Cycle parking with a cycle path running through it in Groningen, NL
Cycle parking with a cycle path running through it in Groningen, NL

'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry moves onto local authorities and London

Local authorities, campaigners and representatives from London were scrutinised by MPs and Peers from the All Party Cycling Group in the fifth and penultimate session of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry.

The session commenced with a panel of campaign groups - as usual, each being asked to explain what, in their opinion, was needed to Get Britain Cycling.

Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, started the discussion, said that cycling needed to be seen as part of the wider transport mix for rural as well as urban areas. 

He noted that, although cycle use is low in rural areas in Britain, about half of cyclists’ deaths occur on rural roads.  He called for lower rural speed limits – pointing out that the Dutch have a standard 60kmh limit for rural single-carriageways and that this has been more cost-effective than the urban 30kmh limit. He also called for cycling to be integrated with public transport, and for quality cycle provision alongside major roads. See also Ralph's Guardian Bike Blog article, summarising his evidence.

Make cycling look normal

John Mallows, from Cyclenation (the federation of local cycle campaign groups), called for cycling to be promoted using imagery showing it as a normal activity which anyone could do in normal clothes. He acknowledged the value of quality cycle routes, but also stressed the need for safe and attractive cycling conditions throughout the road network, e.g. through lower speed limits, or cycle-permeable road closures.

Martin Lucas-Smith, from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, emphasised the importance of 20mph speed limits and quality cycling infrastructure on more major roads.  He also called for the establishment of a body to support local authorities in delivering their cycling strategies, noting the regrettable loss of expertise previously provided by Cycling England.

Cycling will never be an answer for all travel in rural areas. But it’s great for shorter journeys, such as to a village shop or school. And for longer journeys, it can fill the missing link, such as a way to get to a train station. All we need now is ambition and joined up action to put the pieces together.

Ralph Smyth
Senior Transport Campaigner, CPRE

There was also an interesting discussion about the role of cycle route signing, mapping and online journey planners as means to promote cycling.  John Mallows noted the work of several local cycle campaign groups who have produced maps which grade the ‘cycleability’ of the whole road network, rather than simply a network of ‘cycle routes’. Martin Lucas-Smith noted the quality of cycle route signing, ensuring you could easily reached your destination without needing a map. He also referred to his role in developing the CycleStreets online journey planner, as well as the Cyclescape online campaign tool, which uses online mapping to enable cyclists to highlight locations where improved provision is needed, and to identify solutions.

There was a discussion of how to promote cycling for children. While some schools are seeking to ban cycling on safety grounds, John Mallows cited the example of Kesgrave School near Ipswich as an example of a school which positively promotes cycling and has very high cycle use. Martin Lucas Smith added that it was important to the Government to sustain the funding for Bikeability cycle training.

Ralph Smyth urged that the cycling should be considered in all planning developments, reflecting not just existing cycle use but the potential for significant increases. Martin Lucas-Smith said that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign spent most of its time responding to planning applications, rather than transport proposals. Ralph also noted that the Department for Transport’s press release about the role of the newly established Local Transport Bodies had neglected to mention the option to fund cycling improvements.

Leicester, Devon, Greater Manchester and Bath - a tale of 4 councils

The second panel focused on the role of local authorities. Andy Salkeld, Cycling Officer from Leicester City Council relayed cycling in in the city was growing fast - an additional 1,000 cyclists a year entering the centre since 2005. He described how the city is trying to release the 'concrete collar' effect of the ring road. The city centre was redesigned to allow cycling and pedestrian access, but heavily restricting motoring. He also suggested that half of all their LSTF money was spent on cycling, while the rest – spent on public realm improvements – was also of benefit to cycling.

Roger Symonds - Cabinet Member for Transport at Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) council - called for lower speed limits, saying that this would create a culture where cycling would be much more normal for a much wider age-range, using more functional ordinary bikes. Lester Wilmington (Head of Transport at Devon County Council) agreed on the importance of culture change. He emphasised the value of Bikeability cycle training and other “soft measures” to create a culture of cycle use. He also said that Devon had secured money from the Communities Infrastructure Fund to provide a pedestrian-cycle bridge over the M5 on the edge of Exeter.

Dave Newton, Director of Transport at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), said that TfGM had secured £40m from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, for a cycle commuter project, plus a further £32m from its own sources.  He said this would go on a mix of cycling hubs and improved infrastructure and promotional activity. Challenged on whether enough was being done – Lord Berkeley said he found cycling in Manchester was inconvenient and frightening – Dave accepted that Manchester had a long way to go, but emphasised the cycling hubs the city is now creating, as well as facilities such as those in Salford media city. He emphasised the importance of adopting a partnership approach – both between local authorities and with NGOs such as CTC, British Cycling and Sustrans – to maximise the value of whatever funding was available.

