In, out, in, out, shake it all about.. Why today's cycling cash up for grabs is not enough to Get Britain Cycling

Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced new funding for a raft of cycling measures to the tune of £77million pounds.  8 key UK cities will receive the lion's share of the cash, raising investment per head in those cities to £10 per head, compared to the national average of a pathetic 94p per person.

Each of the cities benefiting will add their own funds to swell the money being spent; Greater Manchester will contribute £11milion of their own cash on top of the £20million given by the Department for Transport, ensuring that local authorities take the cash seriously and see that it is spent well. 

The Government will also continue financially supporting Bikeability cycle training for children for another year, through to 2016.

4 national parks will benefit from additional investment to help make them more attractive places to cycle, and a feasibility study will look in to creating a cycle track alongside the proposed HS2 rail link between Birmingham and London (not as crazy an idea as it sounds - see the Cambridge Guided Busway cycle track for the origins of this thinking)

Cameron said; "Our athletes have shown they are among the best in the world and we want to build on that, taking our cycling success beyond the arena and onto the roads, starting a cycling revolution which will remove the barriers for a new generation of cyclists."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin added; "We are absolutely committed to boosting cycling in cities and the countryside across the whole of England."

You might argue, in our current economic climate, that today's announcement is a "big win" for cycling and that we ought to be grateful for any scraps of funding that come our way.

But it is worth remembering that the model of focusing pots of cash on a handful of cities who have demonstrated their commitment to cycling with their own cash was pioneered by the quango Cycling England and their excellent Cycling Demonstration Towns project - unceremoniously and brutally scrapped in 2010 by... ..David Cameron's government.  

Back then Cycling England ran on a budget of approximately £200,000 a year (the cost of building about 5 metres of new motorway) and handed out pots of public money to the tune of about £60 million.  So today, we're really only getting about £17 million more than what we had before it was all taken away - will that extra cash help to make up for 3 years of limited investment, loss of skills and cancelled projects around the country?  

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as they say en France.  
In English?  "Do the hokey cokey and turn around".

It's fantastic that some cash - any cash! - is back on the table for cycling outside of London (where, incidentally, we are due to spend nearly a BILLION on getting people riding bikes over the next 10 years) but as even the usually muted CTC, whilst welcoming investment, tweeted: "We now need MPs to demand far more"

So why the change of heart from the Government, and sudden commitment to spending money that they once took away?  Have the Government miraculously seen the cycling light and got fully on board with creating a cycling nirvana in the UK?  Will Jersualem Amsterdam be built in England's green and pleasant land?


Today's funding is what's known in political circles as "p*ssing on bonfires", or, if you prefer, "nipping things in the bud".  Truth be known, the Government are scared of the strength of feeling that has been building up in cycle campaigns for some time now, the persuasive voices that have built up an incredible head of steam and secured a landmark cycling debate on the 2nd September that will discuss "Getting Britain Cycling".  

This campaigning strength has come from many corners, converging on Parliament at the same time; protests around Parliament by people on bikes, the hard-hitting and powerful Cities Fit For Cycling campaign by The Times newspaper, support for more investment in cycle safety from all corners including motoring organisations such as the AA, and of course the All Party Parliamentary "Get Britain Cycling" inquiry.

Starting in January of this year, a panel of MPs and Lords from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group sat for six weeks hearing evidence from motoring bodies, Government ministers, cycling organisations and safety campaigners, as well as bike bloggers (including me), traffic planners, urban designers and the police, all sharing their ideas as to what needed to be done by the Government to encourage more people to turn to two wheels.

BBC Newsnight journalist Anna Holligan pre-empts the forthcoming Get Britain Cycling debate in Parliament and compares cycling in the UK with cycling in the Netherlands.

The result of this is the Get Britain Cycling report, the most intelligent and realistic study in to everyday cycling produced in the UK to date.  It focuses not just on the usual easy targets of cycle training and bike riding for children, but also makes clear the importance of high quality cycling infrastructure and implementing best precedent examples from successful overseas cycling cultures.

And now, thanks to the efforts of cycling backbencher Julian Hubert (Lib Dem, Cambridge), our Government will debate the report and adopting its recommendations on the first new day of Parliament after the summer recess; Monday September 2nd.

This debate has the potential to bind the Government legislatively in to having to really take cycling seriously and commit funding for many years to come, and the Government are afraid.  With today's one-off funding announcement,  unusually coming in the middle of the summer recess, they're hoping that some of the heat will go out of the debate and the pressure on them to do something - anything - will subside, and we will all go away quietly.

In the mean time, despite the welcome new investment, Britain's roads will remain fundamentally ill-suited for mass cycling and people on bikes will continue to die in terrifying numbers (65 dead in London in the last 5 years alone), our Justice system will continue to fail cyclists as a matter of routine, and English cities not receiving any of this one-off funding will continue to fall further and further behind our cycling contemporaries just across the North Sea in the Netherlands.

If that hasn't made your blood boil, let's put the paucity of today's announcement in to context on a Governmental level and talk hard tacks.  Today David Cameron pledged £77million pounds for cycling.  Three years ago he took £60million pounds for cycling away.  At the same time the Government has pledged £500 million for new electric car charging points that nobody uses, nearly £400 million for just 4 miles of new highway in Surrey and a whopping £28 BILLION in new funding for the strategic road network.

Now is not the time for cyclists to celebrate and go away quietly.

