We’ve been fooled. In the 40 years I have reported on the tortuous business of cycle campaigning, no British town – with perhaps the exception of the London Cycle Network, and that’s mostly on back streets – has yet managed to build a half-decent cycle network worthy of the name.

Over this same period the Dutch have revolutionised cycling, reversing a decline in the 1960s with a nationwide strategy that has resulted in 28 per cent of trips being made by bike today, compared to less than two per cent in Britain. But Britain has shunned Dutch expertise.

The Dutch authorities spend between £10 and £20 per head of population on cycling. Less than £1 per head of population is spent on cycling in England, with only the Cycling Demonstration Towns and London bucking the trend.

So much for all the government talk about backing cycling to make the nation fitter, addressing the serious obesity problem and reducing congestion.

“There are none!” Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director of the CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, told me when I asked him to name six towns which have built cycle networks linking places people need to go.

It was my hope he would reveal the first stirrings of the creation of a cycle network along the lines of the quality networks they have in Holland or Scandinavia. How naive could I be?

Geffen told me he is not aware of any one town where they are getting it right. Bits and pieces are OK, but that’s it, he said.

The London-wide network, several hundred kilometres in the making and a work in progress for nigh on 30 years, struggled for a long time to get decent funding.

It has painstakingly been developed with cross-borough cooperation under the auspices of the London Cycling Campaign. But as it’s mostly on back roads, the main roads still form a barrier in places.

Transport for London’s Superhighways are meant to address this.

They are a step in right direction. But don’t let all the PR hyperbole about them lure you into a false sense of security. “Super”! Not really; there are no traffic lights with cycling phases at any of the major junctions.

Could do better
“London is at least putting significant investment into cycling,” says Geffen.

He describes their bike hire scheme as “phenomenally successful”.

“Its pro-cycling advertising campaigns are models of best practice, and it does pretty well on other promotional activities too, such as cycle maps and cycle training. TfL is now also beginning to take the issue of lorry safety very seriously – and not before time.”

He says, however, there are still some serious political constraints which will need to be overcome if London is to make the fundamental transformation into
a genuinely cycle-friendly city.

Geffen picked out other cities doing good things: “Leicester, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Bristol and Sheffield are all cities which are making serious efforts to boost cycle use, and are beginning to show positive results.

“Cambridge of course is way ahead in terms of actual levels of cycle use, thanks to a long tradition of cycling there, together with a network of narrow streets and historic buildings which meant it never opened itself up to mass car use in the 1960s.

“Yet Cambridge is still a long way short of the levels of cycle use in comparable Dutch cities, [such as Groningen]. As for the others, they have even bigger challenges.

“In short, even in Britain ‘s most pro-cycling cities, we still have a long way to go.”

Fear of traffic
Although more and more people are taking up leisure cycling in the UK, the numbers commuting instead of using the car or other modes has hardly changed in 10 years, according to national statistics. And won’t unless the roads are made safer.

In 2010, only 1.5 per cent of all trips were made by bike… bad winter weather responsible for a slight drop on 2009.

And of this 1.5 per cent, three or four per cent represent commuter or utility trips made by bike.
Not much different since 2001. Yes, London has seen big increases, but the capital is bucking the trend as people seek to avoid paying stupendously high public transport fares.

The problem, says CTC, is that putting in decent cycle lanes is seen as expensive at £800,000 per kilometre. The money available doesn’t come close.
“There are cheaper options,” says Chris Peck of the CTC. “For instance, speed reduction of traffic, traffic management, reduction in parking” – a highly controversial measure.

“Even so, cycling is growing, trade is booming, and the attitude towards cyclists has improved in the last few years,” he adds.

Big project-itis
But Peck agrees there is no getting away from the fact that the overall standard of build of cycle facilities falls well short.

It is a fact that the pre-war cycle lanes of the 1930s and 1940s are often better than those built today, and even these early lanes had their faults, such as no right of way at junctions. It’s the same today.

He says one of the big problems has been, and still is, the lack of political will.

I recall Philip Darnton, chair of the excellent Cycling England – the government body staffed by cycling experts that was killed off in the cuts this year – telling me he had encountered “institutionalised discrimination” against cyclists in his dealings with local authorities.

I recall transport minister Steven Norris was very fond of saying that MPs suffer from “big project-itis”, as he called it. In other words, cycling issues were seen as too small to be associated with, compared to dreaming up, say, headline projects like a satellite system to monitor your car’s mileage, or a new rail route.

And because cycling was seen as too small, the funding to make every town cycling friendly, though less than one per cent of the multi-billion pound transport budget and very good value indeed, was seen as too expensive.

I can think of only one of the many transport ministers I have interviewed – and all of them spoke eloquently of how important it was to create the right conditions for cycling – who ever personally got involved. This is Lord Adonis, who saw to it that Network Rail put cycle parking hubs in a few major stations. Even so, 300 parking spaces at, say, London Waterloo and Leeds, pales into insignificance alongside the 14,000 bike spaces provided at Utrecht station in Holland – and this is to be increased to 20,000 for a small town a fraction the size of London.

The idea that a cycling strategy properly applied could help deliver the balanced and sustainable transport MPs witter on about has been lost in the fog of government.

When over a decade ago John Prescott proposed radical changes to introduce a sustainable transport policy it upset the motoring lobby so much that he was moved off transport and his proposals binned.

Chris Peck says that transport minister Norman Baker, like Adonis, is a good guy, doing his best amid a raft of financial constraints.

So, it seems fairly certain that the persistent low level of utility trips made by bike can be put down to a combination of fear of traffic and a lack of decent comprehensive cycle networks in the towns.

