WHEN The Times newspaper gave front page headlines to its launch of the historic ‘cyclists’ revolt’ in February, aimed at forcing the government to improve cycling safety in towns and cities, it gave the campaign movement fresh impetus and claimed centre stage in Parliament – for a time.

But what have those artful dodgers in the Commons done about it? Besides falling over themselves to sweet-talk a major daily newspaper, not much, if you ask me. Despite The Times excellent campaign, there remain two big issues holding up real progress: insufficient funding and a lack of a national strategy to bring about the key changes in road infrastructure.

First, let’s do the maths. According to one of the UK’s leading campaigners, Continental evidence says that when you spend at least £5 per head of population on cycling there is growth. The Cycling Towns, under the direction of Cycling England – killed off by the government last year to save money – were spending a tenner and achieved an average of 27 per cent growth over three years. This is consistent with a rate of doubling growth over 10 years. However, in the interests of keeping a little perspective, this is merely the doubling of next to nothing to close to very little.

Lack of spend
As it stands, in England, the government spend on cycling equates to between £1 and £2 per head of population. It’s higher in Scotland and in London. In Denmark and Holland, it’s somewhere between £10 and £20 per head. There are 49 million people living in England. So £1 to £2 per head equates to, at best, £98m being spent on cycling. That’s some £150m short of even the basic sum needed to make a difference. To up this to £5 per head means the government must spend £245m per annum. But this is still half of the amount spent by Holland and Denmark in percentage terms. So what if the government do the decent thing and spend upwards of £300m per year on cycling? How will they direct this? Answer, they won’t be able to, unless government takes direct control of Local Authority transport planning for cycling, as the Dutch did over 60 years ago.

This is important because virtually all the work to make the roads safer for cycling will fall under LA control. The Department for Transport has responsibility for the trunk road network which makes up only about five per cent of the road network, whereas the rest comes under LA control and government can only advise the LA’s; they cannot impose their will.

Cycling: still squeezed

Here’s a recent example. The Times identified hundreds of major junctions that need to be made safe for cyclists. Transport Minister Norman Baker responded by providing £15 million in funding. However, he can only encourage, not tell, Local Authorities to bid for a slice of this cash to carry out the work. It falls to The Times to ask us, the punters, to write to our local councillors and implore them to bid for funding! Left to their own devices, the LA’s, who may not necessarily agree with government directives, have with very few exceptions, shown that nothing meaningful in cycling planning will ever be achieved.

Big Struggle
So, The Times faces a big struggle in a country that has shown it doesn’t do strategy.  When the National Cycling Strategy launched with great fanfare in 1996 it was largely meaningless because not only did it have no money before Cycling England were given a few bob in 2005, it couldn’t work in isolation, not without sister strategies for all other models.  And there never has been a national strategy for transport, from the canal age in the 1700s, through to the railways in the 1800s, followed by road and air.

This article was first published in the July 19 issue of Cycling Weekly.

  • Samuel Gee

    Sorry Terry, we’ll have to just agree to disagree. Cyclists are not trying to take the moral high ground just share the road safely. We have a right to be on the road. We have a right to be safe and the the drivers of vehicles that can cause harm to other road users and cyclists have a duty to drive with care. On the whole Terry cyclists are far more responsible than many motorists about safety precisely because they’re the ones that are vulnerable to injury, not the motorists. And we have a right to lobby as citizens as road users as tax and car tax payers (most of us) for spending and changes to traffic and roads that keep us safe.

    Not all cyclists are perfect and not all motorists are either but an irresponsible cyclist is a bigger danger to themselves than anyone else whereas an irresponsible or just careless motorist is personally pretty safe from their mistakes but between them manage to kill 3500 or so people a year. That’s about 10 jumbos worth not to mention the serious and other injuries.

    I take it by reference to cycling proficiency that you are a newish rider. I am an advanced driver and have been cycling on the road for over forty years. Riding “defensively” whch is what they teach in cycling proficiency (ie stay out of the way ride in the gutter and make room for cars) is what gets people killed and injured. If some drivers think they can just squidge past when it is narrow and there isn’t really room to pass they’ll still give it a go and since you are already in the gutter you have no where to go. For some reason motorcycle advanced training is all about being seen and being decisive. My kids did their cycling proficiency a few years ago at school. I have subsequently had to teach them about being safe on the road. Be seen. occupy your space, be decisive and clear, make eye contact with motorists and be courteous. Now if compulsory cycle training is going to follow the lines of cycling proficiency training then it’s worse than useless. It’s dangerous. It’s based on the idea that cyclists should pose as little delay for cars as possible and not on the basis of vulnerability ie that a greater duty of care for cyclists and pedestrians is incumbent on motorists. Cyclists and pedestrians are NOT the problem. The problem is people that drive a ton or more of metal about without enough care.

