Will the transport secretary turn the cycling debate into action?

The debating chamber of Westminster Hall was packed for the debate on cycling

Will the transport secretary turn the cycling debate into action?

After a hugely positive debate on cycling in the House of Commons, CTC has called on Transport Secretary Justine Greening MP to support an action plan for ‘more and safer cycling’.

CTC has called on Transport Secretary Justine Greening MP to support an action plan for ‘more and safer cycling’, following a hugely positive debate on cycling in the House of Commons this afternoon. CTC also echoed calls from MPs for the restoration of Cycling England in order to co-ordinate delivery of this plan.

The debate was prompted by The Times’s ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign, launched after Times journalist Mary Bowers was left very seriously injured after she was hit by a lorry driver. It was attended by 75 MPs, an almost unprecedented number for a Westminster Hall adjournment debate, with demand to speak outstripping the debate in the main Commons chamber.

Safety in Numbers

Several MPs noted the evidence from CTC’s ‘Safety in Numbers’ campaign that cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are, and called for more joined-up government between different Government departments, e.g. those responsible for transport, health, education, planning, traffic law and enforcement. There were also calls for action to make it easier to combine cycling and rail travel.

MPs also commended the activities of local volunteers from CTC and other cycling groups in their constituencies. CTC Councillor Graham Smith (from Oxford), Sue Coles (from Winchester) and Mark Kiehlmann (from Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow) all received notable mentions.

The benefits of cycling

The debate had been called by MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG). Opening the debate, APPCG co-chair Julian Huppert MP outlined the health, environmental and other benefits of cycling, and noted that three quarters of all trips in Britain are less than 5 miles, a distance easily covered in a short bike ride.  

He observed that the cost to society of obesity is around £20bn annually, roughly the same as the whole of the Department for Transport’s budget. Describing cycling as “the most under-rated but most valuable” of transport modes, he cited evidence from European best practice that growth in cycle use requires a consistent spend of around £10 per person annually.

Bring back Cycling England!

He commended “the much lamented Cycling England” from its formation in 2005 to its axing in 2009 as having proved excellent value for money. He then asked his party colleague, Transport Minister Norman Baker MP, “Can we have it back please?”

Later in his speech, Huppert called on the Government to give attention to the prosecution and sentencing of driving offences, saying that “So many cyclists feel excluded from justice.”

Road justice

Following on, APPCG co-chair Ian Austin MP noted the trivial sentences handed down to the drivers who killed Solihull Cycling Club member Cath Ward and former British Cycling coach Rob Jefferies, likewise the driver of the lorry which killed Eilidh Cairns, who was fined £200 for having uncorrected defective eyesight but not prosecuted for any other driving offence.

CTC’s ‘Stop Smidsy’ campaign calls for tougher and better enforced road traffic law, to put an end to the constant cases of drivers hitting cyclists and dismissing it lightly with the words “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” (or ‘Smidsy’).

MPs from all three main parties queued up to echo Huppert and Austin’s calls for: more 20mph speed limits, for better cycling provision; for junctions to be redesigned to improve cyclists’ safety; for action to reduce the risks which lorries pose to cyclists; and for cycle awareness to be incorporated into the driving test. All of these being measures called for in The Times’s manifesto.

Next steps?

Following the hugely positive show of cross-party parliamentary support, the Government now has a clear mandate to get on with promoting ‘more as well as safer cycling’. It should seize the moment and draw up a co-ordinated action plan to create safe conditions for cycling, and to encourage more people to enjoy its benefits for our health, our quality of life and our wallets."

The wider public benefits of cycling span so many different Government departments, but so too do the actions needed to maximise those benefits. The departments responsible for health, planning, climate change, air quality and environment, traffic law and policing all have roles to play, with similar 'joined-up action' needed locally. CTC urges the Transport Secretary to grasp the opportunity right now to get Olympic Britain back into the saddle.

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