Fools at the helm
What has brought us to this place? Could it be that transport decisions are made by people still hard-wired to the post-war image of the bike as working class, only to be begrudgingly accommodated with crap facilities as befits its station? Is it written in the Department for Transport Old Testament of the 1960s, when cyclists and pedestrians were designed out of road schemes, “Thou shall not provide for cyclists”?

Former transport minister and petrolhead Philip Hammond joined the ranks of the stupid when he recently suggested raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph. He must know that will influence drivers to push it that bit faster off the motorway, too.

I mean, what’s all that about? I have it on good authority that Hammond did a deal with the Lib Dems. He’d lower the limit to 20mph on residential roads if they wouldn’t oppose him increasing motorway limit to 80 – to placate the motoring lobby!

And we wonder why so many people are still deterred from cycling. The recent – zillionth – cycling report on the matter, by a Prof Colin Pooley, attempts to answer this question yet again. He made quite a stir by suggesting planners ignore established cyclists when seeking views! It was this report which prompted me to review the issues.

Apparently, the report should have said, don’t only talk to enthusiasts.

But the report was clear: the main reason deterring a great many people from cycling is fear of traffic. So, nothing new there. The report calls for segregated cycle lanes, which will be far more difficult to deliver given that the authorities have made a pig’s ear of far simpler facilities.

Sadly, on the evidence of the great many other reports the government has paid only lip service to the prof and his fellow academics, who might as well be pissing in the wind. What we need is a report that examines why, in 40 years, government transport specialists – local and central and every single one of the host of transport secretaries of state – have managed to fail cycling so miserably.

Their legacy: on-pavement cycle lanes with lamp posts blocking them; telephone boxes, bus shelters, even trees in them!

As for cycle lanes on the roads, where they ought to be – with few notable exceptions – they end abruptly, or run into parking bays, and generally don’t go anywhere useful.

Some 20 years ago, the Dutch, in the English version of their wonderful Bicycle Master Plan, wrote in the foreword: “First of all let it be said that the Dutch don’t have a problem with bicycles.”

It was a clear jibe, for the Dutch clearly knew that the Brits do have a problem with bicycles.

Whereas the Dutch would rip out junctions and build from scratch to incorporate cycling facilities, in Britain we get crap add-on facilities if we’re lucky.

The recent demonstrations over lack of planning for cyclists and walkers in the new road layout planned for Blackfriars Bridge in London is proof that prejudice is alive and well among those dinosaurs, the transport engineers.

Knee-jerk prejudice
It seems to me that this problem is deeply rooted in the British psyche, and this is the major reason why it has proven to be so difficult to establish rights for cyclists.

It ought to be quite simple.

Cut out frantic driving, cut the speed of traffic and we won’t need any special cycling facilities!

OK, that’s never going to happen, not with the mentality of most drivers who consider the road their own.

We need cycle lanes down every major road in towns and cities, not the few sprinkled here and there, which end suddenly. London Cycling Campaign are to call for this in their ‘Go Dutch’ campaign in 2012.

But as things stand, advance stop zones are often as good as it gets, but even these often have no cycling lane leading into them.

This lack of recognition of cyclists’ rights led John Grimshaw MBE, a civil engineer, to form Sustrans (Sustainable Transport) and start building traffic-free paths for cycling and walking on disused railway lines.

He’d hoped that his 1,000-mile plus National Cycle Network, now well established across the country, would be a catalyst for the creation of quality cycle networks within the towns the NCN passed through.

Surrey, he told me, proved to be one of the most difficult authorities to reach agreement with. Even now, the NCN 22 through Headley near Box Hill includes a blind junction exposing cyclists to fast-moving traffic.

Britain has proved incapable of rising to the challenge.

The other network of merit is the National Byway, a signed route along quiet country lanes which when finished will be some 3,000 miles long, linking sites of historical interest.

Cycling England’s demise
If we take a look back over the past 15 years we can see how cycling policy has endured fits and starts.
The creation of the government body Cycling England in 2005, chaired by Philip Darnton, the ex Raleigh chief, and with the impressively forthright Grimshaw, gave us hope.

But it was poorly funded. Nevertheless, Cycling England launched its ‘Cycling Development Towns’, which encouraged small projects and generated impressive increases in cycling use.

This was the proof of the pudding, but government failed to seize the initiative and substantially increase the budget. Instead, transport minister Ruth Kelly served up £140m over three years. Although the most generous funding yet, it was still about a third less than the Dutch, who are currently investing €100m in new cycle highways over the next two years. And then of course, Cycling England fell victim to government cuts and the bonfire of the quangos.

And yet cycling is booming in recession-hit UK. According to a British Cycling and Sky-commissioned report, it’s worth £3bn a year to the UK economy.

The pastime has never had it so good, with city-centre mass rides on closed roads attracting upwards of 60,000 people of all ages – but they have to brave hostile roads to get there – and charity rides aplenty.

As for the sport, the huge success of the track riders at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was followed this year with Britain topping the medal table at the road World Championships in Copenhagen – crowned by Mark Cavendish’s historic victory in the elite road race.

Yet, despite all of this, despite an impressive increase in cycling use in London – up 91 per cent in 2007, compared with 2000 – cycle use remains low compared to rest of the Europe.

London proudly declared that 500,000 journeys a day are made by bike in the capital, yet it is still only two per cent of all journeys. Amsterdam racks up 37 per cent; Groningen a massive 57 per cent.

What is it with the British government? With civil servants? What is it that they just don’t get? When we look back even further, to the mid-1990s, we recall how the CTC declared the battle for minds won. The government at last agreed to take account of cyclists’ needs, to encourage people to take up cycling, to save the nation’s health, to cut congestion and therefore pollution. Campaigners thought that at last, cycling was to have its day. But no.

