The cycling revolution that wasn’t

Cyclists in Leeds. Photo by Joolze Dymond.
With the proportion of adults In England cycling at least once a week falling, and the number of cycling trips flatlining, there was little evidence of a cycling revolution from this week’s cycling and walking statistics. Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns looks at what’s needed to change this and realise the Government’s targets to double cycling - and how you can help.

On Tuesday, the annual update from the National Travel Survey (NTS) and walking and cycling statistics from the Active Lives Survey (both covering England) were published. Given that the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) targets include doubling levels of cycling in England by 2025, the headline statistics were depressing, but not unexpected.

The revolution that wasn’t

There wasn’t much sign of a cycling revolution when we analysed the English figures last year, and next week my colleague Cherry Allan will produce her annual report explaining what the statistics tell us. But - spoiler alert - here are the headlines:

  1. The proportion of adults cycling at least once a week fell from 12% in 2015-16 to 11% in 2017-18, which the Department for Transport (DfT) accepts is a ‘statistically significant decrease’.
  2. At 17, the average number of cycle trips per person in 2018 is exactly the same as it was in 2017, though there’s been a 5% decline since 2002.

It’s true that people cycled 50% further in 2018 compared to 2002, but the number of cycling trips has remained static in recent years, so what we’re seeing is existing cyclists clocking up more miles, not more people cycling.

Something radical needed to realise targets

In truth, none of this is news.

As I outlined in a recent blog asking how the Government hoped to double cycling without doubling investment, former Transport Minister Jesse Norman MP admitted in May that current levels of investment would only take the Government a third of the way towards its target of doubling cycling. Achieving this would require a doubling or more in investment, something Jesse Norman said he wanted to do and thought the Government ought to commit itself to.

But he’s moved on to become a Treasury minister, with Chris Heaton-Harris MP the new Transport Minister  with responsibility for cycling and walking. 

The blunt reality he faces however, is that current policies and levels of intervention and investment will leave the Government woefully short of its targets.

When 61% of people responding to the National Travel Attitudes Survey say they think it’s too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, something radical is clearly needed to realise the Government’s objective as set out on page one of CWIS – making cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different result

What it seems Jesse Norman recognised, and hopefully Chris Heaton-Harris will too, is that just doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results won’t bring about significant modal shift and get more people on bikes.

Unless there’s a dramatic increase in investment, every summer Cherry Allan will write another blog about cycling levels flatlining, desperately trying to find something positive in the figures; and every year, the 2025 CWIS targets will drift further into the distance.

Recognising the need for a sea change in the money allocated to active travel is one thing. Convincing your boss, in the new Minister's case the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP, and then persuading the Treasury to give you more money through the forthcoming Spending Review is another.

As I outlined in last week’s blog about the underfunding of cycling and walking crisis, Chris Heaton-Harris has in the past responded positively to constituents who’ve written to him about our funding campaign, and acknowledged the benefits of more people cycling and walking. To encourage him to be bold however, and push for the type of investment in active travel that Jesse Norman recognised was needed, we need him to realise just how many people want this.

From fringe to core business

Imagine for a minute what life must be like at the DfT at the minute. Leaving aside Brexit-related transport issues, every transport body and organisation will be busy writing to and lobbying new ministers.

Of course, Cycling UK are doing this too, but members and supporters amplifying our voice, writing to ministers, and sharing our funding campaign action can help hugely in moving active travel funding from a fringe issue to core business at the DfT.

Importantly, if we want the new Minister to do what Jesse Norman did, and stick his neck out about the money needed to achieve the Government’s CWIS targets, it also helps if he knows that there’s a large and loud group of people asking him to show them the money for cycling, who aren’t going away.

Numbers matter

Over 1,500 people have already emailed Grant Shapps to support our calls to at least double the investment in active travel, and since 6.00pm on Thursday, another 2,500 people have emailed  Chris Heaton-Harris.

We wanted this issue to be on Grant Shapps' radar, but it’s the new Minister we need to encourage to think big to make active travel funding a priority both for the DfT and within Government.

And 2,500 isn’t enough!

Take action now!

So, if you haven’t used our online action since Thursday please, please can you do it now.

It’s really easy. The editable email will be sent to Chris Heaton-Harris.

If you’ve supported out funding campaign previously, you can still take action again because the action and emails have changed and are now directed to the new Minister.

We don’t want to be fighting for scraps!

I know we’re pushing this funding campaign hard, and we’re asking for your support on a weekly basis, but if we don’t get significantly more money for cycling in the next budget, the truth is we might be fighting for scraps thereafter.

We have an opportunity. Every Minister will be pitching their funding wish list to the Treasury this month. We’re arguing loudly for significantly more funding for cycling, but two minutes of your time can add to that.

We can’t get millions more people cycling if they think the roads are too dangerous, and we won’t have safer and better infrastructure for cycling without a major increase in investment.

Please help us change this by taking action now.