London success vital to new DfT Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

Andrew Jones MP Under-secretary of State for Transport

The government’s new Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy recognises the vital importance of helping the UK’s population to become more active and therefore less vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Its cycling target – to double the number of cycling ‘stages’ from 0.8 billion in 2013 to 1.6 billion by 2026 - is welcome, not to mention essential as a tool for improving the nation’s health, and enabling more of the NHS’s stretched resources to be directed towards front line health problems.

The investment in cycling and walking, if you look at the literal wording, appears to be very generous: ‘over £300 million in dedicated cycling and walking programmes alone over this Parliament.’ But perhaps Ministers Chris Grayling and Andrew Jones weren’t thinking of spending it all before June 8th.

The more realistic figure cited by the CWIS document for cycling is £6 per head per year in 2017, up from a very low £2 per head. Regrettably, while the investment in active travel in England (CWIS does not cover Scotland or Wales) is increased it remains, on the cycling side, well below Dutch and Danish levels of investment and also significantly lower than that in London (£18 per head p.a.). It is also below the rate proposed by the Get Britain Cycling report from parliament (£10 per head p.a.). It is therefore hard to see how England, outside of London, is going to meet the doubling target set by the Department for Transport.

It is notable that the expected London contribution to the CWIS growth target is substantial. Having more than doubled cycling levels to 670,000 trips per day in 2015, London contributed more than 20% of the 0.8 billion cycle journey stages the DfT estimates took place in England in 2013. The England wide target for 2025 is 1.6 billion stages per year. By 2026 London’s (previously set) target is 1.5 million trips per day which will be close to a third of the England-wide total the government is aiming for. 

Political will

Clearly the government doesn’t expect the rest of England to match London’s cycling growth which is not surprising given the lower level of investment in cycling outside of the capital. But growth in cycling is not only about investment it is, as we have learned in London, also about political will and the standards of infrastructure. Mayor Sadiq Khan, like his predecessor, knows that London has to grow cycling levels because otherwise the city will grind to a halt as the population grows, not to mention the economic and health costs of growing inactivity and the desperate need to improve air quality. In London the growth in cycling levels is formally built in to the Transport for London business plan.

With that imperative to grow cycling, London has pressed ahead not just with greater investment in ‘Healthy Streets’ but it has also cranked up the standards required of cycling infrastructure. The new cycle superhighways along the Embankment and Blackfriars Bridge Road are a far cry from cycle highways that consisted largely of blue paint. The latest London Cycle Design Standards draw on best practice from across Europe and are looked on as the standard to beat elsewhere in the UK.

CWIS has fine ambitions but to realise them will require both political will at the local level and standards of infrastructure to match the best. London is showing the way to change our approach to sustainable travel – England stands to gain from the London experience.

As CWIS itself points out, the cost of not realising its own targets is immense

Physical inactivity directly contributes to one in six deaths in the UK and costs business and wider society £7.4 billion a year. Physical inactivity is among the top ten causes of disease and disability in England.’

Infrastructure design

Among the more detailed points in CWIS is a recognition that the DfT's own cycle infrastructure guide (LTN 2/08) is out of date or needs a ‘refresh’ to use their words.  While the CWIS document refers to the more recent and improved Highways Agency guidance on cycling infrastructure  for  ‘strategic roads’ it stops short of saying that either this new guide or the London Cycle Design Standards guide should be the standard for cities and towns  in England to follow. 

 There is also no news of a response to the commendable British Cycling campaign (strongly backed by LCC)  called ‘Turning the Corner’ which seeks to clarify the Highway Code rules on turning vehicles giving way to cyclists and pedestrians proceeding straight ahead (a rule that is standard across most of Europe) which would make roads safer and infrastructure design easier.