What did Cycling UK's campaigns achieve in 2018?
When the office closed on Friday 21 December, there was a palpable sigh of relief from an exhausted, but upbeat campaigns team. There is no doubt about it but campaigning over the year was a non-stop roller coaster journey, but the lows were definitely outweighed by the highs. Above all, the year demonstrated more than anything that with the backing of our members and supporters and by working together with like-minded organisations we can make substantial change.
From overturning cycle bans, setting the course for positive change in the Highway Code, doubling funding for active travel in Scotland and creating new off-road routes, it’s not just been a busy year but also a diverse one for our campaigning.
Below are some of the highlights of our campaigning year.
Cycle ban defeated
Cycling UK’s first success of the year came from a short sharp action that galvanised more than 10,000 people to write letters to Highways England in support of our concerns about a proposed ban on the A63 near Hull.
We argued the proposal was not only unreasonable but lacked evidence and proper analysis of the dangers.
In March, we delivered these letters by cargo bike which prompted the ban to be dropped completely. Our Head of Campaigns, Duncan Dollimore also had the dubious pleasure of learning how unsteady a cargo bike can be when loaded with over 30kg worth of objection letters!
Highway Code changes
Cycling UK has had an ongoing campaign to amend the Highway Code for a number of years now, specifically on making sure there is clearer guidance on how to overtake cyclists safely and also for it to include suggestions like the Dutch Reach to prevent car-dooring. This method encourages drivers to look over their shoulder to check for cyclists before opening their doors.
In March, the Government gave us the opportunity to spell these out once again as it launched its consultation on how to make cycling safer. We didn’t just stop at these two recommendations, but using our 140 years worth of experience as the UK’s cycling champion to spell out all the necessary changes.
Again we put out the call to our members and the wider cycling community, and consequently the Department for Transport was contacted by more than 10,000 people supporting our 164 page consultation response.
People power worked, and in November, the DfT announced its intention to amend the Highway Code on close passing and car dooring. Result!
Back to reality
Realistically changes to the Highway Code might not happen until 2020. That’s far too long to wait when we can begin making change now to driver behaviour, particularly when it comes to close passes.
In 2017, Cycling UK launched our Too Close for Comfort campaign which supplied all 45 police forces in the UK with “close pass” mats to be used in driver education. Input from one of the leading forces when it comes to close passes, West Midlands Police asked if we had considered a virtual reality film to help non-cyclists experience the threat of a close pass without the danger.
Until that point we hadn’t, but never an organisation to shy away from new and innovative technologies, we consulted some specialists, put together a story board, sought police approval and then went to our members and supporters to help make it a reality.
In less than a week we hit our target of £15k and after 28 days had raised over £17k thanks to the generosity of 929 supporters.
The film, which gives drivers a first-hand experience of what a cyclist experiences when a car passes too closely, has already been used by West Mids. Headsets to play the film are already being distributed, and we anticipate that all forces will be able to access and use the film by spring.
Public access is a public good
Want to head off-road by bike and you might be surprised to learn that close to 80% of the rights of way (ROW) network in England and Wales is denied to you. That’s not deliberate policy – it’s just the hangover of a system developed in the sixteenth century some three hundred years before bikes were invented.
Clearly not all parts of the countryside are suitable for access by bike, whether for environmental or risk of conflict creations reasons, but a lot of footpaths could easily become bridleways if the legislation and the will was there.
Our Beyond the Greenbelt campaign in February encouraged Government to start thinking seriously about opening up the countryside to the public, as we argued public access is a public good. The campaign suggested post-Brexit agricultural funding could be used to pay landowners to make this possible.
The battle is not won, but as the Agriculture Bill goes through Parliament we were pleased to see front and foremost the line “public access is a public good”.
Unfortunately, there was less good news in Wales, which thanks to our Trails for Wales campaign has, over the past three years, been making steps towards increasing access for cyclists and horseriders. Despite overwhelming support for the changes, and more responses for a Welsh consultation than received on changes to the NHS in Wales, the government in Cardiff bottled it saying “now is not the right time for substantive reform”. We disagree and will be picking up the baton again in 2019.
Small claims – large victory
This campaign was a bit under the radar, partly due to its technical nature, but the implications for people injured on the road while out cycling would have been massive.