Strategic error
It never happened, not even when the National Cycling Strategy was created under the Conservatives in 1996, and launched with a huge press conference in London. This was the first ever transport strategy, a historic moment.

A breakthrough, at last. But there was a catch. There was no money for it!

I recall transport journalist Christian Wolmar demanding Sir George Young, the secretary of state for transport, to tell us where the money was.

“Well, where is it?” said Wolmar.

“Where’s what?” replied Sir George, a lifelong cyclist, by the way.

“The money, there’s no money,” countered Wolmar.

Sir George told us it didn’t need any money as such, because transport planners would be required to include cycling within the budget already provided for general transport development.

It never happened, not on a realistic scale.

In fact, when, to induce local authorities to apply for grants to build ‘integrated’ transport facilities, such as for cycling, many of the local authorities siphoned the money off into ordinary road building schemes.

The government raised hopes yet again by endorsing a brilliant design guide, setting out how to build a cycling infrastructure into the road system. Turns out this is as close as it would get to emulating the best of what we see abroad.

So what happened next? Nothing. Local transport engineers took no notice of the guidelines.

And because the Department for Transport’s jurisdiction extends only to trunk routes, they have no say what happens with over 90 per cent of the rest of the road infrastructure which remains the legal responsibility of each local authority. Government can only advise and recommend, but not even they can tell local authorities what to do with their own roads.

How the Dutch got it right
Ironically, Holland was once governed in much the same way. But I learned they changed the law to give government control over local authorities to implement the cycling infrastructure which ever since has been the benchmark.

The wonderful design guide, when made available to the local authorities, went onto the shelf, never to be seen again.

When the CTC and other campaigners realised they had ridden up a blind alley, they had to start all over again, and work on local mandarins to heed government advice on cycling.

Now, some were easier to persuade than others and they had a genuine interest in making the roads safer for cycling. But they have been thwarted by bureaucracy, lack of joined-up thinking between transport, health and education, and by bloody-mindedness. By institutionalised discrimination against cycling.

Years went by before a greater enlightenment spread to the local authorities. Then came another twist in the story. For the cycling movement had reckoned without each area’s transport chiefs, a breed of dingbat largely against giving up any part of their highway for bikes! Still are in most areas.

Local transport chiefs prefer not to follow official guidelines on how to build cycling infrastructure, saying they know best. Result: an ad hoc load of mostly substandard facilities, which in some areas present more of a danger to cyclists than he or she faces on the road.

Remember the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, formed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Control?

This spawned the idea that much could be achieved at local level by local people getting involved, with ideas on how to reduce pollution.

Cycling and walking groups were among those created.

The local authorities said they welcomed their input, and would encourage them. But if my excellent local group is a typical example, their suggestions are ignored and like, hamsters in a wheel, they are going round and round in bureaucratic circles, getting nowhere fast.

No idea
I’ve met councillors, MPs, who believe they are doing what’s right for cycling.
I recall a local councillor, nice bloke, declaring how proud he was of what his council had achieved – cycle lanes on pavements with lamp posts stuck in them, and horribly surfaced.

Most cycling networks are pinched, narrow, squeezed into the existing road infrastructure, unlike those in Holland, where at the design stage of a major road junction they will ask, “How will the cyclist and moped rider cope?” In Holland they have ripped out junctions and built from scratch to put cycling facilities in place.

Infuriatingly, much of the UK’s hopeless cycle lanes have ended up where they were never intended to be, on the pavements, as so-called shared paths, as local authorities have done what comes easiest to them.

Today, the much-admired Danish and Dutch models remain an elusive dream.
Will the UK ever develop anything remotely similar?

No chance. Others may hold hope but, in my view, this is as good as it gets.

Related links
London Assembly backs cycle safety proposals
Father of dead cyclist calls London Assembly ‘disgraceful’
Pressure on London mayor after 16th cyclist killed in capital this year
Reduce road speed to increase cycle safety, finds government report
Ghost bike for Deep Lee

  • Ian Stewart

    I dont think there is a need to spend a single extra penny on road infrastructure to separate cyclists and motor vehicles on our A and B roads or in inner cities. What is needed is an appreciation of the needs and expectations of cyclists towards motorists, and of motorists towards cyclists, together with a mutual respect for each other. This could start in primary and secondary schools, with every child/young person being taught road craft, good road manners and ride a bike safely, as a compulsory part of the curriculum. If implemented tomorrow it would take some years to start to benefit so short term measures are needed now. People learning to drive could as again a part of their course be required to ride a bike and be assessed as they do with L motorcyclists. Failure to pass an assessment of their road craft on a bike would mean no driving licence. Harsh I know but I think future car/van drivers will never understand the vulnerability of cyclists unless they have experienced it themselves. The second measure would be for the currently qualified drivers, where strict and harsh sentencing is the only route. It has to be seen that if a cyclist is killed or injured it will be treated in the same way as an injury to a pedestrian.

  • Mark Hewitt

    Good article until you started bashing motorists too. It isn’t a zero sum game.

  • M Pemberton

    ”no British town – with perhaps the exception of the London Cycle Network” last time I rode on a london network all I got was hassle from ill mannered cyclists on poor quality and sometimes leathal bike paths.

    Milton Keynes has a superb network of cycle paths.
    Safe, well lit, and some sections that are great fun.

  • Darren

    Very interesting and almost all correct, as there is one town built with cycling in mind and that is Milton Keynes. There called the redways and are wide enough for walkers and cyclist to share you can also travel anywhere in the town and almost totally avoid coming in to contact with any motorised vehicle.
    I used to live in Harrow and had to give up cycling to work and pleasure as it was just to dangerous but now in Milton Keynes i cycle to work every day and take my 2 young daughters out on there bikes and we have no problem. It just shows with a bit of effort we can get it right in this country.

