the individual and the wider economy.

As can be seen by the dates on the consultations to which we have already responded, time is of the essence.  Six years have already passed since the North East combined Authority’s Walking and Cycling Survey.  Given that children who started school six years ago, will have now moved to middle school and will be leaving school in 2031, some urgency to realise the benefits of active travel for this generation is essential.

Summary of Key Points from our response

Objectives The strategy needs to be clear if it is solely to increase active travel journeys or if it is targeting a modal switch from driving to active travel. Targets and actions to be taken should reflect this, and should be based on the best available evidence for what is effective to achieve the desired outcomes.

Other regional planning will need to align to these objectives, e.g. to avoid major road expansion schemes that will create severance, lead to additional journeys by car and consequently more emissions.

Targets We support the target to increase active travel to be 54% of all journeys under 5 miles in the NE, which assumes a corresponding decrease in short vehicle journeys. 

Monitoring “direction of travel” however, is not sufficient and doesn’t support achievement of the 2035 target. Interim targets e.g. 45% by 2026, 50% by 2030, should be added for tracking purposes, along with LA-specific targets for specific initiatives like school streets, low-traffic neighbourhoods and LTN1/20 compliant protected cycle lanes.

The Vision Zero target in the NE Transport Plan should also be included in this strategy.

Governance The context should set out clearly the different roles and responsibilities of Transport North East and Local Authorities in delivering this strategy, and what will happen if interim targets are not met. 

Barriers The strategy needs to recognise that while there are a number of barriers, the main barrier for achieving the desired modal switch relates to safety and that interventions to address this need to be given the highest priority. Other initiatives e.g. cycle hire and behaviour change should be focused where there are safe routes people can use.

Funding The strategy needs to demonstrate clearly that the schemes proposed, and level of funding requested, will ensure delivery of the strategy objectives. Currently there is little in the strategy to provide confidence this is the case.

Detail Comments by section of the draft strategy

Executive Summary

The executive summary needs to include an inspiring and relatable vision for what this strategy will mean for where people live and how they may travel in future. 

We suggest it also covers the points raised in our “summary of key points” above. 

We suggest the statement “This would mean that over half of journeys in the North East would be made by active travel.” is amended to “This would mean that, if there is a corresponding decrease in vehicle journeys, over half of all journeys under five miles in the North East would be made by active travel.”

Section 1. Introduction and Context

We support the inclusion of ‘micromobility’ in the strategy. We consider this inevitable and that Transport North East should be preparing for this now to plan for a comprehensive combined cycling / low-speed micro-mobility network.

Strategy Scope should set out how the corresponding decrease in vehicle travel will be achieved, whether it is part of the active travel strategy or something separate.

The context should also set out the different roles and responsibilities of Transport North East and Local Authorities in delivering this strategy, and confirm the process and steps to be taken by each Local Authority to commit to the strategy once the NE Joint Transport Committee has recommended approval.

Section 2. Benefits of Active Travel

Walking and cycling are highly efficient ways to travel that benefit personal health, allow access to local services and job opportunities, and achieve that without any pollution, carbon emissions.

Additional benefits you may wish to consider include:

  • Walking and cycling routes have much greater capacity to move people, goods and services per meter width than private vehicles. 
  • Benefits for accessibility and inclusion.
  • Benefits for children’s independence.
  • Potential to reduce commuting time for parents if children are able to travel independently to school once they begin middle school (Year 5)
  • Reduced cost and better value for money compared to large road schemes. 
  • Enabling low cost travel for individuals and families
  • Increased productivity & fewer sick days at work due to health benefits.
  • Increased usage of public transport through enabling cycling to local transport hubs
  • Energy security – less reliance on oil imports
  • Addressing physical inactivity. A British Heart Foundation Physical Activity Report in 2017 identified that 42% of adults in the North East are classed as being inactive. 
  • Increased community cohesion.

Further information and links can be found in our 2017 blog “The Case for Healthy Streets”

Some of the benefits outlined in the strategy are related to, and would require a reduction in traffic, rather than an increase in walking, cycling and wheeling.  These include

  • Reducing carbon emissions, potentially saving around 80,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
  • Improving air quality by reducing pollution from traffic emissions.
  • Reducing noise levels as congestion is eased on our road network.
  • Saving petrol and diesel car drivers on average approximately £70 per year (based on September 2022 fuel prices).

As is mentioned in a later section, whether or not traffic reduction will be achieved without other interventions restricting traffic is questionable.  Particularly the benefit of reduced carbon emissions is somewhat overshadowed given the traffic schemes identified in the North East Transport Plan.  

For example, National Highways estimate that the proposed A1 dualling from Morpeth to Ellingham alone will result in an additional 1.4 million tonnes of CO2e to be emitted. That is 17.5 years of active travel benefits wiped out on one short section of road alone.

To convince both our leaders and the public that this strategy is valuable, the benefits must be meaningful and directly related to the objectives of the Active Travel strategy.  

