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Transport / Funding boost for active travel measures

Lerwick's Commercial Street. Photo: Shetland News

FUNDING worth £200,000 is coming Shetland’s way to trial measures to support active travel in the isles.

A bid, led by ZetTrans, to the Scottish Government’s Spaces of People fund has been successful, members of the transport partnership heard on Thursday.

The fund aims to support the development of projects which make it safer for people walk, cycle or wheel during Covid-19 while protecting public health.

A report presented ZetTrans members on Thursday stated that a covered and heated area for cafes and restaurants formed part of the bid, which was entitled ‘Support for safer, sustainable travel in Shetland’’.

“This could be beneficial to the economy of Shetland, and to public health and wellbeing, by providing people with more opportunities to get out and socialise in a post-lockdown world,” the report said.

Also part of the bid was exploring the creation of a “low traffic neighbourhood in the heart of Lerwick” to encourage more people to engage in active travel – such as walking and cycling – in town.

There is also a focus on reallocating road space to walking and cycling along Westerloch Drive in Lerwick to improve safety for people accessing the Clickimin walking and cycling path from the A970, while there was also an emphasis on areas outside of Lerwick like Voe.

Shetland has seen an increase in active travel, as well as a reduction in car use, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey conducted in May showed that since lockdown 42 per cent of respondents said they walked more than before, with eight in ten folk saying they used their car less.

Transport policy and projects officer Robina Barton said on Thursday that the funding presented a chance for measures to be trialled – and if they do not work out then they could be removed.

“The next challenge for us is to figure out exactly how we want to spend [the funding],” she said.

The news of the funding was warmly greeted by members of ZetTrans.

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor said while the Scottish Government often gets criticised by elected members in the chamber for not supporting island and Highland areas, “this is a good example of showing consideration for local communities”.

He questioned how accidents involving cyclists can be avoided, with Barton saying measures like one-way streets and temporary road closure are options.

She said it was a case of being “creative”, but that educating road users was key too.

ZetTrans chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said he is “very surprised there’s not more accidents in Shetland” involving cyclists.

“Cars get far too close and it’s a real issue,” the North Isles member said.

Thomson added that this was causing people to lack confidence on heading out and using their bike in Shetland.

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison, meanwhile, asked how far the funding would reach outside of Lerwick.

Barton reiterated that one strand of the funding bid related to interventions outside of Lerwick.

One focus of this could be around improving access to schools, she added, while Voe has been pinpointed as an area which could benefit.

VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson also said it was important to look at different areas of Shetland, for both locals and visitors.

ZetTrans chairman Ryan Thomson said Lerwick’s urban nature meant it was the easiest location to trial some of the measures, but “maybe that’s precisely the reason why we should be looking outside of Lerwick”.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Rachel Hunter also suggested something that could be looked at is access to country shops, which have been at the forefront of keeping communities supplied during lockdown.

NHS Shetland’s Colin Marsland also raised the issue of on-street parking in Lerwick, saying some streets have effectively been resigned to being one-way due to cars parking on either side.