  • Copper Kettle Cafe and Bed and Breakfast Castle Eden Hartlepool

    I have recently opened a cafe and bed and breakfast on the Sustrans Cycle Way near route 1 and 14
    I have received no assistance frome anyone and would appreciate any information on whom to contact
    to let cyclist know about this new venture.
    Contact Janet 07986620057

  • alfons

    I’m pleased that you mentioned the Local Authorities: in my experience in a Greater London Borough, I discovery that no Highway Engineers have any specialist training for dealing with Cycle Facilities – they just type it up as they go along, declining to listen to any sanction from experienced advocates. Consequently, once it is in Local Authority hands, any funding that is dedicated to File Folders Printing providing better stipulation agent up entity wasted on largely useless measures masquerading as Cycling Infrastructure.

  • John

    So, let’s set up a cyclist lobbying organisation!

  • Phil Grieves

    It’s very sad that UK MPs are so short sighted , just like the BBC and the lack of Cycling coverage on TV, hills don’t stop you cycling theyjust make you work harder!, I love most of the cycle paths in Germany linking the towns together, but they have the space to do it. But in the UK it seems to be all about cost and not having the space. imagine how many less people would be in hospital with poor health issues, if we could only encourage more people on there bikes they would be a lot healthier and oops that would save the NHS cash, but it would be less cash to the tax man with less journey’s by car due to fuel duty.
    I would love the UK to be cycle friendly but really don’t think it will happen unless people at the top start taking notice of cycling.

  • John Eular

    I’m pleased that you mentioned the Local Authorities: in my experience in a Greater London Borough, I find that no Highway Engineers have any specialist training for dealing with Cycle Facilities – they just make it up as they go along, declining to listen to any advice from experienced advocates. Consequently, once it is in Local Authority hands, any funding that is dedicated to providing better conditions ends up being wasted on largely useless measures masquerading as Cycling Infrastructure.

    Hapless Hammond muddied the waters when (he was quoted as) saying: ‘Local Authorities know best.’ Patently and emphatically, they don’t! Incompetence and recalcitrance appear to be the order of the day.

    This is where campaigning should be focussed if we are to resolve the current situation.

    John Eular

  • Kevin Blackburn

    Fantastic article – I’ll be sending this to my MP as a follow-up to the questioning of losing Cycle England at a time when we need it most, and of the issues facing cyclists on out poor quality streets.

    Suggests others send this to their MPs too!

  • Ian Cooper

    “…no British town – with perhaps the exception of the London Cycle Network, and that’s mostly on back streets – has yet managed to build a half-decent cycle network worthy of the name.”

    I cycled in Britain from around 1968 to 1986. I don’t recall ever having a problem finding places to cycle. There are so many roads in Britain that it’s hard to find a place where there aren’t any. Surely you’re not telling me the government has made it illegal for cyclists to use them.

    There were roads in Britain long before the bicycle was invented. These roads are more than a ‘half-decent’ bicycle network. They are a perfectly decent bicycle network. The problem is, too many of today’s cyclists are afraid of using them and instead insist on the government creating a whole new network so that cyclists don’t have to interact with other vehicles.

    Trust me, the day when cyclists have a complete road network in Britain will never come. Cyclists must get used to using the road, or they must give up on cycling altogether.

  • Gethin

    Interesting but hardly surprising. The Cycle Superhighways are a wasted opportunity. Poorly thought through (the routes are terrible) and badly executed – jut a lick of paint and nice blue tarmac that’s incredibly slippery in the wet.

    Also misses the fact that few employers, even those that offer Cycle to Work schemes have decent in office facilities for those of us who cycle. We’ve got 350 people in the office – even though there’s secure parking (lock up to railings on the wall – not bike racks), there’s no secure lockers and only 3 weak showers

  • Giles

    The masses love cars too much, they are used as a benchmark of their success (having a big posh motor), they are people’s pride and joy even though they make them poor, fat and angry.

    There’s no programme on BBC TV for cycling, there’s plenty of cycling on ITV4, perhaps the BBC needs to do a reality TV show about cycling.

    Cars are introduced into kids lives pretty early, toy cars and being driven everywhere. So they automatically progress from using a bike or walking to driving.

  • michael heaps

    I feel this story comes from an simplistic view of Holland especially. I have lived in France for 20 years, Belgium 5, England 25 and now been in Holland for 6 months. I can say that I have had more close scrapes here in the last six months that it would take 5 years to have in the other countries, the cycle lanes are designed for going down to the shops or school not anyone at speed! Turning left is a nightmare and cars turning right find it very difficult to see a cyclist on the paths, as for roundabouts ahhhh! As for the condition of them it sends me mad that while cars are on fantastic tarmac the cyclist rides on bricks as bad as in Paris-Roubaix! Don`t think Toy town is cycling paradise!

  • Sean

    Very well said. I lived in Holland for the better part of 8 years and for the latter part of 3 years had no car, nor did I need one. I lived in Rotterdam and worked in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, and had one bike to get to the station from home, and another on the other side to get from the station to the office. Absolutely marvelous.

    Bike rack space was no problem at all, as there was always ample, and as you mentioned 18000 space around Utrecht Station.

    Weekends was terrific for road cycling between amsterdam and Rotterdam for brilliant training and there was never a problem with the cars.

    I recall that when a potential driver starts with driving lessons it is drummed into them that cyclists and pedestrians have right of way and you always have to look over your shoulder before making a left or right turn into adjoining streets. Thereby instilling a proper driver mentality towards cyclists too.

