Learn how Leicester City Council’s active travel strategy is boosting bus use and cycling in the city. This investment forms part of 50 climate actions for councils under Action 21, to prioritise transport investment in cycling, walking, trams, and public transport, with a priority of installing segregated cycleways on most roads, increasing space for pedestrians, and introducing a 20 mph speed limit in urban areas.

23 May 2022

How is Action 21 tackling the climate crisis?

Leicester is one of the UK’s five fastest-growing cities and transport is the largest source of climate change emissions. Cutting emissions from transport will be key to the City Council’s ability to meet its ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The council has invested almost £40 million in walking, cycling and public transport across the city. It aims to double cycling rates and boost bus journeys by 10%. Measures include new ticket technology, an express electric bus network, new bus lanes and walking and cycling routes and electric bike hire.

The city’s transport policies are part of the Connecting Leicester programme, which is designed to make active travel more attractive to local people while reducing the dominance of roads in the city centre.

Projects launched in 2021 include:

  • Creation of an electric express bus network linking transport, retail, employment, educational and health hubs.
  • Electrification of two park and ride services providing easy access to hospitals.
  • Installation of 8km of prioritised bus lanes and the introduction of bus priority measures, such as camera-enforced bus lanes to reduce congestion and speed-up journeys.
  • Smart ticketing, including contactless and mobile payment options across all bus services.
  • High-quality walking and cycling infrastructure, including a pedestrian- and cyclist-only footbridge and new toucan and pelican crossings.
  • Installation of 26km of new cycle and walking routes.
  • Introduction of ‘Santander Cycles Leicester’ which provides 500 electric bikes for hire at 50 city-centre locations.

The council is currently consulting on a workplace parking levy to create funds for a further expansion of safe, attractive active travel measures.

Roads with priority cycle lanes and happy cyclists in sunshine

What impact has the project had?

The first assessment of the impact of Leicester’s policies will be made in mid-2022 and will include economic, health and social benefits.

The first phase of eleven electric buses, powered by 100% renewable energy, replaced diesel vehicles on Leicester’s three park and ride routes in May 2021.

To increase the impact of the new transport policies, Leicester City Council has designed these measures to create corridors that strategically link the city centre, regeneration areas and business parks with employment hubs and where housing expansion is planned.

Economic impacts

The council is using money from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund to decarbonise transport in the region. The investment is already delivering rewards.

For example, the council’s integration of contactless payment methods across public transport systems brings the value-for-money benefit of £3.63 for every £1 invested through journey time savings, increased patronage and reduced operating costs. Prioritising investment here will save 442,549 hours in journey times per year for existing travellers, through faster onboarding processes.

What made this work?

Leicester City Council has committed to this project because council leaders recognised the far-reaching economic opportunities that investment in active travel and public transport offers, through making the city more attractive to visitors, shoppers, businesses and investors.

Anticipated economic benefits include reduced congestion due to a shift from the use of private vehicles to sustainable modes of travel, as well as reduced delays to bus passengers.

Anticipated health benefits are another clear driver of the project. Higher levels of exercise are expected to boost local people’s health and reduce mortality rates, while also reducing absenteeism in the city’s workforce. Overall, the council estimate a benefit-cost ratio, with every £1 invested expected to create £2.84 in wider benefits related to health and wellbeing.

What resources were needed?

Investment for this project came from two injections of funding from the Department for Transport’s Transforming Cities Fund. The first, in 2019, awarded £7.8m for the council to create active travel schemes and to electrify park and ride services.

In 2020, a second injection of £32.5m was awarded – based on a strategic business case outline created by the council to cut carbon, improve health and bring significant economic benefits to the area.

Lessons from Leicester

Wide-reaching community engagement is important in making new sustainable travel measures a success. An important lesson from Leicester’s work has been to use pop-up travel measures such as cycle lanes, to win over the public, who can experience first-hand the benefits change can bring.

The authority has also worked with external organisations to create a broader cycling culture across the local area. It has joined forces with partners such as Sustrans, British Cycling and Living Streets to deliver important engagement initiatives. These include the £300 bike challenge, a fund for city-based groups to promote a cycling culture more widely.

Open Streets is a monthly event bringing communities together for walks, guided tours, bike try-outs, art and entertainment around the city’s streets. Open Streets has helped to connect local residents and improve cycling safety.

Strong political leadership was essential to Leicester’s approach ensuring that there was a commitment to the significant planning and engagement that was needed.

Political leaders and officers throughout the council must completely buy into the project and be unwavering in its implementation, to enable the significant benefits to be realised.

“This ambitious programme represents a big step forward for the city. It will provide attractive, sustainable travel choices for people, supporting our work around the climate emergency and air quality challenges. It will also help encourage more people to make healthy choices through cycling and walking and support the increasing number of people who are already choosing to travel this way.”

Cllr Adam Clarke, Deputy City Mayor for Environment and Transportation.

Friends of the Earth View

Leicester city council has made an impressive investment in public transport, walking and cycling, understanding the economic and health benefits that this will bring alongside cutting carbon emissions. It’s really important that where councils have put in pop-up cycle and walking routes that these are transformed into high-quality segregated and permanent routes.

It's also essential that the government makes sufficient, stable, long term funding available to decarbonise transport in towns, cities and rural areas across the UK.

Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing.  

This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

Climate Action