'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry examines cycling strategy

UK Cycling Alliance representatives at the 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry
The first session of the 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry has tackled Government and local authority strategy towards cycling, taking evidence from cycling organisations, experts and journalists.

CTC today joined other cycling groups, experts and journalists to call for cabinet-level leadership to promote more and safer cycling.

The first session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's 'Get Britain Cycling' parliamentary inquiry, dealing with strategy, was eagerly followed on twitter, with the topic 'trending' for much of the morning.

Giving evidence at the opening panel as part of the first of six oral evidence sessions, CTC's Campaigns Director Roger Geffen joined representatives of British Cycling, Cyclenation and Sustrans in calling for the cabinet-level leadership needed to launch an action plan to 'Get Britain Cycling'.

Roger Geffen said: "Cycling has a huge range of benefits: for our health, our streets and communities, our environment, our economy and our quality of life.  However, maximising these benefits requires action from a wide range of local and national organisations.

"Council departments, schools and colleges, businesses and employers, police forces, public transport operators, retailers and leisure promoters all have important roles to play. Ensuring they do so requires a joined-up approach to getting Britain cycling, supported by politicians of all parties, locally and nationally.  That way we can secure the funding needed, now and for the long term."

Cycling has a huge range of benefits: for our health, our streets and communities, our environment, our economy and our quality of life.  However, maximising these benefits requires action from a wide range of local and national organisations."

Roger Geffen
CTC Campaigns Director

Consistent quality of infrastructure

Although witnesses were eager not to overstate the risks of cycling - you are just as likely to survive walking a mile as cycling a mile - it was acknowledged by all that the perception of danger sharing roads with heavy traffic was the chief barrier to getting more people cycling. Better cycling infrastructure was widely seen as vital to overcoming these concerns. This includes cycle parking at your home and your destination, as well as lower speed limits on local roads, dedicated space for cycling (preferably segregated) on main roads, and continuity and priority at junctions.  As Roger Geffen noted, "A cycle journey is only as good as its weakest link."

Quality of design and commitment from local authorities and government to remove road-space and give priority to cyclists is crucial to making sure infrastructure does lead to increases in cycling. Several panellists called for cycling to be considered in all relevant transport policy decisions, and specifically in all highway and traffic schemes.

Besides leadership itself though, Geffen emphasised that there was no single "magic bullet" for achieving high cycle use and good cycle safety.  CTC's "Cycletopia" campaign illustrates just some of the many measures that are needed to create the conditions which will allow cycling to flourish.

Expert views

Other witnesses included the academic Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster, consultant Lynn Sloman and the Executive Director of the Bicycle Association, Philip Darnton, who was also the Chair of Cycling England until it was dismantled in 2011.

Rachel Aldred pointed out that  Dutch infrastructure is designed to meet five criteria: comfortable, convenient, safe, attractive and coherent. By contrast, UK provision typically meets just one or two of these criteria, but rarely all five.

Lynn Sloman enthused about the transformation that had been achieved in Seville, Spain - showing that cycling cultures weren't confined to northern Europe. However, her evidence also sparked the biggest laugh, when she confirmed that the politicians who had authorised the construction of cycle tracks across the city had subsequently lost their seats.

Positive promotion

Witnesses also agreed though that reliance should not be placed solely on quality infrastructure. Cycle maps, promotional activities in schools or employers and among community groups were all cited as effective ways to move cycling on from being seen as a predominantly white male activity, so that it becomes something that is perfectly normal for people of ages, backgrounds and abilities. Lynn Sloman also argued that information such as quality cycle maps can be highly effective, while several witnesses emphasised the need for the imagery used in cycle promotional leaflets and similar literature to show a range of cyclists, showing it as a normal, safe and enjoyable activity which anyone can do in ordinary clothes.

Long-term funding commitments

There was strong agreement over the need to allocate continental levels of funding, both to improve cycling conditions and to promote cycle use.  This in turn requires a cross-party consensus on the value of investing in cycling, so that government departments can then make long-term funding commitments in the knowledge that these will survive changes in political leadership, locally and nationally.  At present, funding for cycling is not only at very low levels compared with many of our continental neighbours, but comes in fits and starts. This makes it hard for Councils to develop a pool of well-designed cycle improvement schemes - given that they do not know when (or whether) these will get funded - or even to retain the expertise to ensure that any money they receive is spent wisely.

Pressure from the press

The final panel session of the day included witnesses from the Guardian, the Times and the cycling journalist Carlton Reid.

Philip Pank and Kaya Burgess - the journalists behind the Times's Cities fit for Cycling campaign - emphasised the need for leadership from the highest levels and for guidance to become much stronger, with routes audited for quality of design.

My top two priorities are quality segregated infrastructure and 20 mph speed limits

Philip Pank
Transport Correspondent, The Times

Peter Walker, one of the lead writers on the Guardian's Bike Blog, acknowledged the importance of the Times's campaign, saying that it had made it easier for him to write about cycling in his paper.

He had previously asked his readership for their priorities and listed a few key areas, including the need to include cycle training in the driving test. They felt a sense of marginalisation and bullying by other road users.

Carlton Reid, meanwhile, urged the MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group to write a really strong report, and suggested that this could be a breakthrough moment for cycling. He suggested that the aim should be not only to make towns and cities cycle-friendly but "people-friendly".

The inquiry continues

There will be five more sessions over the next 6 weeks, to which the public are invited, on a first come, first served basis. Alternatively, you can follow the sessions on twitter, at #getbritaincycling, or via a live blog at www.allpartycycling.org/news.

The report of the inquiry, to be drafted by leading transport academic Prof Phil Goodwin, will be published by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group at the end of April.