The UK’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy finally appears

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 132.

After two years of gestation, the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) has finally appeared. It was press-released amongst a blizzard of announcements on the last day before the government went into pre-election ‘purdah’ (when ministers and officials are barred from saying anything that might appear party-political).

Whatever else we’ve said about it previously, its vision is admirable, as is the local cycle network planning process it proposes. We now need to enlist the backing of councils and other partners, and of national as well as local politicians, to ensure this vision gets implemented.

Cycling UK and our allies have spent several years lobbying for CWIS. So we’re really pleased (and actually somewhat relieved!) that it’s now been published – all the more so following the release of new evidence from Glasgow University two days earlier, showing that regular cycle-commuters reduce their chances of cancer by 45% and the risks of cardiovascular disease by 46%. Cycling is fantastically good for our health, and that of our streets and communities, the environment and the economy.

There are reasons to be positive despite the funding deficit. To be honest, the content of the CWIS isn’t vastly different from the government’s consultation draft from just over a year ago. Given this, many readers will doubtless be expecting us to be sharply critical of it, particularly the lack of funding. We’re not, and nor are our partners. And I want to explain why.

Firstly, this is the first time the government has made any kind of multi-year commitment to invest in cycling and walking. Cycling UK and our allies – Sustrans, British Cycling, Living Streets and others – worked really hard for the legal commitment that secured this. It is an important step forward.

Secondly, I know how much hard work has gone into this from the small team working on cycling and walking at the Department for Transport, particularly the mad rush to get it out before the election. I’ve little doubt that, in private, they too would love to have secured more funding. Had the CWIS been deferred till after 8 June, we might then have ended up waiting for several months for a new team of ministers to be persuaded (or not!) of the case for investing in cycling. So I really want to offer the officials my heartfelt thanks for what they have achieved.

Thirdly, the ‘vision’ set out at the start of the document is a really positive one. ‘We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.’

In addition, ‘the Government wants walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment. As part of our aim to build a society that works for all, we want more people to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking by 2040’.

‘Realising our ambition will take sustained investment in cycling and walking infrastructure. It will take long-term transport planning and it will take a change in attitudes – amongst central government, local bodies, businesses, communities and individuals. Walking and cycling should be seen as transport modes in their own right and an integral part of the transport network, rather than as niche interests or town-planning afterthoughts. We need to build a local commitment together to support this national Strategy.’

This is fantastic stuff! Yet this vision could so easily have ended up being diluted or lost, if the CWIS announcement had been delayed beyond the election.

That ‘sustained investment’ will, of course, need to grow to much higher levels than is currently proposed. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report called for annual investment worth at least £10 per person for cycling – rising to progressively to £20 – and the Commons Transport Select Committee echoed that call.

At a time when capital spending on England’s motorways and trunk roads is starting to sky-rocket, direct government investment in cycling and walking is set to fall to an annual allocation per person which would just about buy a litre of milk. Yet, with final decisions having now been made on CWIS funding, there’s absolutely no point crying over the lack of milk!

Now is the time to call on our would-be decision-makers nationally and locally to commit

Today’s CWIS is a five-year plan, aiming towards an admirable vision for 2040. Now is the time to call on our would-be decision-makers nationally and locally to commit to substantially increased investment in cycling, both in the short and the longer term, and to spend whatever money is available on cycle facilities designed to the highest possible standards.

We will continue to work over the coming months and years for a much greater proportion of transport spending to be devoted to local roads and streets, ensuring they are designed and maintained to be safe and attractive for people of all ages and abilities to get around on foot or by cycle. The health, environmental, economic and quality of life benefits of doing so will be enormous.

Roger Geffen, Policy Director Cycling UK