A Cycling and Walking ‘Investment’ Strategy with woefully little investment

A ‘cycle-proofed’ motorway in Perth (Creative Commons image via Wikipedia)
The Government’s draft strategy’s admirable fine words about normalising cycling and walking by 2040 aren’t remotely matched by its targets and policies, and particularly the woeful lack of investment, says Cycling UK’s policy director Roger Geffen

The Government's draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy for England (CWIS, or "Cee-whizz") has just been released for consultation. After the painstaking lobbying by Cycling UK and its allies for the laws which required the adoption of a CWIS, its long-awaited arrival ought to have been cause for celebration.

Sadly, it isn't. The admirable ambition and objectives of the draft CWIS aren't remotely matched by its modest target for increased cycle use. Worse still, even this lowly target stands little hope of being met, unless Ministers are willing to invest a lot more cash to achieve it, and to adopt the cycle-friendly design standards needed to ensure the money is well spent. Let's examine each of these points in turn.

Admirable ambition and objectives

The draft strategy starts out really well – and I mean, really REALLY well! How about this for fine words?

“Our long term goal up to 2040 is that walking and cycling should be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choice for shorter journeys such as the commute to school, college, work or leisure trips. We want to create a nation where cycling and walking are the norm for all people whatever their background or characteristics.

To make our goal a reality, we want everyone in the country to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking and we are calling that goal our cycling and walking ambition. Our ambition for England is:

  • We want to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.”

Wonderful stuff! They really seem to get the point about normalising walking and cycling, for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and the transformation in cycling and walking conditions that this will require. 10 out of 10. No, 20 out of 10.

To back up this 'ambition', they have also defined four 'objectives', all of them wholly commendable:

  • Increase cycling activity, where cycling activity is measured as the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year;
  • Reverse the decline in walking activity, measured as the total number of walking stages per person per year;
  • Reduce the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured on England’s roads, measured as the number of fatalities and serious injuries per billion miles cycled, each year;
  • Increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school.

A target for cycling or crawling?

However, they have then proposed a quantified target for the first of these objectives - and that's where the problems start:

  • [To] Double cycling, where cycling activity is measured as the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025.

At this lowly growth-rate, we'll eventually crawl towards Dutch levels of cycle use shortly before the start of the 23rd century. The Government's aspiration may be to 'normalise' cycling, but apparently not in any of our lifetimes.

There are two problems with this. The first is that it includes the quintupling of cycle use which London is aiming for between 2013 and 2025 - a target which seems likely to be met if London's new Mayor sustains Boris Johnson's level of investment.The second is that it also includes the increase in the number of cycling trips that would happen anyway simply due to population growth, even if the percentage of trips made by cycle remained unchanged (i.e. less than 2%).

In short, this "doubling" in cycle trips doesn't remotely mean a doubling (i.e. a 100% increase) in the number of cycling trips per person. In fact, for people outside London, it's only a 74% increase. So, unless there is a sharp decline in the total number of trips per person by all modes, then this target implies boosting cycle use from below 2% of trips to about 3.5% of trips.

That's still poor compared with even France and Italy (both 5%), or mountainous Switzerland and Austria (both 9%), let alone the well-developed cycling countries of Denmark (19%) and the Netherlands (26%) (see p12).

The parliamentary 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry report - published in 2013 and strongly backed by MPs of all parties, businesses and the media - called for targets to boost cycle use to roughly German levels (10% of trips) by 2025 and to near-Dutch levels (25%) by 2050.

At least the previous coalition Government was hoping to double cycling trips by 2020. Now the target date has slipped back to 2025. At this lowly growth-rate, we'll eventually crawl towards Dutch levels of cycle use shortly before the start of the 23rd century. The Government's aspiration may be to 'normalise' cycling, but apparently not in any of our lifetimes.

Derisory funding

Worse still, the annual Government investment earmarked for cycling and walking in this "investment strategy" amounts to £316m over the five years of the strategy (April 2016 to 2021), which works out at just £1.38 per person in England outside London.

The Government squanders squillions on England's motorways and trunk roads. Yet when it comes to investing in cycling - which provides far better value for money - responsibility for funding is 'devolved' to local decision-makers, who may or may not be interested (most aren't)."

Admittedly, it's not possible to make a like-for-like comparison between this figure and the minimum of £10 per person, rising to £20 per person, that was called for in the Get Britain Cycling (GBC) report. That's for two reasons, though it's probable that they roughly cancel one another out. On the one hand, the £1.38 figure only covers national Government spending, whereas the GBC's £10 and £20 figures included local contributions as well. However the GBC figures were intended solely for cycling (as the report title suggests!), whereas the £1.38 is also intended to cover walking.

The committed central government funding is as follows:

  • Cycle City Ambition Grant: of the original £191m allocated to develop high-quality cycle provision in the 8 CCAG cities (Newcastle, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham, Norwich, Cambridge, Oxford and the Bristol area), £101m (most of it capital funding) remains to be spent in 2016-17 and 2017-18, before that funding stream ends. The draft strategy notes that "Realising our ambition will take sustained investment in cycling and walking infrastructure". Yet it fails to provide this.
  • Bikeability cycle training: £50m has been allocated for high-quality cycle training, amounting to £12.5m per annum up to 2019/20, but with none earmarked for the final year of the strategy (2020/21).
  • Highways England: HE's recent cycling strategy (see CTC commentary) identified £100m of capital funding (out of a wider £250m pot for cycling, safety and integration) to improve cycle access along or across England's motorway and trunk road network (which HE manages). Of this, £85m is expected to be spent during the 5-year period of the CWIS, delivering at least 150 out of a pool of 200 schemes.There is more about this in the HE Cycling Strategy and on pages 49-52 of HE's Business Plan, which also lists the schemes to be delivered in the first year of the strategy.
  • Access fund: This £80m 5-year revenue funding pot (£20m in the first year, presumably even less in later years) is a poor substitute for the £100m of revenue funding that was available annually in 2012/13 to 2014/15 via the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). Meanwhile the capital funding element of LSTF has disappeared into the Local Growth Funds (LGF) - see below.