    I could not understand why Boris has time and time again mentioned that the cycling scheme within London is based on Paris (I stand to be corrected on this statement), but why Paris? Holland is the mecca country for cycling mindset, rules and regulations.

  • Terry Egglestone

    Meanwhile in the Shropshire Star & Wolverhampton Express and Star, columnist Peter Rhodes wrote on 5th Jan; ” In a survey, 40 per cent of motorists believe cyclists should be forced to have road insurance. This is yet another survey which has missed me out which probably explains why there is no mention of roadside snipers to take the blighters out”
    This was published on the day that a schoolboy cyclist was in collision with a car and died later in a hospital just down the road from the newspaper office.
    CTC have reminded me that Matthew Parris’s “piano wire” outburst gave rise to thousands of complaints to the Press Council. Complaints which were not upheld. The paper concerned did not apologise but, to his credit ,Parris did.
    Will Rhodes apologise for his piece? His editor has informed complainants that it was only a “light hearted” remark and, so far, has not printed any readers’ comments.
    There is still this attitude that cyclists are there to be made fun of [and physically assaulted!] by motorists who also resent any expenditure on “non roadfund payers”

  • Sean Kerslake

    This is a similiar discussion to the electoral reform discussion in that you can discuss all the options, proposals for change and fine detail as much as you like but it’s all pointless if the current goverment is not fundamentally in favour – or more importantly if their pay masters are not in favour. In this case cycling (equally so with public transport) will never get appropriate attention in the UK while the goverment is in bed with car/lorry transport systems – you simply cannot make enough profit out of bikes and buses.

    Cars and lorries maximise consumption and need a massive supporting industry.

    You wouldn’t need to legislate for change if you educate your citizens. If the negative aspects of a motor transport sytem and the beneifits of low impact systems were introduced into the curriculum from primary school the legaslative requirements are reduced significantly. If the Top Gear car culture and irresponsible/misleading advertising is legislated against it would be more benificial – 3000 deaths a year, speeding a major factor – thats an epidemic for which we have a cure – it’s not cancer you know. Car reviews are still led by top speed and 0-60 spec.

    Hit the root cause first and the details will follow naturally or be more smoothly implemented.

  • David Dickinson

    Yes yes..heard it all..UK unlikely to adopt cycling friendliness..changes have to come from the people and eco realities…therefore…stop ridiculous, wasteful and frankly boring F1 and use circuits and planned timetable for full contact cycle racing…now that would be a spectacle…we need someone with cash to develop this new kind of event involving circulating pelotons that can be followed as the race develops…come on Branson or someone…get cycling to take off in the 21st century!!! Get everyone on their bikes..think about it..thousands of bikes converging on Silverstone!!!!

  • Roger Stocker

    As someone who was involved in the London Cycle Network plus, both on local government and campaigning sides the route alignment was discussed with other local stakeholders. Often the routes were much quicker, more direct and certainly quieter than main roads. Routes that avoid signalised junctions, even if further, are often much quicker. It was co-ordinated as well as possible given borough boundaries but never completed (nor signed). Things are much worse now with different priorities in neighbouring boroughs meaning that the project will never be taken forwards. Having cycles in many other UK town/cities wayfinding is pretty difficult in the main with no maintenance of existing signing let alone new signage/routes. Authorities are still putting in one way street with no 2 way cycle provision – although we should congratulate the government on allowing no entry except cyclists signage – but will many local authorities make use of this. All in all its a pretty negative future.

  • terryegglestone

    We still have a long way to go! In the Wolverhampton Express and Star, plus Shropshire Star, January 5th
    one Peter Rhodes wrote in his column as follows; In a survey , 40 per cent of motorists believe cyclists should be forced to have road insurance. This is yet another survey which has missed me out which probably explains why there is no mention of roadside snipers to take the blighters out.
    I sincerely hope that that complaints to the editor of this press from cyclists AND the general public will ensure that an apology is printed just as Matthew Parris had to so do over his [in]famous “piano wire” suggestion.

  • David Love

    You make several good points. But infrastructure on a continental scale isn’t going to happen in UK any time soon. There’s no space and no money.

    A cycling culture, though, is achievable. A good start would be for our new bike aware Transport Secretary to make practical evidence of cycling proficiency part of the driving test.

    Over time, all licensed drivers would know what it feels like to ride a bike and act accordingly. Fear of traffic, currently the biggest barrier to new and returning cyclists, would diminish. That in turn would encourage more drivers to saddle up.

    Unlike glossy new bike paths which only affect those fortunate enough to live and work nearby, changing driving attitudes would help all cyclists, anywhere, any time.

  • Mark

    Regarding the ridiculous comparison of 2% of journeys being made by bike in the UK vs 28% in Holland, of course, this is just a stupid statement. I have one word for you – HILLS.

  • storg

    Since I wrote my small article on Lowestoft yesterday I have been informed that over ten percent of all journeys in the Lowestoft area are now taken by bike. I’d call that a result – and proof that good safe cycle tracks will be used – if they’re built.

  • Ken Evans

    There is as the matter of lobbying from oil companies,
    road builders, and car makers.

    The cycling industry hasn’t been so active in the UK.

    MPs and civil servants do like to listen to big business !

  • Pieter Vanendert

    With the completion of the Guided Busway in Cambridge there is now a superb foot & cyclepath alongside, running directly from St Ives. It’s superb! However, unless the people of England vote for the Green Party, this country will only ever have piecemeal cycle routes instead of a decent transport system.