Over Westminster Bridge

Cyclists ride on Parliament in February 2012 - the beginning of the entire "Get Britain Cycling" process.

The Parliamentary debate on September 2nd is highly significant; the first of its kind to take place in the House of Commons for over a decade.  Whatsmore, if enough MPs from the Lib Dems, Labour and independents vote to adopt the findings of the inquiry report then Government will not be able to get away with a paltry one-off investment like today's but will have to start genuinely building a cycling revolution for the whole country.

Our cycle campaigns need your help to make this happen and this most critical of times.

British Cycling ask you to write to your MP (they do read their mail during the summer recess!) and make sure that they know their constituents will support them if they in turn support the Get Britain Cycling report.  There's even a template letter you can adapt if you like.

The Times and the CTC ask you to add your own name to the "Get Britain Cycling" petition calling on Parliament to act.  They want you to sign, and then tell your friends, family and Facebook buddies to sign it too.  So far there are 70,000 signatories - we want to get it to 100,000 by September 2nd.

Lastly, the London Cycling Campaign are organising the next space4cycling demonstration to coincide with the Get Britain Cycling debate on 2nd September.  As MPs sit inside and debate, the outside of Parliament will be surrounding by thousands of cyclists calling for now to be the time for them to act.  In London especially we all know what the consequence of patchy stop/start cycle provision and funding can be, and the importance of getting it right first time, and that one-off funding announcements will not save cyclist's lives, let alone protect new riders.  After the success of the first two space4cycling demonstrations, the third promises to be the biggest and loudest yet, but the LCC needs YOU to come along in order for it to be a success.

Me?  I'm doing all three, and I'd recommend you do the same.  I for one will not go quietly content with table scraps when we have an opportunity within our grasp to finally, truly, Get Britain Cycling.

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The Ranty Highwayman said...

Petition - done

Written to MP - done

2nd Sept - in the diary

Actually, this will be my first ever protest other than the odd strike at work over the years.

I think I need to post something about this - engineers need to refuse to design anything which is crap...

Paul M said...

The Hindhead example isn't a particularly good one in fact, as it was given the go-ahead by the previous government and was started in 2006, completed in 2011. It would probably never have been built were it not for the fact that it was promised as part of the infrastructure package for the London 2012 bid. Also, it has had tangible benefits beyond the interests of motorists - the old heathland has been re-united by digging out the old road and wildlife can now cross the common safely.

But the cycle facilities are a bit of a joke - their only real purpose is to meet the statutory highway obligations to non-motorised traffic which is prohibited from using the tunnel. When I enquired about extending the cycle paths on either side to from some sort of usable link between local towns and villages, the response was there was no money - perhaps a million against the £371m spent on the road and tunnel.

It rather looks like there will be no meaningful incidental benefit of other major schemes either - the new A14 in Cambridge could so easily provide a parallel cycle path at marginal cost, as the land will be bought and the foundations laid anyway, but nothing is proposed and I doubt that will change.

Jim Moore said...

@The Ranty Highwayman. What is needed is for an enlightened Minister for Transport or Lord Mayor to throw such crap design back at the executive responsible for engineering and tell them to design it to proper Dutch standards or their job will be taken by someone who can. This message will soon flow down to all design engineers.

@Paul M. Yep, had that "no money in the budget" put to me about a $50k bike parking facility not being able to be built as part of $5M train station, as the bike facility was "not cheap, very expensive". Boy did that project manager look like an imbecile in front of the assessment committee when he said that.

Unknown said...

I will do all three in my lunchbreak at work later today. (Well, apart from the 2nd Sep protest but will set a diary reminder).

Since parliament is debating cycling, is it also worth mentioning the "Strict Liability" concept as adopted in some other countries? This could improve our safety as well as help protect pedestrians from the dangerous few (thus getting the anti-cyclist brigade off our backs).

ibikelondon said...

@therantyhighwayman You're absolutely correct that there is an engineering skills deficit here in the UK - sadly as I believe John Dales pointed out on twitter most road engineers wouldn't recognise "crap" if they saw it. After political will, lack of design knowledge is the 2nd biggest thing holding back the implementation of decent cycling infrastructure in my opinion.

@paulm What I think Hindhead does demonstrate is that there is clearly plenty of cash for projects that are considered to be important enough. The other examples you provide are instances of the same problem, especially the A41 in Cambridge which I find really shocking.

@Phil R Thanks for pitching in! Strict liability and how that system works in Europe is referred to in the Get Britain Cycling report - to be honest I think if we are to have a chance of it being accepted it is better for it to come as part of a raft of measures like this as oppose to as a stand alone idea - it is just too difficult a political pill to swallow for most MPs.

skippy said...

Cheap to do if done RIGHT !

Buses have that " Give Way sign "!

NOW add !

" You can see what is in front of me?" with graphics showing vehicle & 1 1/2m & bike !

Put this sign on ALL Buses even 10 seaters , Trucks,High side vehicles , even delivery vans . Make it a LEGAL Requirement on any vehicle a normal saloon car CANNOT see through ?

As with a bus pulling out of a bus stop , people will gradually START to pay attention and respond ?

Legislation regarding " Safe passing Laws " may also be necessary but this sign will constantly remind Drivers of the dangers they pose to their OWN Licence by an inconsiderate manoevre ?

David Smith said...

This is why all cyclists should consider getting bike insurance -