Section 3. How do people travel now?

No comments

Section 4. What are the Challenges?

The strategy needs to recognise that while there are a number of barriers, the main barrier for achieving the desired modal switch relates to safety and that interventions to address this need to be given the highest priority.

Other initiatives e.g. cycle hire and behaviour change should only be implemented where there are safe routes people can use.

Another potential challenge is simply political will to implement the changes. Transport North East could this assist by ensuring transport leads and other Councillors are well briefed on best practice for community engagement and case studies of where previous implementations have been effective.

Section 5. Where Do We Want to be?

We believe a more inspiring and relatable picture of the outcomes would be useful in selling this strategy both to the general public, their elected officials and for gaining real political commitment from the members of the Joint Transport Committee and the future North East metro mayor.

Change is not always welcomed, and the implementation of changes to neighbourhoods at a local level as well as the introduction of a number of schemes during the pandemic has been at times controversial.  However, it is also true that on the whole, councils who were bold with the changes that they have implemented have been re-elected, showing a quiet support beneath the headlines and outrage.

An inspirational vision in this section of the strategy is important to ensure it does not simply remain a tick box exercise.  While statements such as “Negative perceptions of active travel will have been addressed through various initiatives such as promotional campaigns” may allow specific commitments that enable you to reach this point to be identified, it is not the most vibrant imagining of the future!

What will streets look and feel like for everyone: young and old, urban and rural?  What opportunities will there be?  What will our towns, cities and villages look like if your commitment statements are met?

Similar to the “Changes You Will Start To See” section in the North East Transport plan, this section would be enhanced by a more vivid description of what positive day to day differences we will notice should the strategy be successful.

Section 6. Measures of Success

“We propose to monitor success against our vision by… (the) available National Travel Survey (NTS) data to monitor our progress and understand relevant travel patterns in our region.”

While the Executive Summary highlights that “Walking is a good way to increase levels of activity and has the greatest potential to improve public health” the supporting data shows that almost 80% of trips of 1 mile or less are already walked.  While there may be some scope to increase these, the data implies that a great deal of willingness to walk short distances already exists.

For journeys of 1-2 miles or longer, this figure decreases as could be expected simply due to increased time pressures for trips where the purpose is not simply exercise.  The implication, therefore, is that the greater opportunity to convert journeys to active travel is to enable more cycling and micro-mobility.  That is not to say that there is not a great deal to be done to improve the environment for walking, only that those improvements may not be a major contributor to achieving the overarching target.

From the data on which the target is based, if half of a 45% increase in active travel trips were from increased cycling this would result in a cycling mode share of ~7%.  From research by Rahul Goel et al it is noted that “In almost all geographies with cycling mode share greater than 7% women made as many cycle trips as men, and sometimes even greater.”

We suggest that when seeking “methods… to give us a greater understanding of active travel in our region and more accurately assess our position against our goals.” that targeting research on the gender distribution in cycling in the region would assist in assessing progress against the target.

We are also concerned that in having a single target based on a quantitative analysis that the majority of effort will be aimed at schemes perceived to support the greatest gains in terms of modal switch.  Without targets or even monitoring for other demographics such as disability, age, ethnic background and income, it will be difficult to ensure the inclusivity of the implementation of the strategy.  While the strategy mentions that “When monitoring the Key Performance

Indicators, we will also, where possible, seek to analyse and monitor inequalities in transport and health”, none of the Transport Plan’s Key Performance Indicators mention inequality, even though one of the five objectives of the Transport Plan is “Overcome inequality and grow our economy.”  “Where possible” is not a sufficient commitment to ensuring the strategy is inclusive.

There needs to be a clear commitment to ensuring that the Active Travel Strategy is inclusive by monitoring inequalities and targeting schemes accordingly.

We believe it is also important to develop a clear picture of the contributions of each Local Authority towards the final target and how that increases over time.  As the strategy explains “According to the 2021 Census, our region has a population of 1.97 million with 79% of people living in urban locations and 21% living in rural locations.”  With the very different geography and challenges of each Local Authority, individual targets would ensure that overall the final target remains achievable.

While the regional overview provided by this strategy is important, it is essential that political leaders across the region commit to specific time-bound targets defined to ensure the strategy is successful. 

Section 7. How Do We Get There?

“The plan sets out a live programme of interventions… All schemes will be subject to more rigorous testing and appraisal and will only be delivered where they have demonstrated, through detailed business case development, that they can appropriately contribute towards the delivery of the objectives.”

While the interventions themselves are positive, there is little in the strategy that gives us confidence that 

  1. the combined total of these interventions will achieve the target to increase active travel by 45% 
  2. sufficient consideration has been given on how to achieve the necessary pace and urgency to provide safe walking and cycling networks, taking account of the fact that any modal shift will occur over a period of years after delivery of those networks.
  3. the level of funding requested is anywhere near sufficient (Greater Manchester estimated £1.5bn would be required for a smaller area).
  4. large parts of the funding won’t be diverted to pay for unrelated road changes or to mitigate safety issues created by road building e.g. demolishing the Gateshead flyover, or paying for underpasses or bridges which should be included in road or rail budgets. 