The draft strategy flags up various local funding sources that could also support walking and cycling, such as:

  • Local growth funds: £12bn for capital investment over the 5-year period in transport, housing development and other infrastructure to support local economic growth. Of this, £7.7bn has been allocated so far, £4bn of it to transport projects. However this money is channelled through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) whose lack of accountability has recently been sharply criticised by the National Audit Office. Sustrans found that most LEP transport allocations were going towards roads, with only 2 of the 39 LEPs making any significant funding allocations to cycling. Local campaigners have complained that LEP funding supposedly for cycling schemes are in fact spent on worsening cycling conditions.
  • Integrated Transport Block funding for Local Transport Plans: £1.3bn over the 5 years for small-scale capital schemes to tackle congestion and to improve road safety, accessibility and the environment. DfT estimates that 11% of this (which would amount to just £28m annually) is spent on cycling, with another 4% (£10m annually) on walking.
  • Highway maintenance funds: £3.8bn is to be shared over 5 years between non-London councils in England to maintain their local road networks. It's small beer compared with the £6bn for maintaining the motorway and trunk road network - no wonder our local roads are so potholed. Yet we must see it as an opportunity. If councils can be persuaded to include cycle provision when they are carrying out road resurfacing works, this would be a great way to maximise the synergies between their cycling and road maintenance programmes.

It also references the funding that may be available from recently-announced NHS Healthy New Towns programme and other health-related projects, the Government's recent sport strategy (with its encouraging new focus on non-competitive physical activity), and even from business sponsorship and 3rd sector funding.

Yet I fail to see how the Government could possibly get from a national funding allocation of just £1.38 per person (for walking as well as cycling) to £10 for cycling alone - let alone to £20 - just by magically levering in additional local funding. The split of local and national funding over the past 5 years suggests this is wholly unrealistic.

Robert Goodwill MP, minister for local transport (including cycling) insists that it's up to local authorities. "The funding is there for any local area to invest in cycling if they wish to". I'm afraid I don't believe him. As I've previously explained, this 'localism' excuse has a very long and inglorious history.

We need to invest in the solutions to congestion, pollution, physical inactivity and climate change - not in making them worse."

Meanwhile the Government itself continues to squander squillions on England's motorway and trunk roads - well, £15bn to be precise between now and 2020-21, with more schemes being planned thereafter (e.g. £6bn for an 18-mile tunnel under the Pennines to connect Manchester and Sheffield, and £2-4bn for additional Thames crossings east of Dartford). But when it comes to investing in cycling - which provides far better value for money - responsibility for funding is 'devolved' to local decision-makers, who may or may not be interested (most aren't).

Actual and planned spend on England's motorways and trunk roads, 2005-21

That's why Cycling UK has repeatedly called on Ministers to redirect some of their £15bn roads budget towards cycling and walking. We need to invest in the solutions to congestion, pollution, physical inactivity and climate change - not in making them worse.

As things stand though, DfT's funding allocations look set to fulfil the predictions of the National Transport Model (NTM). As Cycling UK highlighted 2 years ago, the NTM predicts that car traffic will grow by around 43% by 2040, while cycle use is set to fall. It seems DfT is planning to fail on cycling. Do we really want to live in a future with 43% more car traffic?

Design standards and other measures

I also mentioned the concerns of local campaigners about cycle funding being squandered on schemes that actually hamper cycling. To be fair, DfT officials do seem genuinely keen to promote good practice in cycle-friendly design, and their Cycle Proofing website rightly commends the excellent design standards produced by Transport for London and the Welsh Government.

Yet DfT seems utterly unwilling to take any action to stop bad practice - the 'localism' excuse strikes again (i.e. "We don't tell local authorities what to do"!) This is nonsensical. There is no benefit whatsoever in leaving it for neighbouring councils to come up with their own local solutions for cycle-friendly design. That just means lots of unnecessary work for council officers (or consultants), and confusion for road users.

This investment strategy is still sorely in need of investment, if it is to achieve its laudable aims

I sincerely hope the final strategy will be strengthened by the results of the National Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, currently being developed for DfT by a team which includes consultants WSP and Phil Jones Associates. If this provides English councils with a recommended method for developing local cycle networks, using the Propensity to Cycle Tool (another genuinely useful DfT-funded project), and for crowd-sourcing input from local cyclists to help them identify and prioritise the schemes needed to create these networks, then this strategy could still be a really important step towards creating the Space for Cycling needed to deliver those admirable ministerial ambitions.

But, as the experience of Active Travel (Wales) Act has shown, even good network planning processes and design standards aren't enough without funding. Ultimately, this 'investment strategy' is still sorely in need of investment, if it is to achieve its laudable aims.

Cycling UK will mobilise a campaign in the coming weeks, to try and strengthen the strategy's final version. Keep an eye on our weekly CycleClips e-bulletin for more information, or sign up if you're not already receiving it.