  • Oli lougheed

    You’re spot on, but what’s the solution? Instead of the likes of sustrans and ctc criticising what exists how about some clear solutions. Just off the top of my head

    1. Change the law so central government controls spend on local roads as in holland and elsewhere
    2. Central government appoint real expert engineers, from holland or elsewhere if needed. Make it mandatory that local councils use these engineers to design any cycling scheme over say £5000, and that all schemes is reviewed by them
    3. Focus resources on an ‘easy’ town first to get a network right. All the demonstration towns had a problem- hilly Exeter, narrow 1900s streets in Darlington, etc so maybe somewhere relatively flat, newly built with space to use?

    Whilst there is discrimination against cycling in local authorities, and a lack of funding to build good schemes or to fund the difficult parts like crossing junctions or railways, it is also true that designing linked up networks that are easy to use is not easy. I’d challenge readers to get out a local map and try to draw a safe route for one of their regular journeys, without using private land (£££), crossing major roads away from existing junctions or needing pavements to be widened/ narrowed (disability lobby).

    Maybe we should just walk to work?

  • storg

    Some good news: Over the past ten years or so Lowestoft, through the provision of many new dedicated cycle paths, has become increasingly cycle friendly. The geography of the town is such that various railway crossings and bridges make crossing from one side to the other difficult. However – with a bit of imagination – I’m sure the problems can be overcome and the town can become one of the most cycle friendly towns in England. The local authorities have done a good job in difficult circumstances and were also quick to rectify the situation where cyclists were unable to cycle along the sea front, (they best ride in town). They have announced plans recently for a new cycle and pedestrian bridge to span the Wharf – which will solve one of the main problems of North-South access – and also hopefully ease congestion in the town at the same time. I know nothing is ever perfect – but I would like to say well done to the planners for what they’ve done already and ask them to keep up the good work. More and more people are getting back on their bikes, and with so many new types of bike available to choose from , are enjoying the experience. We will cycle – if it’s safe!!!

  • Dexey

    The CTC have long been part of the problem with their safety in numbers approach. All those wasted years

  • Sam

    Edinburgh has indeed created some good cycle infrastructure, not least thanks to some very proactive regular cyclists and local organisations, most notably spokes, sustrans, the bikestation and ctc. However the facilities so far have been the ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as widened pavements and disused railway lines. We have now reached the point, especially in the central and southern parts of the city, where real money will need to be spent. If you want change to happen get involved with one of the above organisations and make it happen!

  • ian…

    If there’s one hope for the future of campaigning for something better, it’s that we now have a GB Cycling Embassy that actually advocates best practice from abroad, rather than using a tool like the hierarchy of provision to avoid it.

  • Brian Turpin

    I shudder when I see recent cyclists taking to the busy city roads and am surprised there aren’t more serious accidents. We currently have the self fulfilling prophecy of the roads being so dangerous and congested that cycling is not a viable alternative and prospective cyclists become yet another motorist. We need something radical to shift the mindset of the car first mentality which seems to be hard wired into most so called traffic improvement schemes which simply result in speedier traffic movements which can be lethal to cyclists. I would make the driving licence conditional on passing the cycling proficiency test, and incentivise councils that adapt or construct sustainable networks and junctions that are accredited by the local CTC group. The automotive lobby has had things their own way for far too long and to the detriment of community quality of life. I love my commute to work, but I doubt other newbies would be tempted.

  • Simon

    A great article which sums up the situation brilliantly. I felt myself nodding in agreement throughout the piece. I hope that this is not ‘as good as it gets’ but gear it might be. Let’s hope some people in government and transport circles with the ability to look at the long-term read this and will now make some changes.Short-termism is not just preventing more people from cycling but is also costing lives.

  • Simon E

    Sorry Jazz Dude, I strongly disagree.

    Lots of drivers tailgating / using mobile at 80mph. Combined with factors like spray in wet weather (which doesn’t slow them), untested eyesight and we all know many have a false impression of their own ability behind the wheel.

    More here:

  • Matt Polaine

    At the root of all this is disjointed government.

    The obesogenic UK culture drains The Treasury of £billions each year. Road Traffic Incidents the same, and tell me that fit healthy children aren’t smarter, commit less crime, become successful adults? We’re getter fatter, more stupid, and dying younger.

    Any idiot can see that investing in one activity that hits all these factors, reaping huge benefits; financially, socially, environmentally, should be a top priority.

    The culture of our species however is very poor with long term threats and rather better on greed and short termism.

    As NIMTO is rife in UK government, where pseudo voter appeasement is the Holy Grail, we will continue to get what we have always got, as we are doing what we have always done; we are not changing government attitudes at all. But Big Business is.

    Where Big Business can lobby government over and above the responsible and socially aware citizens, we will always get big projects for the share holders to benefit from.

    This is only what ministers can comprehend. No income for The Treasury or voters AKA shareholders = no investment. Saving £billions in healthcare with national cycle infrastructures? Not our department…it’s disjointed government. Yes Minister!

  • Jazz Dude

    Very good article, it says what I have been thinking for a long time. Although I don’t agree with the comments about the motorway speed limit. The 70mph limit is years out of date and I would like to see it raised to 90mph but that is a different story. Basingstoke is covered with “cycle lanes” which consist of a white line painted down a footway and then then they just stop so you have to get off and reroute. Many of these form part of the National Cycle Network which we should be ashamed of.

  • Graham Wilman

    Last summer, after some bike thefts from the school where I teach, the local police advised the headteacher to urge children not to ride to school. They say the roads are too narrow and too congested for bicycles! There is no doubt that the roads are busy, in part because of parents driving in with their kids and driving away again.
    My take on the police advice: “There is a problem (busy roads), so ban the solution (travel by bike)!”