The strategy then states “this programme will be delivered by the constituent authorities and Nexus within the North East”.  This underlines the key role of the commitment of the Local Authorities within the region.  However, many of the interventions identified are large scale and long-term.  Within the Commitment Statements identified, there are a number of relatively quick, repeatable and cheap interventions that can make significant differences to the quality of the walking, wheeling and cycling environment.  These should be supported by specific targets that individual Local Authorities commit to.

For example:

  • “We will adopt LTN 1/20 design standards across the region.”
    • Eg: All LAs formally adopt LTN1/20 as standard by the end of 2023 for all road schemes, not just those designated as relating to walking or cycling.
  • We will support and work with local partners to increase the number of ‘school streets’ and low traffic neighbourhoods to protect children and improve air quality.
    • 50% primary and first schools have school streets by 2025
  • We will support improvements to public spaces to encourage and enable more walking, wheeling and cycling.
    • Removal of non-compliant barriers on walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 with a clear method of reporting to local authorities.
  • A clear approach to how pavement parking will be addressed and how the public can report where pavements are partially or completely blocked by end 2023.
  • A plan for cutting wait-times at pedestrian crossings with trial sites implemented by the end of 2024.

Further targets might include:

  • Improving rural safety by reducing speed limits on rural roads not part of the strategic transport network to 40mph
  • LA objectives in place and initial LCWIPs complete by end 2023 including identified quick wins for walking and cycling e.g. contraflow cycling, some simple modal filters, speed limits, pavement clutter audits, cycle parking etc
  • Key local walking/cycling destinations identified in LCWIP including local shopping districts and transport hubs.
  • Confirmation that local shopping areas should be designed to the highest standards of safety and accessibility for walking and cycling in line with the motion adopted by Newcastle City Council for Gosforth High Street in November 2022.

The strategy should also better define what the ‘Regional Cycle Network’ is e.g. does it refer to the National Cycle Network, which is great for longer daytime leisure rides but less use for day to day travel, or will it enable local and intra-regional trips serving major housing areas and key destinations? We also suggest an outline plan for this network be completed by March 2024. There is no reason why this should wait to 2029-2035 as set out in the strategy. 

These measures would need to take account of who is responsible and confirm the process for each LA to develop targets in line with the key commitments in the strategy.

These targets can then be tracked against delivery as well as outcomes, for example number of school streets delivered or miles of continuous, protected cycle lane.

We propose that alongside the current long-term programme of interventions that there is developed a series of short-term “quick wins” for implementation by local authorities, with a clear process and timeline for review.  This will both ensure that the foundations of the strategy are secure as well as providing visible short-term changes to maintain public support.

The North East Transport Plan details as part of its Active Travel Strategy “a significant programme of road space reallocation” by 2030 yet this has not been mentioned of explicitly referred to within the Active Travel Strategy other than brief mention within the Commitment Statements of “We will support and work with local partners to increase the number of… low traffic neighbourhoods.”

The recent Making the Right Travel Choice strategy outlined a target to encourage car users to “switch one journey a week to public transport, walking or cycling and for people who don’t have access to a car to continue to travel sustainably.”

Assuming that by “one journey” what is meant is one return journey or two trips*, we would first like to note the current data shows that this strategy will only work firstly if all of those journeys have active travel as their main mode (as defined by the National Travel Survey main mode of a trip is that used for the longest stage of the trip by distance) of and there is a corresponding decrease in car journeys as a proportion of all journeys under 5 miles in the next 12 years.

Nowhere does the strategy explicitly state how traffic will be reduced other than an assumption that people will only switch mode from car to active travel.  While this may occur, it is unlikely to result in fewer overall car journeys as research has shown that people adapt their behaviour according to prevailing road conditions.  One result of quieter, less congested roads means that people may choose to make additional journeys by car that they would not have previously considered.

Given that it is specifically mentioned within the NE Transport Plan, the omission of the “significant programme of road space reallocation” needs to be addressed within the Active Travel strategy.

The other major omission in the Active Travel Strategy is the commitment set out in the NE Transport Plan published March 2021 to “no fatalities or serious injuries on the regions’ road network by 2025.” Given there were 39 deaths and 620 serious injuries recorded on the region’s roads in 2023, this is looking increasingly out of reach. 

Transport North East should take urgent action to address the large number of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) on the region’s roads and, in addition, seek to understand why KSIs haven’t reduced in line with its target to incorporate any lessons learned into future strategies including the active travel strategy.

END of Response

*Making the Right Travel Choice referred to 200 million journeys which is approximately equal to 2 trips per week x 52 weeks of the year x 1.97 million population in the North East.