Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

- T.S. Eliot -

Get Britain Cycling…

The All Party Parlimentary Cycling Group recently published their report titled ‘Get Britain Cycling’ under the authorship of Professor Phil Goodwin. I think it makes some sense, but not total sense. I like the idea of getting more people cycling to work but I believe the practicalities and reality of making this happen is something quite different.

My first impression was one of shock when a Professor of Transport planning opens a report with the statement of “I, like most professional transport planners, providers and researchers of my generation, have grown up thinking that cycling, though worthy, is of small significance compared with the great questions of cars, traffic and public transport, or the universal significance of walking. This applies, I think, equally to those who saw the future as building roads for an unending growth in car use, and those who favoured traffic restraint and better public transport”. This grabbed my attention as I think Prof Goodwin is actual trying to raise a collective hand and say ‘we’ve been thinking and doing it wrong for years’. I cracked a smile and thought this report might make an interesting, so one I read!

Before I go further, obviously this is a report about cycling and therefore going to be biased in the cyclists favour. But lets delve in to the stats included in the report. Firstly, the National Travel Survey (2012) suggests that 2% of all trips in the UK are made by bicycle, with an average trip of being 3 miles. It isn’t clear if this includes or excludes leisure activities (I’m assuming not). The proportion of all mileage travelled is about 1% – pretty small! Apparently, 85% of people can ride a bike, I’m pretty sure this must be a conservative estimate – I did a quick stray poll in the office and of the 50 people in the office, 49 can ride a bike. The one chap who can’t ride a bike, explained that he was raised in a wealthly area of Nigeria where children didn’t ride bikes because they had drivers to taxi them around.

Moving onwards and onto the international comparison, the Netherlands and Denmark are miles ahead of the UK. 26% of journeys are made by bicycle in the Netherlands and 18% in Denmark. The UK is currently behind, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Austria, France and Ireland. So Mr Cameron, lets get moving up the league table!! It’s also interesting that analysis of the specific individuals making cycling trips shows that “Frequent
cyclists are typically white, male, between 25 to 44, and on a higher than average income” – which, when you look around at cycling events is 100% true!

Lots of details follow that I don’t claim to understand, but a few things do stand out. Firstly the recommendation that “Rights of Way laws should be simplified, to permit cycling on footpaths on the same basis as on bridleways (i.e. provided they are prepared to give way to pedestrians), expect in limited circumstances where there are clear reasons not to do so.” Hurrah, this makes total sense! Furthermore, “Planning policies should support the creation of safe and attractive cycling conditions, e.g. by: ensuring the provision of cycle parking and other trip-end facilities (e.g. showers)”, this appears as a nice to do rather than an essential. I feel the report should go further and it should be compulsory for office spaces over a certain threshold to have secure cycle storage, shower, changing and drying facilities. I know from first hand experience that plonking a shower in a building without decent changing and drying facilities is almost pointless and will remain the domain of hardcore cyclists.

The report goes on to outline a number of legislative changes around criminal accountability of drivers, this should also be extended to the owners, directors and shareholders of organisations who’s drivers injure or kill cyclists. Why not look at a Directors Corporate responsibility when one of his/her drivers, using a mobile phone whilst driving (hands free or not), flattens a cyclist at a junction? It is also talks about the role of the NHS in promoting cycling, I’ve never understood why employees of public organisations are not compelled to make short journeys (lets say under 4 miles) by foot, bicycle or public transport. It would be cheaper, healthier and largely quicker in most instances.

Before I finish, lets take a look at the cost of making this happen. The report talks of a starting cost of £10 per person, rising to £20 per person. The population of the UK is about 63 million, so by my rather shoddy maths the cost each year, at the top end, would be £1.2 billion. £1.2 billion sounds like a lot of money, but set against the £9.8 billion spent on a nuclear weapons programme we probably don’t need, it’s not much. Furthermore, the NHS spends more than £5 billion treating health problems associated with being overweight or obese each year. Re-allocate 25% of that funding (I realise it’s not that simple) into cycling and we have a budget!

In closing, good work Prof Goodwin. Now seems the time to build on the momentum of the cycling boom and Mr Cameron needs to make it happen for us.  Now you’re finished, go an sign the petition aim at making David Cameron put the recommendations into action