Get Britain Cycling. The report we’ve been waiting for

The summary report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) was published today, simply titled ‘Get Britain Cycling’. To the general amazement of a relatively sceptical public it appears to be sensible; proposing ambitious (yet achievable) targets and clearly laying out what needs to be done to get there. The next step is to get some public and political weight behind the recommendations, and actually make some progress. There’s a petition here aimed at just that, and writing to your local representatives wouldn’t hurt either…

I’m going to go over the report in a moment, but to understand where all this came from we need to go back a bit. The APPCG (that All Party Cycling thing mentioned above) spun out of The Times’ ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign, with the aim of ‘promot[ing] all forms of cycling inside and outside the Houses of Parliament’. These all party groups are relatively common and enable politicians from different political backgrounds to get together and work on a common cause, rather than being tied up with the party line on a given subject. On the down side, they don’t have any direct policy-making ability, so the extent of their powers is to inform and influence decisions made in the normal run of political business. The group is funded by the UK Cycling Alliance (UKCA), who are an umbrella organisation made up of all the usual cycling suspects.

Dave Brailsford, Ian Austin and Steve Brine with Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy at the 2011 APPCG Reception. Photo from the APPCG site, click for details.

This ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report was a key deliverable (and if we’re honest, they haven’t achieved much else). Funded primarily by News International (parent company of The Times), but with contributions from the UKCA, the reports was created from a whole bunch of research, inquiries and perhaps even a dash of common sense. You can read the nine-page summary here, but for those short on time:

Foreword

I’m going to quote three paragraphs directly from Ian Austin and Julian Huppert’s preamble:

Too many people in the UK feel they have no choice but to travel in ways that are dangerous, unhealthy, polluting and costly, not just to their own wallets but also to the public purse. Urgent action is required to address Britain’s chronic levels of obesity, heart disease, air pollution and congestion if we are to catch up with other countries in the developed world.

There is an alternative. When more people cycle or walk, public health improves, obesity reduces and roads become safer. By changing how people travel, we can create places where people want to live, work, shop and do business. We can make people healthier, happier and wealthier. We can reduce costs to our NHS.

This generation of politicians has the chance to be long remembered for having a vision for cycling that includes us all. Put simply, Britain needs to re-learn how to cycle. This report sets out how this can be done.

The key point, and the one The Times are trying to drive home with that petition, is that this report is not just for those who ride bikes now. It’s also for those who want to, but feel unable. Or those who are stuck in cars in endless traffic jams. Or those who run small businesses that would kill for people travelling by to be able to smell the freshly baked bread in the window and pop in. Or for those who have asthma and just want less exhaust in the air. Or those who watch the NHS budget drain away into treating ‘lifestyle disorders’ like obesity and (some types of) diabetes.

Or those who just want their children to be able to cycle safely to the park.

The rest of the report introduction covers of the potential for growth and the APPCG’s vision for the future, before splitting into five sections:

  • A new priority for investing public funds
  • Redesigning our roads, streets and communities
  • Safe driving and safe speed limits
  • Training and education
  • Political leadership

Each section has a chunk of explanatory text, along with some recommendations. There are a few key ones in my mind (which I’ve paraphrased and grouped below)

Key recommendations

Funding for cycling should be at least proportional to the percentage of journeys made by bike, and funds should be drawn from various relevant departments. The initial budget is sugested at a mere £10 per person, per year; a vast improvement on the current £2 in England and a heady £4 in Scotland. If improvements benefit other departments such as Health, they should also pony up some of the cash.

A new requirement that those on foot and on bikes must be considered in the early stages of all new developments, and an update in guidance and legislation to increase the options available. The Highways Agency comes in for particular criticism, given the manner in which we currently carve up the country with A roads and motorways which actively block other forms of transport. Think of the villages that are only connected to the outside world by a passing dual carriageway, or the towns and cities fragmented by ringroads, flyovers and roundabouts (Motherwell, I’m looking at you). Slopping a bit of paint on the edges of a wide bit of road is not ‘providing for cyclists’.

The law should protect vulnerable road users, and those who behave in a manner that needlessly endangers other should be punished appropriately. 20mph should be the default for urban roads (way above the average speed anyway), and many rural lanes should be 40. HGVs should be safer, and have no place around squishy things in rush hours. Finally, if you decide to take to 2+ tonnes of heavy machinery and endanger, maim or kill someone, the police, prosecutors and judges should treat this sufficiently seriously (if you think this is happening at the moment, spent five minutes reading some of the Cycling Lawyer’s stuff.)

All young people should receive cycle training as part of their normal education, and it should be promoted as a normal activity rather than a specialist pursuit. No lycra. No neon trousers. No warning flags. Just sensible, safe, utility cycling (yes, including understanding red lights). With the additional bonus that drivers of the future would actually understand where to expect cyclists on the road.

Politician’s should have the spine to implement changes and make explicit, genuine commitments. OK, I’ve paraphrased quite strongly there… The problem is that most adults currently drive. For the first few years of any mass change, people get grumpy. Even if the change is eventually for the benefit of everyone – after all, if I have to drive somewhere, I’ll get there quicker if I’m not stuck behind a whole load of people driving two miles to the local shops. Whether our current political leaders have the backbone to implement changes for the long-term good against short-term popularity losses is questionable.

Conclusion

That’s my take on the report summary. It’s pretty readable in itself though, so if you want more information on any of what I’ve said, dig in.

The section that causes me genuine concern is that last one – political leadership. I can currently only see one person both talking the talk and forcing through the changes, and that is Boris Johnson. Will anyone else follow?

We look at the Netherlands as the pinnacle of cycling culture and forget that until 1975 the bicycle had no place whatsoever in their transport strategy. It took the general public to suddenly realise that children being killed by cars was not an acceptable part of modern life, before the government of the day was forced into changing their plans (more here). It’s taken them a long time to reach the stage they’re at now.

The longer we wait, the more it will cost to make the changes. The more people will die in crashes and from asthma, diabetes and obesity. The more small businesses will crumble, as huge department stores with multi-storey car parks take over. And the more of your life you’ll spend watching the lit brake lights of the car in front, as you sit in a queue of people burning away their income in petrol fumes.

That petition is here.

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