A Quick Guide to Gear Change

In July this year, the Department for Transport released it’s policy paper Gear Change setting out the Government’s plans for cycling and walking in England.

The document recognises not only that there are huge benefits that increased levels of walking and cycling can bring to the country, but that there are also some sizeable hurdles to overcome to get to those increased levels.

At the time of its release the document was broadly welcomed by campaign groups and notable figures in active travel such as Dame Sarah Storey and Chris Boardman. Even the head of the AA who commented that “getting road space balance for all forms of travel is essential so that deliveries, emergency services, disabled drivers, shoppers and buses are not hindered from conducting their crucial roles as well as promoting active travel.”

Four Themes

The policy sets out numerous proposals to tackle issues that are well known to be detractors to people walking and cycling.

1. Better streets for cycling and people.

With support for measures such as low traffic neighborhoods, school streets, a commitment to fund three non-London mini-Hollands, and the introduction of higher standards for cycle design through the LTN 1/20 (which we cover in this post).

It also poses the introduction of at least one ‘zero-emission city’ which they say will have ‘extensive bike lanes, an all electric (or zero-emission) bus fleet, and a ban on nearly all petrol and diesel vehicles in the city centre, with deliveries made to consolidation hubs and the last mile being done by cargo bike or electric van.’ 

2. Putting cycling and walking at the heart of transport, place-making, and health policy.

Which commits to more funding, improved integration with trains and buses, and investment in cycle freight – with the intention to ‘identify one or two small historic city centres with narrow and crowded streets, [where they] will pilot compulsory freight consolidation schemes’, The majority of deliveries would be consolidated at a location outside of the city centre and taken to their final destination in a far smaller number of clean vehicles, using cargo bikes wherever possible. 

3. Empowering and encouraging local authorities.

Giving them more funding, assistance and powers to make improvements and enforce against offences such as entering mandatory cycle lanes.

But there will also be an element of stick to go with the carrot; with funding only given for schemes that meet standards, time limits on works being delivered, and the introduction of Active Travel England – new commissioning body that will act as Ofsted do for schools. 

4. [Enabling] people to cycle and protect them when they cycle.

Through measures such as encouraging GPs to ‘prescribe’ cycling, doing more to combat cycle theft, doing more for vulnerable road users through law and updating the Highway Code.

Twenty Key Principles

Gear Change also sets out 22 points that summarise the key principles to achieving high quality cycle infrastructure, they are:

  1. Cycle infrastructure should be accessible to everyone from 8 to 80 and beyond: it should be planned and designed for everyone. The opportunity to cycle in our towns and cities should be universal.
  2. Cycles must be treated as vehicles and not as pedestrians. On urban streets, cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians and should not share space with pedestrians. Where cycle routes cross pavements, a physically segregated track should always be provided. At crossings and junctions, cyclists should not share the space used by pedestrians but should be provided with a separate parallel route. 
  3. Cyclists must be physically separated and protected from high volume motor traffic, both at junctions and on the stretches of road between them.
More of facilities like this segregated cycle track in Bradford.
Photo c/o R. Ainsley
  1. Side street routes, if closed to through traffic to avoid rat running, can be an alternative to segregated facilities or closures on main roads – but only if they are truly direct. 
  2. Cycle infrastructure should be designed for significant numbers of cyclists, and for non-standard cycles. Our aim is that thousands of cyclists a day will use many of these schemes. 
  3. Consideration of the opportunities to improve provision for cycling will be an expectation of any future local highway schemes funded by the Government.
  4. Largely cosmetic interventions which bring few or no benefits for cycling or walking will not be funded from any cycling or walking budget. 
  5. Cycle infrastructure must join together, or join other facilities together by taking a holistic, connected network approach which recognises the importance of nodes, links and areas that are good for cycling.
  6. Cycle parking must be included in substantial schemes, particularly in city centres, trip generators and (securely) in areas with flats where people cannot store their bikes at home. Parking should be provided in sufficient amounts at the places where people actually want to go.
  7. Schemes must be legible and understandable. 
  8. Schemes must be clearly and comprehensively signposted and labelled.
  9. Major ‘iconic’ items, such as overbridges must form part of wider, properly thought-through schemes.
  10. As important as building a route itself is maintaining it properly afterwards.
  11. Surfaces must be hard, smooth, level, durable, permeable and safe in all weathers.
  12. Trials can help achieve change and ensure a permanent scheme is right the first time. This will avoid spending time, money and effort modifying a scheme that does not perform as anticipated.
  13. Access control measures, such as chicane barriers and dismount signs, should not be used.
Inaccessible barriers such as the infamous Hob Moor A-frames are a no-no.
  1. The simplest, cheapest interventions can be the most effective.
  2. Cycle routes must flow, feeling direct and logical.
  3. Schemes must be easy and comfortable to ride.
  4. All designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads as a cyclist. 
  5. Schemes must be consistent. 
  6. In rare cases, where it is absolutely unavoidable, a short stretch of less good provision rather than jettisoning an entire route which is otherwise good will be appropriate. But in most instances it is not absolutely unavoidable and exceptions will be rare.


Gear Change also makes a strong case that all schemes should involve the public before they’re delivered to increase acceptance and ensure that the end user’s needs are dealt with.

Since it’s rebirth York Cycle Campaign has actively engaged on many schemes, even seeking out engagement when it hasn’t necessarily been offered, and will continue to do so making strong reference to Gear Change and the accompanying documents. We believe in having such as clear document as direct Government policy the case for safe, convenient and accessible cycle infrastructure in York is as strong as ever. If you’d like to be a part of this and aren’t already, then please do join the Campaign.

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