THE Covid pandemic has had a "substantial and potentially sustainable impact" on travel, a report on travel attitudes has found, with more people keen to cycle.

A Government study found, when interviewed between May and July 2020, 39 per cent of respondents reported to walk more and 38 per cent cycled more than before the coronavirus outbreak.

The National Travel Attitudes Study revealed of those who reported to walk or cycle more, 94 per cent thought it likely that they would continue to cycle and walk more once travel restrictions were removed.

Darlington Green Party councillor Matthew Snedker welcomed the findings but says local authorities now have a small window to introduce cycling infrastructure before the momentum for green and healthy travel dies down.

He said: "These reports often highlight small trends but it is a very interesting time to get a sample. We are seeing a sizeable amount saying they will walk and cycle more. 

"People once saw cycling as a form of exercise but how they are seeing it as a mode of transport, for trips out. People now have a much more positive view.

"But there are more cars on the roads now than before lockdown and people are not still not commuting - so where are they coming from?" 

Mr Snedker says children who once walked or got the bus to school are now being taken by parents due to them working from home and having the time. 

He added: "Parents want to know their child is safe but there is a lot of traffic and often cars around schools are badly driven. It only takes two seconds before things could go wrong.

"Now parents don't have to make their child walk or cycle to school, they are driving them. Most parents agree that they shouldn't go driving their children to school, but who is going to take action? It is the authorities that need to."

Mr Snedker would like to see School Street Schemes introduced, where roads are blocked off for half an hour before drop off and pick up times, as well as 20mph limits. 

Darlington Council says it has commissioned a piece of work to look at the feasibility of the School Street concept.

Mike McTimoney, who is part of Darlington's cycling campaign DarloVelo, is also calling on the Council to "properly invest" in cycling infrastructure.

He said: "I've not noticed any more cyclists around on my usual commute to and from work and, unfortunately, I think the infrastructure available in the town just isn't up to the standard needed to keep people who started cycling during lockdown cycling now."

Darlington has made recent adjustments to road layouts to allow for greater social distancing, but this has proved problematic for cyclists.

Coniscliffe Road, Grange Road and Duke Street are now not "cycle-friendly". A cycle route has been closed on Coniscliffe Road while Duke Street is now one-way, preventing cycling from heading west.

McTimoney added: "The routes available are disjointed, indirect and poor quality, in the main. I'm lucky in that I have a reasonably good route but still have to make a decision between using the off-road route on McMullen Road/Eastern Transport Corridor or just riding along Haughton Road.

"The off-road route adds more than half a mile to the journey so I generally choose the less safe but more direct route. The recent changes to the throughout seem to have increased the speed of vehicles on Haughton Road, and seems to have diverted traffic away from the new road and back to Haughton Road.

"My wife started cycling during lockdown, but the lack of a safe direct route to her workplace means she doesn't feel able to commute by bike."

While the survey explores how the pandemic and resulting lockdown altered the travel behaviour, it did not cover potential safety concerns.

Mr Snedker said: "We have a very small window to add cycle infrastructure before those newly bought bikes are left to gather dust."

Councillor Andy Keir, Darlington Council’s cabinet member for local services said: “The changes made in Coniscliffe Road, Grange Road and Duke Street are temporary and were specifically implemented to create space for pedestrians in line with social distancing guidelines.

“We did also consider installing a temporary contraflow cycle route on Duke Street but were unable to do so.

"An alternative cycle route is being put in place to direct cyclists onto Abbey Road. Longer-term, we are looking at more permanent improvements in this area that will cater for all road users, including cyclists."

Changes to cycle routes are widespread in the face of Covid, which forced local authorities to widen footpaths and add cycleways. 

Harry Pearl, CEO of Roadmender Asphalt, a company sustainable road construction company, said: “There are currently plans for pop-up cycle lanes and walking routes across the North East amounting to millions of pounds of investment.

"Councils have stayed true to form with blue sky thinking in a mission to ease traffic post-Covid, with £2.6 million bid to fund 70 projects across the area, which total around 50km of new provision to help pedestrians and cyclists maintain social distancing while on the move.”