National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Published

Department for Transport Logo

The Department for Transport published its National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy today. This aims to:

  • Double cycling in terms of the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025.
  • Increase walking activity to 300 stages per person per year in 2025, and
  • Increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49% in 2014 to 55% in 2025.

The target for cycling is eye-catching until you start doing some international comparisons. Even if we achieve our cycling target, then just under 4% of trips will be made by bike in 2025. This is low compared to levels that are already seen now in other European countries, e.g. 5% in France and Italy, 9% in mountainous Switzerland and Austria, 19% in Denmark and 26% in the Netherlands.

Our view is that the target is distinctly unambitious – the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry report, which was published in 2013 and strongly backed by MPs of all parties, businesses and the media – called for targets to boost cycle use to roughly German levels (10% of trips) by 2025 and to near-Dutch levels (25%) by 2050.

A headline grabbing £1.2 billion is being allocated to help deliver these aims over the next five years, with a breakdown as follows

  • £50 million to provide Bikeability training for a further 1.3 million children
  • £101 million to improve cycling infrastructure
  • £85 million to make improvements to 200 sections of roads for cyclists
  • £80 million for safety and awareness training for cyclists, extra secure cycle storage, bike repair, maintenance courses and road safety measures
  • £389.5 million for councils to invest in walking and cycling schemes
  • £476.4 million from local growth funding to support walking and cycling
  • £5 million on improving cycle facilities at railway stations

This sounds great until you realise that it is just a tiny fraction of the overall transport budget (approximately 1.3%). In London alone, Sadiq Khan has committed £770 million to improving cycling facilities in the capital city during his term in office – that’s a rate of £17 per person per year compared to just over £5 per person per year that will be spent on the rest of England’s populace. Also, much of this funding is already available through existing or committed transport spending, which is allocated as unringfenced grant funding to councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships and may therefore be siphoned off to be spent on other priorities.

It is interested to note that some of the main transport pressure groups appear to have been largely bought off by the promise of funding for their pet projects:

Despite there being little improvement in the content and ambition of the strategy compared to the draft version, the responses from these organisation has been distinctly muted this time compared to their original responses and even heaping praise on the Government saying how much they are looking forward to working with them to deliver the strategy. This is disappointing to say the least.

The strategy promotes Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), aimed at enabling local authorities to develop their own plans. However these are voluntary, and even for those local authorities that are interested and willing to prepare them, the lack of clear, high-quality cycling design guidance remains a major concern. The strategy suggests that there will at some point be a ‘refresh’ of LTN 2/08 ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’, which provides design guidance for those involved in developing new cycling schemes. Given the length of time that has elapsed between the consultation on the draft strategy and the publication of the final version, this is disappointing.  The UK has a history of building some mediocre cycling infrastructure that is some way below the best practice examples seen in leading cycling nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

While it is great to see the Government finally publish a strategy that articulates a national approach to promoting cycling and walking, Spokes is disappointed that they have not been more ambitious in their aims and funding commitments and that opportunities to promote best practice design standards have not been taken.

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Social bike rides for 2017

We have been busy over the winter months putting together our programme of led bike rides for 2017. Our fun, friendly, social rides take place on the first and third Saturdays of each month from March through to October. Led by volunteers, our rides take in some of the most beautiful scenery in West Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

The routes on the first Saturday of each month are shorter (11 to 17 miles) and we tend to go at a gentle pace of 9-11 mph. As such, they are ideal for new / returning cyclists, or people who just want a more relaxed ride.

If you would like a longer, more challenging ride, then take a look at the second of our rides each month.  These have routes ranging from 27 to 38 miles and we generally go at a slightly faster pace of around 12-14 mph. These are intended for more regular riders who are reasonably fit and don’t mind a bit of the hilly stuff.  If you want a real challenge, then why not sign up for ‘William’s Big Wheel’ – a 57 mile epic into deepest, darkest Hampshire.

All rides start and finish in West Mills, Newbury. We meet by the war memorial between Lloyds bank and St Nicholas’ Church. Our start time is usually 9.30 am, with the exception of ‘William’s Big Wheel’ which sets off at 9 am sharp.

We try to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time on our rides. For example, hills can be taken at your own pace and we don’t rush off once the last person reaches the summit. Unfortunately, punctures can and do happen, so we ask all riders to bring a spare inner tube. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to change a tyre – we can help / advise as necessary.