    In addition, my employer, the Local Education Authority, will not become part of the Cycle-to-Work scheme. They say it is a) Too complicated and difficult to administer; b) Recent changes mean less value to the employee; c) when they were thinking about it a couple of years ago an employee was killed on a bike so they shelved it ; and, my personal favourite, d) the salary sacrifice scheme could be sex discriminatory because some women may take maternity leave!

    Is Lancashire anti-bike or just bike-unfriendly?

  • Jamie Wilson

    Excellent article – reflects my experience on the roads. Although i was surprised to read that Edinburgh is making a serious effort. I commute to Edinburgh city centre every day, all year round, and the journey is getting more difficult, not better. The main reason is the state of the roads which is deteriorating at an alarming rate each year. Some stretches are so bad that a mountain bike copes better than a road bike. The only concession to cyclists is dedicated stopping areas at traffic lights (often ignored by taxis and lorries), but there are often no lanes approacing them so at rush hour it is sometimes not possible to reach them!

  • Lynne Goulding

    Really good article. Promoting cycling needs push and pull factors. Certainly making driving and parking more expensive is one of them, which is why London has been one of the most successful in the UK. Political will and strong leadership is vital, as is connected infrastructure. Cycle paths to nowhere are not going to help! Integration with existing public transport is another factor – again where London has had some success.

  • Steven West

    With reference to Britain failing cycling, this country spends too much time and money poking its nose into the affairs of other countries in the world thinking it’s still a major power, instead of putting this ‘house’ in order first, perhaps then we would not have third world road conditions.

  • Joe

    This is a good article.

    I ride regularly in London – it’s great to see the Boris bikes but the cycle superhighways simply aren’t super. There needs to be a complete mindset change. It’s not just about spending more money on cycling. The approach from the politicians and bureaucrats that cycling should be encouraged but they are scared to inconvenience the motorist. If they stick with the current approach, the infrastructure will always remain friendly to the motorist and the cyclist will be second. The current provision of cycle lanes (painted blue or otherwise) that are shared with cars, parked over, end abruptly, disappear with pinch points forcing cyclists into the path of cars etc. just demonstrates this.

    We need to fundamentally change the attitude and put walking, cycling and public transport first in inner cities, design the roads and junctions around them, with motor vehicles relegated. Organisations such as CTC needs to up the aggression and lobbying. I was a CTC member but gave it up as they didn’t get much beyond potholes. We need so much more.

  • Chris Peck

    In response to Graham, I fear, however, that we don’t spend nearly enough on maintanence to ensure that existing roads are kept up to standard, let alone to gradually build cycle facilities on them. There are also huge political barriers to reallocating roadspace away from cars (especially parking) to buses, let alone bikes.

    The £800k per km estimate comes from TfL and Sustrans. I believe it is the average cost of retrofitting cycle tracks onto existing roads, not new build roads (which I would imagine to be considerably cheaper).

    The Superhighways in London are a grim example of how high construction costs are: nearly all of these are just paint and microsurfacing with no kerb realignments or full segregation; yet they still cost around £500k per km just in capital costs.

  • Neill

    Milton Keynes! – Dedicate cycling and walking paths throughout the new city linking housing estates to each other and then on to shopping, entertainment etc. All these routes are separate paths to the grid road system, so traffic free cycling is guaranteed. To boot, decent signage is also provided on most of the paths as well as street lighting.

    While this alone does not support the effective shift from car to bike, it does offer a safe cycling environment and reduces one of the main barriers to participation, namely the safety of cyclist competing for space on our over crowed road system.

    This approach may be hard for many current towns and cities to build in to their current urban plans, but we need to consider different ideas as our UK roads are now to hard to redesign effectively to support cycling.

  • Peter Walker

    I was a member of the User Group in Southend-on-Sea, one of the so-called “cycling towns”. I was also asked to be on the “Stakeholder Committee” but never invited to any meetings.

    Eventually all the decisions were taken without any consultation with cyclists – unless you count the occasion that the Council submitted the plans for their much-vaunted Sea-front cycle route on 29th March – and held the official opening ceremony on 31st March!

    Never once did the Exec Councillor for Transport deign to show her face at the Cycle User Group. We did get the occasional visit from the Exec Councillor for Leisure Services.

    I’m quite certain that the £3.3m earmarked for the cycle town was syphoned off for other things. There are certainly no worthwhile cycle facilities to show for it!

  • Sam Saunders

    This whole piece has the authentically cracked ring of truth, doesn’t it? Bristol is mentioned as a less bad place for cycling policy. I have recently moved here and its provision feels as piecemeal, confused and decaying as the routes in Leeds where I lived previously. Pedestrians also have a raw deal with badly maintained pavements and too many ill-defined areas shared with cyclists.

    I have learned to cope over decades so I don’t really mind for my own sake. But I do see how most of the bits and bobs that get added for cyclists are really little use to anyone but expert cyclists who, of course, are not impressed. Perhaps if we focussed on the need for children to walk and cycle to school without one-to-one supervision we might start to see it all differently and start to embrace cycling as a means of transport in everyday life rather than as a leisure facility for enthusiasts.

    It also has to be said that no other policy areas have experienced benign policy making or funding in England – perhaps not since the oil price escalation of the early 70s. This might or might not be a coincidence.

  • Russ

    I think that one of the things that would really help get bike use up is to create proper mounting routes. The blue lanes are ok, but cars, bikes and buses don’t help and these lanes along with cycle lanes just seeming to end for no reason. I wrote to the mayor to see if there was a way of using all of the space that runs alongside the railways. Generally, there is quite a wide area besides these routes surely enough for a decent cycle path. They could be used for traffic free routes in to towns. I for one would be happy to pay to use them. They could be added to oyster cards, the could be free if you already have a train pass etc etc

    Apparently, according to the reply, its too complicated as too many people own the land! If this was France they’d just do it!

