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Boris, government announces big boost for cycling

London Cycling Campaign | 28th July 2020

Photo credit: DfT cycle design principles infographic from Gearing Up report

LCC’s CEO Ashok Sinha responds to Boris Johnson’s announcement of 'thousands of miles' of high quality cycle lanes

In 2012 LCC’s Love London, Go Dutch campaign persuaded London Mayor, Boris Johnson to do a volte face and ditch the blue paint in favour of the Dutch approach to cycling – high quality protected cycle lanes, low traffic neighbourhoods, and making cars rather than bikes guests on urban roads. Our campaign saw the installation of new, Dutch-style long distance cycle tracks and three major Mini-Holland schemes. The man he employed to make it all happen back then, Andrew Gilligan, is now doing the same for his boss at the heart of Government, judging by the announcements from the Prime Minister and DfT this morning.

Mr Gilligan has done something unheard of at the DfT: he has broken through the bureaucratic inertia, half-hearted political leadership, endless cycles of empty consultations and toothless strategies that previously typified the DfT’s approach to cycling, announcing a programme to create “thousands of miles” of properly protected cycle lanes across England.

Finally, we have political will at the top of Government to address society’s chronic over-dependence on motor cars – and all the pollution, carbon emissions, congestion, blighted urban spaces and inactivity-related health problems (including susceptibility to Covid-19) that flow from it. Or do we?

What's been announced

LCC believes there are five key tests that the Government must meet if this is really to be the start of a cycling revolution. But before we get to that, let’s have a quick tour of what Mr Gilligan announced:

  • £2 billion direct investment in cycling and walking across England.
  • “Thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in towns and cities”
  • Far higher national mandatory standards for cycle scheme design
  • Clear priority given to reallocation of roadspace from cars to cycles
  • Details of the £50 voucher scheme to repair cycles
  • An e-bike “programme” to help purchasing more expensive electric bikes
  • A pilot program to help GPs prescribe cycling to help reduce obesity including providing bikes
  • A cycling-friendly overhaul of the Highway Code.
  • One small-medium city to get a pilot zero emissions centre
  • Rollout of cycle training availability for all adults and children
  • More cycle parking including at train stations and secure hangars on residential streets
  • Potential roll-out of ‘Direct Vision’ lorry standards
  • More powers for councils to enforce road rules and recoup fines from motoring offences
  • More control of the strategic road network for the “metro mayors” outside London

This is potentially ground-breaking stuff. Boris, Mr Gilligan and Grant Shapps deserve a lot of credit for achieving some cut through. LCC will play our part in helping to realise the above. But let’s also remember what we have already seen in London.

LCC persuaded the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to triple the mileage of protected cycle lanes in London over the last four years and make a Liveable Neighbourhood scheme available to every borough. In delivering this, Sadiq Khan put £770 million for cycling into TfL’s budget, as part of a £2.3 billion Healthy Streets programme. That’s just for London. Khan was aiming to spend £17 per resident of London per year on cycling. That’s approaching Dutch levels of spending. While the government has announced a six-fold increase in national spending, that’s only about £9 per head – half of what London and the Dutch are doing.

Boris says his plan “aims to kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring.” So he realises that this can only be the start of the start; and he surely also recognises that sustained, long term political will and financial investment will be the critical determinant of whether this wholly welcome transformation will occur.

Remember, the Dutch have consistently spent about £25 per person per year on cycling infrastructure for decades. That translates to over a billion pounds a year in the UK, not just for one parliament, but for many, many years to come.

5 key tests...

So is this this really the start of a cycling revolution? Here are five tests that LCC calls on the Government to meet:

  1. Meet the challenge of the Climate Emergency: LCC’s Climate Safe Streets report shows how London can and should decarbonise our roads by 2030. The programme announced today by Boris and Mr Gilligan must in future scale up by at least an order of magnitude, and be sustained for the next decade and more, if road transport is to be made zero carbon across all of England.
  2. Reinvest the £27 billion roads programme in cycling and public transport, to both cap off demand for car journeys and fund sustainable alternatives.
  3. Devolve funding and decision making: the London and England Metropolitan mayors, as well as the leaders of London’s and England’s borough councils, know their populations and local conditions best. Give them the tools – as well as the hard-edged scrutiny – to get it right. Don’t try to run all this from Whitehall.
  4. Help those who need it most. England’s most disadvantaged communities are hit worst by air pollution, inactivity and other causes of poor public health. They are often also the least well-served by public transport and less likely to be able to afford a car. Yet they are the ones who will gain most from the affordability and convenience that cycling brings to their daily journeys. “Complementary” measures such as secure cycle parking and training should go to them first and prioritisation of cycle routes should take into account where they live and need to get to as one of the key priorities for schemes
  5. Be the change you want to see in the world: implement a strategy over the five-year duration of this parliament to see cycling become the norm for ministers, civil servants and supporting staff. Give public servants the help and facilities they need, and remove the perks that favour car use, so that they can set the example that will inspire and lead the nation.