Prime Minister’s new funding falls massively below the level of investment needed to make cycling “soar”

Cameron on a bike

Prime Minister David Cameron this week announced a modest £77 million to boost cycling infrastructure across the whole of the UK - a sum of money that can’t possibly address decades of underfunding.

The money will be put towards a number of worthwhile cycling projects in British cities, but the sum is nowhere near enough to make cycling “soar” in the way Mr Cameron claims it will.

Eight cities have succeeded in bidding for central government money for cycling projects: Greater Manchester £20m, West Yorkshire £18.1m, Birmingham £17m, West of England £7.8m, Newcastle £5.7m, Cambridge £4.1m, Norwich £3.7m and Oxford £0.8m.

When local funding and previously allocated money is added to the pot of new money, the total for cycling is £148 million over three years.

This figure equates to around £1 per head of population, which is way short of spending of £30/head in the Netherlands (over many years) or even the £10/head proposal put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in its Get Britain Cycling report.

Some schemes, such as the Dutch-style cycle tracks in south Manchester, appear to have great merit and are following Dutch principles; however, others such as the one in Leeds, have come in for strong criticism.

£77 million won't scratch the surface

Overall, however, the £77 million funding will barely scratch the surface of the UK's urban streets and rural roads, which are often deeply hostile to cycling.

Cycling might be increasing in popularity in Greater London, but elsewhere in the UK the story is often very different.   

Some might argue that there simply isn't the money available, but the new cycling funding pales into insignificance compared with the £28 billion for new road projects recently proposed by the current government. 

Indeed, the entire UK cycling allocation is significantly less than the cost of the proposed Bexhill-Hastings link road in West Sussex (estimated at £100 million), which is one tiny piece of the government's new road-building programme.

Surely there’s some mistake when central government funding for cycling is less than the money spent on a new highway between two towns that are only four miles apart, and already have an A-road connecting them which is largely used for local journeys.

Perhaps Mr Cameron could ask his advisors if there are any modes of transport that offer a huge return on investment, provide massive health benefits to users, save people money, and are suitable for replacing short journeys along a relatively flat route.

Yes, the £77 million will fund another bunch of pilot projects, but it fails to accept that the arguments for building high-quality Dutch-style infrastructure have been won.

The billions available for other major transport projects - £28 billion for roads, £50 billion for HS2 and £20 billion for Crossrail - demonstrate amply that this government doesn’t take cycling seriously as a mode of transport.

A quick calculation reveals that the Prime Minister's new money would only buy about 150 metres of Crossrail track.

Lack of a national cycling strategy

What's most disturbing long-term is that there’s no national strategy to boost cycling, and that this new money will barely correct the damage (as observed in Lancaster) caused by the scrapping of Cycling England in 2010.

For many years, Cycling England efficiently channelled funding from goverment departments and local councils into effective projects to boost cycling in towns and cities, until it was disbanded.

The fact is that without strong political leadership from the Prime Minister, including the creation of a Cabinet-level post with responsibility for sustainable transport promotion, then cycling across the UK will struggle to “soar” any time soon.

Our 'space for cycling' protest ride on 2 September is a great opportunity to show the Mayor and the Prime Minister there's an appetite among ordinary Britons for investment in high-quality cycling infrastructure.

UK cycling projects

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The question is - why does the Government not get it?

Is it because transport academics and public health professionals get drowned out by lobbying from aviation and motoring businesses? Is it because MPs don't believe that Britain can ever be made into a better place for cycling (it definitely won't if they're not prepared to spend money on it)? Or do some MPs have an irrational bias against 'cyclists'?

All they have to to is read the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's report and act on all its recommendations.

Investing in cycling infrastructure is cost-effective and is particularly important in today's harsh economic climate. It will reduce healthcare costs and make Britain more competitive by reducing congestion and transport costs.

It is really important that the voice of reason is heard loudly, and people write to MPs, councillors, newspapers etc. to spread this message. It is literally a life or death decision; so far the Government has chosen death for the thousands who die due to motor vehicle air pollution or diseases caused by physical inactivity or in road transport collisions.

Investing in cycling means choosing a better quality of life for people in this country.

The idea that there isn't enough money is, of course, nonsense.  The last time I checked (and I'm paid to check this stuff) the Netherlands was still in recession.  Yet they still find the money to fund cycling infrastructure.

It's a political choice, and even after this announcement the UK is still choosing pitiful levels of investment in cycling.

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