Spaces for People: Making essential travel and exercise safer during Covid -19
The Spaces for People programme supported by Highland Council is a project that aims to build upon the increase in local community-based cycling and walking as a result of Covid-19.
The project is aimed at enhancing key access routes to enable residents and visitors alike to be able to walk to the shops and local health care facilities whilst reducing interaction with vehicular traffic and ensuring appropriate spacing.
The Black Parks Road from where it leaves Inverlochy to the junction with the railway bridge over the River Lochy is a much loved Lochaber favourite and the route is used by cyclists, dog walkers and family groups with toddlers.
It is also a major route for school students cycling and walking to and from the High School and the pre-school kids accessing Stramash. The Black Parks road has seen a large increase in walkers and cyclists during the Covid-19 period.
Recently, a multi-stakeholder group has been meeting to discuss how the route can be made free of vehicular traffic so that residents from Fort William, Inverlochy, Caol and the surrounding areas may bike or walk along this section of road without meeting as many vehicles, as is currently the case.
The group consists of representatives from Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Jahama Highland Estates, Historic Environment Scotland, Fort William, Inverlochy and Torlundy Community Council, Sustrans and latterly the Highland Soap Company.
The plan is for phase one improvements to the route to start on Monday June 29th 2020. The Highland Council will be carrying out emergency safety works on the Black Parks Road, Fort William on the 29th until Sunday 19 July 2020. These works are to provide a safe surface for pedestrians and cyclists to use during the COVID-19 crisis. No vehicular traffic will be permitted on the road for the duration of the closure, including emergency service vehicles.
The nature of the work being carried out by the Council will be drainage improvements and patching. A diversion for pedestrians and cyclists will be provided around the works site. Limited access is still available for essential users at both ends of the road. Access for walkers and cyclists will be maintained via a short, on-site diversionary route.
Signage will be placed at both road ends alerting members of the public of the road closures. Temporary bollards will be placed in the road to stop vehicles using the road as a through-route. During phase one there will be no access for any vehicles using the road. Access for existing key users such as SSE, the local grazier and fishing club members will be maintained, but not via a through-route.
For phase two of the planned works, Jahama Highland Estates have already applied for a temporary road closure order. When granted, this order will last for 18 months. During this second phase, further road works will be completed including the installation of locking bollards to provide controlled closure points and illumination of the closure points for safety of pedestrians and cyclists and surfacing works of the footpath from Inverlochy, around the back of the Ben Nevis Hotel to the shops off the A82 near the entrance to the Smelter. During phase 2 there will be no vehicular access for private motor vehicles using the road as a through route.
For phase three it is hoped, with public support, that the Black Parks road can be turned permanently into a cycling and walkway route. The use of the road as a through route by private vehicles would permanently cease. The only vehicles that could take access, as a through route, in the future would be the emergency services and the utility companies.
In this way we can collectively enhance the Black Parks area into a fabulous, family-friendly, safe and beautiful community amenity site. Under phase three the plan would be to maintain the long-term road surface at a standard that could allow for temporary vehicle use if Police Scotland requested emergency temporary public access, in order to relieve traffic congestion through Fort William.
Julia Stoddart, Chief Operating Officer of Jahama Highland Estates, said: "Our support for making the Black Parks road a walking and cycling route reflects the feedback we have received from local residents who want a safe and secure access route through Fort William.
"This project complements our longer-term vision to utilise part of the Estate’s property in this area for a community-based nature reserve to enhance local wellbeing. With our new management strategy focusing on sustainability, Jahama Highland Estates is delighted to work collaboratively with local stakeholders to help facilitate projects that benefit both people and place.”
Highland Council's Head of Infrastructure, Colin Howell, said: "It is great to see local organisations and communities pulling together to transform this key active travel route which will benefit both locals and visitors of all ages. Active travel for utility and recreation purposes has never been as popular and this project will complement that and hopefully encourage more individuals and families to enjoy the benefits of walking and cycling."
Scott Dingwall, Head of regional development for Highlands and Islands Enterprise said: “Sustainable active travel is an important factor in our transition to an economy based on net-zero emissions. The Fort William Active Travel Plan will form a local contribution to that transition. During the COVID-19 lockdown the use of the Black Parks road by walkers and cyclists has increased significantly. These works will help improve the safety of this active travel.”