    They’re just so short sighted.

  • Crydda

    Superb article; let’s hope it makes it into the mainstream press. After all, it’s preaching to the converted here.

  • Dave

    Cracking article, well done.
    I used to live in Germany and we went all over the place on our bikes and local transport. My wife and I had the kids on the back in their seats and it was always an enjoyable trip as the cycle paths were so good and actually went from where you were to were you wanted to go.
    I commute 40 mile a day (March to November) to work and i have on average 3 incidents every day. Incidents being near misses with cars and pedestrians not taking any notice of you. I do not commute when the clocks go back as the near misses increase and are are too scary for me. However I still love to cycle when ever I can as it is good for my health,my pocket and the environment.
    The cycle ways in Coventry are a real joke, you get ones that are 10m long randomly placed along roads. Why? I guess there were EU grants for creating cycle ways and you got paid by the Metre.
    But will it ever get better? YES if we make people aware and keep writing , talking and highlighting the problem. (well ok maybe)

  • Richard La China

    London is the worst place I’ve ridden a bike.. no bike infrastructure, no motorist awareness — it’s really a mess. On the other hand, I couldn’t agree more about the Dutch bike routes and paths — what a drastic contrast, what a real pleasure it is to ride *anywhere* in The Netherlands. Good luck to the British government — maybe spend a little less on your New Years fireworks and a little more on cycling??

    Richard La China


  • Graham SMITH


    Brilliantly written and so sad, in equal measure. I suspect much damaging prejudice about cycling is carried by the wonks who work for the Ministers, and the civil servants too. They can’t conceive of something they haven’t experienced or believe it can be seen as central to the ‘Press’.

    But there is one big error, which becomes a bigger barrier each time it is repeated, the cost of a decent cycle lane:- ‘The problem, says CTC, is that putting in decent cycle lanes is seen as expensive at £800,000 per kilometre’. This doesn’t have to be true, although this might fail the political ‘big gesture’ test. Decent cycle lanes will only cost the figure Chris Peck describes if done as a new project. But major new-build is not the way the Danes have achieved so much wonderful cycle lane. They have used the natural cycle of repair, maintenance and occasional rebuild as the opportunity for change. Lanes which were merely ‘painted’, twenty years ago, are now continuous hybrid lanes of the highest quality. They have been intelligent in deploying resources.

    In my city of Oxford, most of the major arterials have been expensively remade more than once, in the last three decades. Perfect cycle facilities could have been made on all of these key routes, for little or no more than the cost of thought (and possibly a few TROs) as maintenance is carried out. What has happened is that Public Transport has benefited (giving better roads for driving too) and cycling has been impoverished by the works.

    Graham Paul Smith
    CTC Councillor (SE)

  • Gerard van Bohemen

    Don’t give up!
    The first change need to be at the education of new drivers,how to cope with cyclists.
    Secondly try to change the insurances regarding accidents.
    Biking has been booming in the UK.The more bikes on the road,the faster goverment and councels have to act.

  • Danny

    By far the best article about the state of UK cycling I’ve ever read. The cartoon summarises it even better. Please keep up with this approach. http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/

  • Dave du Feu
  • Adrian Bennett

    Very good article but extremely depressing. I lived in the Hague in the late 1970s for 2 years & this is the only time I have ever seen my parents cycling. There were cycle lanes everywhere & an excellent tram network.

    My 15 mile commute to work would be nicer if I could make use of bridleways however due to horses they are normally impassable mudbaths. I would like to see brideway use restricted to cyclists & pedestrians however this will never happen as the horsey types wield so much power. I would also like to see footpaths in the countryside opened up for cycling.

  • J P Mikkelsen

    Jep thats why I am happy to be leaving the UK in the end of the month and get back to civilization in Denmark. My experience of cycling in the UK has been one of fear, astonishment and general shaking of the head when faced with the UK traffic system. The animosity against cyclist that I have experienced will be something that I will not forget. I will keep it in mind whenever an english person feels the need to lecture me in the future.
    Good luck to all of you…its simple really, more taxes, more infrastrucre (creates jobs btw!!!), an actual drivers license for the drivers (a UK police man told me that he thought that the drivers in the UK were the worst he had ever met) your drivers dont konw how to drive (case in point, all the people driving in the middle of the motorway) and finally proper rules for cyclists. We have them in DK and it would help if cyclists also knew how to handle themselves in traffic.

  • Andrew Spink

    I grew up in England but have lived in Holland for the past two decades, so was interested to read your article comparing the two situations. An important factor for making sure that cycling has often been included in local transport plans is not only central government legislation, but the lobbying of the Dutch Cyclists Union (equivalent of CTC). It has 35,000 members (from 1/4 the UK population) and 150 local branches. Every time a local plan is made, they provide constructive expert input, advising how it can be improved. They run competitions objectively comparing cities to see which has the best cycling facilities. Of course, they also campaign to improve national legislation as well. Without that lobbying, the infrastructure and level of use (during the peak of the rush hour, more people are travelling by bike than car) would not be what it is today.

  • Bob MacQueen

    I could not have put it any better! Excellent and clear summary of where we are and where we will no doubt be for the foreseeable future.
    I have spent so many years arguing just these points, been active in local cycle networks and a Sustrans activist and been driven close to insanity by the Local Authority.
    My answer? I go to Europe as often as possible and enjoy the facilities in The Netherlands, Germany and France amongst others.
    Sad isn’t it.