New walking and cycling measures in Colchester: the future of our town is in our hands

Blog by Cllr Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader of Essex County Council and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure.

barriers and signs on Colchester high street to enable social distancingResidents and business owners on or near to St John’s Street, Colchester, will have noticed Essex Highways have replaced temporary orange barriers which were used as an emergency action to enable social distancing for pedestrians. We have now replaced these with the more effective and more attractive “defender kerbs”, as they are known, and green and white poles to create segregated walking and cycling space.

I believe the new kerbs and poles encourage shoppers to cross the road, and our designers have, with the help of local councillors and business representatives, worked hard to meet the needs for loading.

One-way systems, 20mph speed limits and segregated space for social distancing and cycling in St John’s Street are useful and necessary in themselves, but are also, importantly, part of much wider efforts to support and encourage people to move away from car driving to more sustainable, safer, greener, healthier travel and transport.

We know that air pollution, which is prevalent on busy streets like St John’s, reduces life expectancy by about six months. In a recent survey in Colchester, 87 per cent of those polled were concerned about air quality in general and 41 per cent of think of Colchester as ‘highly polluted’. Particulates in the town centre are not reducing significantly. We must act to change this situation.

Buses using the now one-way system is a step forward, with one bus able to replace many cars and buses are now greener with cleaner engines fitted. This progress reducing bus engine emissions must continue.

Space for social distancing continues to be vital. Post-COVID, public transport will become ever more important in providing a healthier town centre for all. Walking and cycling are vital components in reducing pollution but also directly in improving public health.

Government, councillors, health experts, political parties and residents all agree major changes must be made to make our towns safer, greener and healthier. That’s why our bid to Government for funding for improved cycle and walking routes in towns including Colchester is so important.

St John’s Street is a key part of our proposed East/West cycle route. If we receive the funding to make these changes, we have a better chance of making Colchester a cycle-friendly town, encouraging many more people to leave the car at home or outside the town centre.

For all of us, now, this is a moral issue: can we sometimes choose to walk, cycle or get the bus instead of driving? The future of our town is in all our hands.