Please note that places are limited to 12 people on each ride, so we do ask that you book your place in advance at letsride.co.uk to avoid disappointment. It also helps us to know who to expect so we don’t set off without you. Also, any under 16s must be accompanied by an adult who is able to take responsibility for them.

If you want any further information about our rides, then please do get in touch. We look forward to seeing you and hope you enjoy the rides!

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The Spokes guide to electric bikes

Moustache Lundi Electric Bike

Would you like to cycle, but find that hills are a problem? Do you struggle to keep up with friends or family when out on a ride?  Or do you just hate cycling somewhere only to arrive at your destination all hot and sweaty?  If you answered “yes” to any of these, then an electric bike may be just what you’re looking for.

When one of our members asked us about electric bikes, we had to admit that we didn’t know too much about them. So in order to address this gap in our knowledge, we turned to expert Nick Williams, who runs local e-bike shop, Velospeed. Based in Aldworth, opposite the Bell Inn, Nick sells a range of bikes including:

  • practical bikes for everyday transport;
  • sporty urban bikes;
  • hybrids / trekking bikes;
  • mountain bikes (including hard-tails and full-suspension versions).

He even stocks a sturdy cargo bike that can transport payloads of up to 150kg!

So the first thing we wanted to know was, “how do they work?” E-bikes are powered by an intelligent electric motor, which is either built into the hub to drive the wheel directly, or else located around the bottom bracket to drive the cranks. Depending on the level of sophistication of the motor, it either has a motion sensor or a torque sensor, so it only provides power when you start pedalling.  Most e-bikes have a control on the handlebars that allows the rider to select the level of assistance they require, or even turn it off completely. Hub motors tend to be found on the cheaper bikes, while the more expensive ones have the more sophisticated bottom bracket motors.

We were also curious to know how fast they went. Nick explained that legally all electric bikes are required to stop providing assistance at 25 kilometres per hour (15.5 mph). You can, of course, keep pedalling and go faster, but the bike won’t be helping.

Our next question was, “what is the range of an electric bike?” This is a tough one to answer, since it depends on the bike, the battery, how much assistance you require and how many hills you encounter along the way. However, most people can expect to get 25 to 40 miles on a typical ride. If you are reasonably fit and use a low level of assistance, then you can eke this out to anything between 60 and 90 miles.

E-bikes mostly use lithium-ion batteries. These can be plugged into the mains and are charged like a laptop or mobile phone.  Depending on the model, they will take 3-6 hours to reach full charge from flat.  The cost is surprisingly reasonable at between 5 and 10 pence per charge.  Early electric bikes suffered with unsightly, bulky battery packs that spoiled the lines of the bike, but these days, they tend to be much sleeker and better integrated with the frame.

So how reliable are they? Nick reports that his customers have experienced very few problems with either the motors or the batteries and there is no additional day-to-day maintenance required. The batteries are swappable, but they are quite expensive.

With all our questions answered, it was time to give them a spin. One of the advantages of having a bike shop in Aldworth is that there are plenty of hills around. This allowed us to quickly assess the benefits of an e-bike.

The first bike we tried was a Momentum Upstart, which is a fairly traditional looking bike with an upright riding position. At £1,000 it is at the lower end of the e-bike market. This Chinese-made machine has a hub motor with a two-speed rear hub that changes gear automatically as your speed increases. The limited range of gears means that it is best suited as an urban commuter bike. However, even with relatively high gearing, it still made light work of the hills around Aldworth.

Next on the list was the Moustache Lundi. Moustache is the main brand that Velospeed stocks. All of their bikes are crank driven by a Bosch motor and battery pack, which is a highly reliable system that is used in many of the top electric bikes. As a dedicated e-bike brand, they design all of their bikes from scratch, and are happy to question traditional road bike design. Certainly, the Lundi looks unlike most other bikes on the road. It has a box-section frame with a step-through design, integral lighting and Y-shaped handlebars, which produces an upright riding position. On this model, the battery is nicely integrated into the rear luggage rack. The model we tested had the 8-speed Alfine hub gears which gave a nice spread of ratios and made for very smooth shifting. This certainly felt a step up from the Momentum that we tested earlier.  Everything about it felt reassuringly solid and well-considered, but then so it should, since the cost is just over £3,000 for this top-of-the-range version.

If the Lundi is a little bit ‘out-there’ in terms of its design, then there is a whole host of other models available, such as the sporty urban ‘Friday’ model (shouldn’t that be Vendredi?), the Samedi trekking / hybrid bikes and the Dimanche ‘performance bikes’. These come in a range of variants costing between £1,800 and £4,000.

