David Cameron and the Politics of Cycling – Gary Hoffman

On the last Friday of every month, bicyclists ...

On the last Friday of every month, bicyclists gather for Critical Mass: to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists’ right to the road. The June Critical Mass in Vancouver, BC, Canada is normally the largest ride, pulling thousands of riders and temporarily shutting down vehicular traffic in large swathes of the city. The June 2007 ride shutdown Lion’s Gate bridge for 30 minutes and the Stanley Park Causeway that leads to it for 60 minutes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a health march

At a health march (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Biking through Omagh Did David Camero...

English: Biking through Omagh Did David Cameron pass by? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Cycling en Amsterdam

English: Cycling en Amsterdam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Cycling (mounta...

Pictograms of Olympic sports – Cycling (mountain biking). This is unofficial sample picture. Images of official Olympic pictograms for 1948 Summer Olympics and all Summer Olympics since 1964 can be found in corresponding Official Reports. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A commuter cyclist in the London morn...

English: A commuter cyclist in the London morning rush hour, kitted out in specialist cycling gear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cycling

Cycling (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

Cycling Bike at Night

Cycling Bike at Night (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Cycling on Dutch alleys.

Cycling on Dutch alleys. (Photo credit: tiexano)

The subject of cycling has been a hot topic in recent years, especially since the success of team GB at the London Olympics. The amount of cyclists has doubled since the turn of the millennium, and so it seems like the nation is ready to embrace a cultural change, and that change is cycling.

There are many well documented articles highlighting the positive effects of cycling; better health, higher moral, less CO2 emissions for the environment and reducing congestion on roads. Yet with only 2% of journeys in the UK being taken by bike, there is clearly a long way to go before it becomes a leading mode of transport here, with countries like the Netherlands (30%+), Hungary (19%+), Denmark (19%+) and Germany (10%+) leading the way.

In 2010, after David Cameron and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition had taken office, one of the first cuts made was the annual £60m allocated to support cycling. The issue was clearly not seen as something to find cash to support and up until now there had been no commitments to promoting it. Now, at a time when cycling safety on UK roads has come under scrutiny and with at least one eye on the general election in 18 months time, Cameron has allocated £94m to cycling. Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich will share £77m and the remaining £17m is to be split between 4 national parks. It looks like the Tories are ticking another box for potential voters next year.

All good news? There is no doubt that the injection of cash is welcome, whatever the motives. But, the level of change we should aspire to would take years, even decades, of investment with a suggested annual figure in excess of £1 billion. If this investment is simply a one-off it won’t have the desired effect. We also need a cultural change and this change needs to be championed by the government to encourage us all to saddle up in the same way the Netherlands did in the 1970’s. As they did, we need to build and develop a cycling infrastructure which makes it the most convenient, cheapest, healthiest mode of transport available to the vast majority of people. Of course, the Netherlands is very flat country, but, surely we can overcome a few hills!

Surely the best way to undergo such a cultural change is to appeal to our youth, ensuring all children have access to a bike, maintenance training, road safety training and a network of purpose built roads/cycle paths. This, along with better awareness from car drivers and improved designs of HGVs (which are responsible for the most cyclist fatalities) would drive this change forward. I am a father of two (soon to be three) young boys and the thought of them riding on the roads scares the hell out of me! Like most other parents, I would need to see vast improvements in these areas before encouraging my children on to two wheels.

Most people’s biggest concern is safety. There is no doubt that you are far more vulnerable on a bike than in a car. However, you might be surprised to know that according to one report, there are roughly 300 years of pedal time, 8 million cycle trips or 23 million miles cycled for every one cycle fatality – that is the equivalent of 50 trips to the moon and back or 925 times around the world! Bearing in mind the more cyclists we have on our roads, statistically, the chance of being killed decreases, and if you take into consideration the health benefits, is it more dangerous not to cycle?!

Another issue we will face is parking/storage of bikes. If 10% of journeys were now taken by bike (which is the target for 2025), it would be utter mayhem; we simply couldn’t cope. However, with the amount of space needed to park a car being the equivalent of that to park up to ten bikes, this should be a problem that can be addressed in even the most built up urban areas with careful planning. We need to avoid encountering the same problems as in Amsterdam, where they have 800,000 people and 880,000 bikes that simply cause chaos at peak times due to the extreme demands of parking. Over the next two decades the city will invest 135 million Euros on improving biking infrastructure and creating 38,000 bike parking racks in the hotspots to combat the problem – this is something we can deal with in advance with this insight.

So, Mr Cameron, you say you want to start ‘a cycling revolution’. Although this sounds like something we would more commonly hear from Boris Johnson, it is good to hear that it has at last been addressed by the Prime Minister and hopefully this is the start of a new age of Britons on bikes!

Gary Hoffman

https://twitter.com/Clear_Politics

clearpoliticsuk@gmail.com

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