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:
- £1 million on Living Streets’ outreach programmes to encourage children to walk to school
- £1 million on Cycling UK’s ‘Big Bike Revival’ scheme which provides free bike maintenance and cycling classes
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.