The Government had been proposing to increase the threshold of the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000. Under these proposals, this would have meant you would only receive your legal fees in personal injury claims if the claim was over £5,000. However, with the majority of cycling injuries being less than the £5k threshold, it would have meant cyclists injured on the roads seeking compensation would most likely have ended up out of pocket.
Cycling UK pointed out this glaring mistake to Government, and thanks to reasoned debate between us and the Ministry of Justice, Justice Secretary David Gauke MP dropped the plans to increase the limit to £5k.
We’ve got routes…
Unlike singer Alice Merton, last year Cycling UK got some routes.
Working in partnership with Surrey Hills AONB and the London Marathon Trust, we kicked off the summer with the launch of five new off-road routes covering 80km of the Surrey Hills. Cycling UK was instrumental in designing the routes and it was partly down to our volunteers that they were all signed up as well.
Not just wanting to restrict ourselves to the Surrey Hills, in September we launched our Riders’ Route for the North Downs Way. This was the result of working with the North Downs Way National Trail, Kent Downs AONB and the British Horse Society. While not recognised as an official national trail, it’s endorsed by their trails officer, and means there’s now a fully legal route you can ride from Farnham in Surrey to Dover in Kent. It also means, we’ve now three trails you can ride end-to-end in the UK out of 15, including the South Downs Way and Pennine Bridleway.
Cycling UK also launched our grand ambition for the future: an official off-road Lands End to John o’Groats (LEJOG). We’ve a long way to go to make this a reality, but our vision will help link up the national trails and in doing so should also help link up the North and South Downs Way too.
As well as launching its comprehensive safety review for cycling and walking in 2018, the Government also put out its consultation in late summer on the introduction of new cycling offences.
This review was called for following the death of Kim Briggs after being hit by a cyclist in London riding with a fixed wheel bike with no front brake. Essentially the consultation calls for offences related to careless and dangerous cycling as currently exist for driving.
Cycling UK’s concern however is that these driving offences are not fit for purpose, rarely deliver justice and are in desperate need of reform. Mirroring cycling offences on inadequate driving offences will merely add to the problem, which is why Cycling UK is calling for a wider review of all road traffic offences.
We’re not alone in this, and again we’ve the backing of the wider public as more than 13,000 people wrote in to Government in support of our calls – the highest number of supporters for one of our campaigns to date!
Lee Martin was killed in July 2015 by a driver who was texting. He’d been convicted six times previously for using his phone behind the wheel but had been allowed to keep his licence.
“Drivers who are clearly putting people’s lives at risk should be taken off the roads before they’re given the chance to kill,” says Darrell Martin, Lee's brother. “We shouldn’t be waiting for a tragedy to happen, and certainly drivers who have seven or eight convictions shouldn’t be given more chances to get back behind the wheel. The justice system needs to take this much more seriously. If they had, my brother would still be alive.”
The Government response to the consultation has not been published yet, but should be expected by the summer.
Where Scotland leads…
Consistent lobbying over recent years by the We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote coalition, which Cycling UK plays an active part in, saw the Scottish Government put the rest of the UK to shame as it doubled funding levels for active travel to £80m per year. Per head that’s more than double the spend in England and nearly three times that in Wales as it’s estimated the spend will be roughly an annual £15 per head.
It’s great news for Scottish cyclists and Scotland, which is yet again setting the bar high and leading the way for the rest of the UK to follow.
…England must follow
England can clearly learn from Scotland when it comes to funding its ambitions for active travel. The Government invited all local authorities to produce plans for improving walking and cycling, and has provided support for 44 to do so, and that’s it.
There’s no money available for the authorities actually to implement these plans, which really means many authorities are lacking the incentive to think big.
So in partnership with the charity Living Streets, we are calling on the Government the funding their need to make our towns and cities safer, happier and healthier places to live.
Our funding campaign launched in the autumn posed the question we’ll be asking throughout 2019 – where would you rather be? So if you’d prefer a better environment for cycling and walking then make sure to take part.
2018 was a busy year, but it was also an incredibly successful one for Cycling UK’s campaigning. The lynchpin of this success has been the high levels of support for our campaigns from our members and the wider cycling community.
The more of us who stand together, the more we can achieve. It’s that simple.
If you want to see cycling improve in the UK, then make your 2019 resolution to get involved with our campaigns and join!