Roger Symonds noted that, although spending on “cycle facilities” was relatively low in BANES, the authority spent significantly on road maintenance, which benefitted cycling without being funding specifically for cycling. He also acknowledged that, although authorities such as BANES had worked closely in partnership with Sustrans to develop specific cycle routes, there was a need to  create good cycling conditions throughout the road network.

In his capacity as Deputy Chair of the Transport Board for the Local Government Association (LGA), Roger Symonds also echoed calls made earlier by Ralph Smyth and Martin Lucas-Smith for local authorities to be given powers to take enforcement action against drivers who infringe cycle lanes and other moving traffic offences.  These have been on the statute book since the 2004 Traffic Management Act, but have yet to be brought into effect. He said that the LGA was planning a cycling summit later this year.

He also called for the introduction of continental-style rules which would assume that injured cyclists were entitled to compensation from drivers who hit them, instead of first having to prove that the driver was at fault.

Cycle-rail integration: the good and the bad

The only witness at this session was Conrad Haigh, representing the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) which runs the Cycle Rail Working Group. This brings together stakeholders to try and overcome the obstacles to implementing better cycling facilities at rail stations. 

Over the last five years cycle parking at railway stations has increased from around 24,000 to over 58,000, helping to increase the numbers of people accessing stations by bike. However, Lord Berkeley pressed ATOC on why there was such a wide variation in standards of carriage on trains, with some operators far better than others.

Ben Bradshaw, the MP for Exeter, complained that although his local train company - First Great Western - had reasonable space for bikes, it was only on the old rolling stock, and newer trains were far worse. He - and other MPs - wondered why it was so difficult to reserve spaces for bikes on the internet.

Conrad Haigh explained that only East Coast allowed online cycle reservations, and allowing cycle reservations on all trains would be prohibitively expensive. He urged that the needs of commuters - which could be catered for mostly by cycle parking - was more important than cycle carriage.

Lessons from London

Witnesses from the final session included representatives from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), Transport for London, the Borough Cycling Officers Group (BCOG) and Caroline Pidgeon, the chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee.

Tom Bogdanowicz, representing LCC spoke of their success in getting 42,000 signatures behind their Love London, Go Dutch campaign, and securing all-party support for the idea. They were now lobbying to see that commitment implemented.

Ben Plowden, Director of Better Streets and Places in Transport for London (TfL), underlined how important cycling was considered in the capital. As a mode of transport, cycling carries more trips than the Overground rail network, Croydon Tramlink and Docklands Light Railway combined. Cycling required continuing political commitment - something it had received from both of the London Mayor's to date - and, of course, continued, consistent funding levels.

Caroline Pidgeon, whose Transport Committee published a report - Gearing Up - into the state of cycling in London, had pushed for 2% of TfL's budget to go to cycling, but the attempt to alter the Mayor's budget had been voted down. The report had also called for a cycling commissioner to be appointed, and argued for substantial improvements to cycling infrastructure by reallocating roadspace from motor transport to cycling. 

BCOG's representative, Nick O'Donnell, wasn't prepared to name and shame the Boroughs who weren't doing as well, but he felt that quality infrastructure, usable by all, was required, in addition to making cycling look more normal and appealing to a wider cross-section of society.

Tom Bogdanowicz felt that Barnet and Newham were two boroughs that had done little to promote cycling, while Lord Berkeley felt that Westminster and the City of London could be added to the list. Ben Plowden revealed that he had had recent discussions with Westminster, and felt that "progress was being made". TfL's ambition is for a grid of intuitive cycle routes through central London to link up the CycleSuperhighways, more of which are currently in the design phase. 

Public health and cycling

A final witness in the especially extended session was Anna Soubry, the MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire and Minister for Public Health. She revealed that although she had cycled a lot as a child and married a keen cyclist, she hadn't ridden much since and certainly felt that the roads of Nottingham had been too dangerous to let her children cycle. Although her husband had given her a mountainbike for Christmas, poor weather had prevented it from being used. She promised, however, to attend the APPCG's Bike Ride in June.

Ben Bradshaw MP asked why a cabinet sub-committee on public health had been disbanded - a question the Minister did not know the answer to. However, she did relate that she had worked closely with the Transport Minister, Norman Baker, with both of them signing off on an additional £20m for cycling in late 2012.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP wondered whether there might be a backlash against local authorities spending health money on cycling when health budgets are formally transferred to councils in April 2013. The Minister gave reassurances that she thought it would be sensible to spend public health money on getting more people cycling, but gave no commitment to issuing guidance on the matter.




Chris Peck