If Sadiq Khan, why Khan't the Government?!

Spending on cycling in London is set to reach Danish levels. Photo: Mark Treasure

If Sadiq Khan, why Khan't the Government?!

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced earlier this week a £770 million funding package for cycling - £17 per head! While this is great news for Londoners, elsewhere the picture is not so rosy. We need London's funding levels to be normal, not an exception to a general rule. Our Space for Cycling campaigner, Tom Guha, investigates.

On Monday this week, Sadiq Khan announced a major funding package of £770 million to be spent on cycling facilities on London’s roads. The package will be spent on a combination of Superhighways, Quietways and ‘Mini-Hollands’ throughout Khan’s term as mayor, to make cycling the “safe and obvious” transport choice for all Londoners.

The funding package equates to £17 per head on cycling – matching Danish levels of investment. Such high spending shows that Sadiq Khan is taking seriously his manifesto commitment to be “the most pro-cycling mayor London has ever had”.

This is great news for those in London and shows what can be done when the political will exists. However, unless you live in a select few lucky places, you would be forgiven for shouting “what about us in [insert almost anywhere else in the UK]?!”

Earlier this year, the Government’s draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) announced £320 million to be spent on cycling facilities across England. That is less than half what is being spent in London alone! It is little wonder that the announcement of the CWIS, which aimed to “create a nation where cycling and walking are the norm for all people”, was met with limited enthusiasm.

Officially, the cycling programme is about cycling. In reality, it is about breathing, it’s about pollution, about health, about noise, about the kind of city we want to live in. It is about making the best use of scarce space on the roads, about freeing space on public transport. Most of the people who will benefit from the cycling programme aren’t cyclists.”

Andrew Gilligan, former Cycling Commissioner for Boris Johnson

CWIS spending on cycling equates to just £1.39 per head initially (for cycling and walking), before dropping to 72p in its final year. Hardly the levels of funding needed to truly get people cycling. Scottish funding is better, at £7.22 per head for both cycling and walking. And Wales is currently bobbing along at £3-5 per head.

Of course, the comparison is not entirely fair. Other funding pots exist for local authorities such as Local Growth Funds, City Deals, Cycle City Ambition Grants and their own transport budgets. There are some places in the country where these pots have been properly utilised to good effect, such as Cambridge, York and even Leicester, which doesn’t receive any cycle-specific funding.

However, these places are an exception to a general rule – motors get money, cycling gets sidelined. Presently, local authorities are sticking their necks out and diving into their own pockets to deliver Space for Cycling. This is both politically and economically difficult.

If we are to take London as a case study, funding for cycling has reached this point from a base of just £2 per head in 2011/12. Since then cycle use has boomed from a “fringe activity” to, on some routes, making up more than half of the total traffic. And as London’s former cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, puts it:

“Officially, the cycling programme is about cycling. In reality, it is about breathing, it’s about pollution, about health, about noise, about the kind of city we want to live in. It is about making the best use of scarce space on the roads, about freeing space on public transport. Most of the people who will benefit from the cycling programme aren’t cyclists.”

Yet stats released yesterday by the Department for Transport reveal that cycle use has stagnated at 2% elsewhere in the country. Hardly surprising. If the Government seriously want to normalise cycling, the levels of investment seen in London must not be an exception but instead become the general rule. The case has been made – let’s make it happen.

If you want to see conditions for cycling improve in your area, why not get involved in our Space for Cycling campaign? We are currently doing a Space for Cycling ‘roadshow’, with 10 events taking place around the country. Find one near you and come along – they’re free!

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