The last bike that we tried was the Samedi full-suspension mountain bike. Gary Fisher (known in the industry as the inventor of the mountain bike) has been quoted as saying that electric mountain bikes will be “the next big thing”, so we were keen to give these a try. With big fat tyres running at ridiculously low pressures, this was surely a step too far. But no, it steamed up the hill, gliding over potholes as though they weren’t there.

Overall, we were really impressed with our first experiences of electric bikes. While they may be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, there is no doubting the sophistication of the technology that’s involved or the quality of the designs. If you have any lingering doubts, then a visit to Velospeed will quickly put put your mind at rest.

And to those of you who say that an electric bike is just cheating, we would say that any form of cycling is better for you than sitting in a car. And what’s more, studies show that e-cyclists use their bikes more than people with conventional bikes, and could therefore be more active as a result. So just think about that next time someone breezes past you up a hill!

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Survey highlights the barriers to investing in cycling infrastructure

Barriers to investing in cycling

The University of Cambridge has published the results from its recent survey that looked at the barriers to investing in cycling. People targeted by the survey included: local government highways officers; local politicians; Local Enterprise Partnerships; cycling advocates; academics; consultants; and businesses with an interest in cycling.

The main barriers uncovered by the survey come as no surprise:

  1. Funding issues
  2. Lack of political leadership
  3. Lack of support within local authority highways departments

Funding tends to be scarce, sporadic and involves competitive bidding, with the lion’s share going to the cities. This creates a postcode lottery for cycling investment and makes it difficult for local authorities to make long-term plans. Also, the competitive element creates a barrier to sharing expertise between councils.

The survey suggests that there is little political support for cycling at either the national or local levels, with a few notable exceptions, such as the London Mayor. The general picture is one where priority is still given to providing for motor vehicles. It seems that politicians still don’t see cycling as a viable mainstream transport option. In fact, schemes are often compromised by local councillors who are worried about anything that may cause additional delay for motor vehicles.

The survey results also paint a rather gloomy picture amongst those tasked with delivering cycling schemes on the ground. Cuts to council budgets have meant that most local authorities have had to restructure and reduce their staff. In smaller local authorities, cycling is usually a small part of one officer’s role, who has to fight to get their voice heard amongst colleagues.

When asked about the solutions that could overcome these barriers, the most popular answers were:

  • Ring-fenced, long-term funding for cycling
  • High-level political support at national and local levels to drive through changes

Respondents felt that tackling the funding and political support issues would in turn encourage local authority highway departments to give more priority to cycling.

The survey results emphasise how important it is for local people and campaign groups like Spokes to lobby for change and to make the case for investing in cycling. So what can you do to help?

  1. Let us know what cycling schemes would make a difference to your local journeys, so we can raise it at the Cycle Forum
  2. Let your local councillor know that you support increased investment in cycling
  3. Add your name to the national Space for Cycling campaign
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Give us your thoughts on ‘quick win’ schemes for cyclists

Cheap Street, Newbury - cyclists exempt from banned right turn

Often, little changes can make a big difference for cyclists – for example, exempting them from a banned right turn, or providing a contra-flow in a one-way street.  These schemes can create useful short-cuts and help to make cycling safer and more attractive for local journeys.

West Berkshire Council has told us that there is money available in this year’s budget for small schemes like these and has asked us for suggestions. Ideas so far include:

  1. In Newbury, allow cyclists to turn right into Cheap Street from Market Street.  This would help cyclists travelling from West Fields to Sainsbury’s and Hambridge Road.
  2. Formally designate Newbury Town Centre as a ‘Pedestrian and Cycle Zone’. Although cycling is already allowed in Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, existing signs are confusing.
  3. Where possible, exempt cyclists from one-way restrictions on roads in and around Newbury town centre.
  4. Put direction arrows in each lane on the St John’s Road approach to the Burger King roundabout in Newbury. This would reinforce that the middle lane is for straight ahead movements only. Increasingly, motorists are turning left from the middle lane, which goes against Rule 186 of the Highway Code. This results in cyclists being cut up when they are travelling from St Johns Road to Greenham Road.

If you can think of a small change that would make a big difference to your journey, then please let us know. We can’t promise that they will all see the light of day, since each scheme will be subject to a safety audit and appropriate consultation, but we’re happy to pass on ideas for consideration.

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