Huntingdon Road Crossing Cambridge
Huntingdon Road Crossing Cambridge (Photo: Lucinda Price)

Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy published: now let's get its vision put into practice!

After 2-years of gestation, the Government's Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) has finally appeared, on the last day when the Government could make announcements before the General Election. Whatever else we've said about it previously, its vision is admirable, as is the local cycle network planning process it proposes. We now need to enlist the backing of councils and other partners, and of national as well as local politicians, to ensure this vision gets implemented.

So the Government's long-awaited Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) is out at last! It was press-released this morning (21 April 2017) amongst a blizzard of announcements on the last day before Government goes into pre-election “purdah” (when ministers and officials are barred from saying anything that might appear party-political).

Cycling UK and our allies have spent several years lobbying for CWIS. So we’re really pleased (and actually somewhat relieved!) that it’s now been published. All the more so following the release of new evidence from Glasgow University two days earlier, showing that regular cycle-commuters reduce their chances of cancer by 45% and the risks of cardiovascular disease by 46%. Cycling is fantastically good for our health, and that of our streets and communities, the environment and the economy.

Reasons to be positive (despite the funding deficit!)

To be honest, the content of the CWIS isn’t vastly different from the Government’s consultation draft from just over a year ago. Given this, many readers will doubtless be expecting us to be sharply critical of it, particularly the lack of funding.  We’re not, and nor are our partners. And I want to explain why.

Firstly, this is the first time the Government has made any kind of multi-year commitment to invest in cycling and walking. Cycling UK and our allies – Sustrans, British Cycling, Living Streets and others – worked really hard for the legal commitment that secured this. It is a really important step forward.

Secondly, I know how much hard work has gone into this from the small team working on cycling and walking at the Department for Transport, particularly the mad rush to get it out before the election.  I’ve little doubt that, in private, they too would love to have secured more funding. Had the CWIS been deferred till after 8 June, we might then have ended up waiting for several months for a new team of ministers to be persuaded (or not!) of the case for investing in cycling. So I really want to offer the officials my heartfelt thanks for what they have achieved.

Thirdly, the ‘vision’ set out at the start of the document is a really positive one. “We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.” It adds: “The Government wants walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment. As part of our aim to build a society that works for all, we want more people to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking by 2040.”

There’s more. “Realising our ambition will take sustained investment in cycling and walking infrastructure. It will take long-term transport planning and it will take a change in attitudes – amongst central Government, local bodies, businesses, communities and individuals. Walking and cycling should be seen as transport modes in their own right and an integral part of the transport network, rather than as niche interests or town-planning afterthoughts. We need to build a local commitment together to support this national Strategy.”

This is fantastic stuff! Yet this vision could so easily have ended up being diluted or lost, if the CWIS announcement had been delayed beyond the election.

That “sustained investment” will, of course, need to grow to much higher levels than is currently proposed. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s “Get Britain Cycling” report called for annual investment worth at least £10 per person for cycling – rising to progressively to £20 – and the Commons Transport Select Committee echoed that call.

At a time when capital spending on England’s motorways and trunk roads is starting to sky-rocket, direct Government investment in cycling and walking is set to fall to an annual allocation per person which would just about buy a litre of milk. Yet, with final decisions having now been made on CWIS funding, there’s absolutely no point crying over the lack of milk!

Instead, we need to look for the opportunities, and seize them. Those opportunities really do exist, both within the CWIS itself and in the political circumstances of its birth.

Local cycle network planning

Firstly, the most valuable part of the CWIS isn’t the funding. Alongside it, the Government has also published some excellent guidance to councils on how to draw up Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans, or LCWIPs (pronounced “Else-whips”).

A full explanation of the LCWIP process, and the opportunities it presents, will require a separate blog. In essence though, councils in England (outside London) are being asked (though not required) to follow a 3-stage process:

  • Plan comprehensive cycling and walking networks for their areas;
  • Identify and prioritise a costed programme of schemes to progressively develop that network; and
  • Deliver it to high design standards.

The first of these three steps – network planning – is something that Dutch cycling experts have been stressing for decades. Yet in the UK, most cycle planning has been horrendously piece-meal: installing disjointed bits of “cycle facility” where there was a bit of spare space and funding – even though these were often useless or even down-right dangerous.

To support this network planning process, the Government has done something really valuable by sponsoring the development of what’s known as the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT). PCT is some open-source software created by a research team including Drs Rachel Aldred (from Westminster University) and Robin Lovelace (from Leeds University). In short, PCT provides evidence of which route-corridors - and even specific streets - have the greatest number of potentially cycle-able trips, and the value in £-signs of achieving higher levels of increased cycle use under a range of different future scenarios. Funding the PCT’s development is probably the single best thing DfT has ever done to support good cycle planning. And the PCT team has plans to develop it further still.

During our recent Space for Cycling campaign roadshow, we alerted local cycling advocates and campaign groups to the value of the Propensity to Cycle Tool. It has inspired several groups to start creating “tube-style” cycle network maps, showing the facilities they want to see prioritised in their areas. The examples of the "tube maps" created by the Bristol and Bath cycling campaigns shows how powerful these can be as a way of building political support for the idea of a high-quality local cycle route network.

Political opportunities

And that brings me to the last, and most important, reason to be positive. Politics.

Tomorrow, local cycling groups in towns and cities across Britain will be taking part in Space for Cycling bike rides. These were planned to raise the profile of the “cycling vote” ahead of the local elections taking place in every English shire county, in every council in Wales and Scotland, and in the six English regions which will be electing new metro-mayors on 4 May. We want as many candidates as possible to commit to plan and implement comprehensive high-quality local cycling networks. Many are already doing so, including all of the metro-mayoral candidates in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Tees Valley. If you too have local elections in your area, wherever you are in Britain, please help Cycling UK’s President Jon Snow to get your local candidates onside!

What we didn’t know though is that we’d also now be starting to focus on the candidates in a UK general election!

In this political context, this isn’t a time to look backwards. Today's CWIS is a five-year plan, aiming towards an admirable vision for 2040. Now is the time to call on our would-be decision-makers nationally and locally to commit to substantially increased investment in cycling, both in the short and the longer term, and to spend whatever money on cycle facilities designed to the highest possible standards.

We will continue to work over the coming months and years for a much greater proportion of transport spending to be devoted to local roads and streets, ensuring they are designed and maintained to be safe and attractive for people of all ages and abilities to get around on foot or by cycle. The health, environmental, economic and quality of life benefits of doing so will be enormous.

Roger Geffen