    I know you probably think you’re helping but what you are actually advocating is a blaming of the victims and vulnerable. If my memory serves me right there is nowhere in the highway code that works on the principle of the right of bigger vehicles to have automatic right of way or suggests that vulnerable road users get compulsory training in getting out of the way.

    And then Terry there is the fact that the key to safer cycling is the number of cyclists on the road. The more cyclists there are on the road the safer it is for them. So anything that puts a barrier in the way of cycclists being on the road is counterproductive. Let’s look toward Denmark and Holland for examples on how to make cycling safe. Not take the Jeremy Clarkson approach of implying that the only safe place for cyclists is at home.

  • Terry

    Samuel, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, if cyclists want to take the moral high ground they must be seen to be obeying the law.
    ALSO- there are too many overseas motorists over here who have not passed a UK driving test which MUST be addressed, there are also too many testoterone fuelled drivers of both sexes who need to change their driving style.
    If a cyclist rides up the nearside of any vehicle they can’t complain about getting squished. Bear in mind the EU has demanded so many mirrors on trucks that they now create their own blind spots.
    More training must be compulsory for ALL road users, my club riding and Cycling Proficiency got me from Bromley in Kent to Kensington (across the infamous Clapham Common) without incident by riding defensively.

  • Ken Evans

    “Sorry about my English…”
    Martin Pavlovic

    No problem, it made me smile.

    But why not use Google Translate,
    or a spell-checker, such as in Word etc.

  • Samuel Gee

    Just can’t agree with Terry. I cycle and I drive indeed I am and advanced driver (IAM) and used to drive 60,000 a year when I was repping. Cyclists break rules but nearly every driver regularly break rules from speeding to tailgating, even not giving way to pedestrians at corners, parking on pavements, driving up bus lanes not leaving cycle lanes clear, not indicating, crossing give way lines at junctions you name and a lot of us do it. And do you hear the AA or RAC or the IAM saying that they can’t lobby for motorists until drivers behave themselves. Road users all of us break the rules some inadvertantly, some occasionally some regularly and some lethally. Cyclists that break the rules of the road at least have the decency to mainly place themselves in danger not others. Cyclists even the minority are not to blame for being vulnerable road users. On the whole they are much much better behaved than the average motorist. Remember Terry, most adult cyclists like me are also drivers and probably better and more careful road users than the average non cycling motorist. Let’s give ourselves some credit for that and stop the silly nonsense about the odd courier being an ambler gambler and some kid on a pavement.

  • William Hirst

    This might be a golden age for cycling, but when I am out on my bike, I still get almost knocked off my bike by drivers who cannot wait more than 2 seconds who overtake near a bend and miss me by inches because there’s another car coming the other way. Still get 1 and 2 finger salutes and swore at. One guy even got out of his car to try and pick a fight with me. Must have thought I was a wimp because I had a go back at him and he drove off.

    Nice to know some things never change. One thing that won’t change is the fact that I love cycling, I prefer using my bike instead of my car and I stick to the rules and harm no-one, and these bullies are not going to force me off the road.

  • Martin Pavlovic

    In UK its only kulture of cars, nobody cares about cyklists.Lived there for 15 years , commuting from Leicester to Melton Mowbray , been hit by cars twice once ended up in hospital. During that accident Police only came becouse somebody told them , i was on motorcycklist.Even Police officer admited , they would not come , if they new i was cycklist??? I do not get it. Your cykling lanes??? Try ,that one from Leicester to Market Harbourough where , that cykling lane finishes right in the centre of dual carriage way??
    Now i live in Sveden, using complete cykling road from home to work ( 38 km), and on top of that just recenly , they intruduced law here , that cyklist has got complete right of way , when crrosing road????.
    I think nothing will ever be done , despide fact now UK has produced such amuzing cyckling head lines with Olympics and Le Tour. I just do not get it. ???? UK society spends milions on safety at football, and after football and can not spent more than 2 pounds to improve cykling in UK.Sorry about my English its my fourth .
    Thank you Cav and Vigo for amuzing cykling. Keep cykling…

  • William

    So no strategy, so no point in even talking to MPs, none whatsoever

    Go to Holland to see how cycling works, different world to the UK.

    MPs, Boris and all the rest of them just haven’t a clue

  • Terry

    Having just read an article in this week’s Auto Express regarding badly behaved urban cyclists and motorists, the hard core rule breaking cycling fraternity have to change their ways in order for us to be taken seriously.
    There can be NO justification for breaking the rules of the Highway Code and there will be no progress while the few ruin it for the majority.
    I now also agree that there should be compulsory cycle training just like we had in the old Cycling Proficiency days.

  • Angharad

    So without a strategy, more cyclists will die or be severely injured, but unless they work for the Times little will be said or done about it, except a short term wringing of hands. Perhaps if Cameron or Boris were to be the next victim…