County Council adopts National Cycling Strategy

At its meeting during National Bike Week in June, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Environment and Transport Committee agreed to adopt the National Cycling Strategy into local policy. We discussed at our own Campaign meeting in June how the National Cycling Strategy could become more central to the Council’s thinking on cycling. Councillor Donald Adey, Cycling Campaign member and Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson, attended our meeting, and took the message back to the committee. A suitable item on the Environment and Transport Committee’s agenda allowed an amendment to be put, and there was all-party agreement.

The Strategy originally emerged in 1996, setting headline targets of doubling cycle trips in six years and quadrupling them in 16. Cambridgeshire’s adoption does not necessarily mean that local targets would reflect the national figure (Cambridge City could potentially double, but not quadruple its cycling journeys). Possibly more important however, is the combined influence of the Strategy and the still to be published Transport White Paper (though hopes fade of this producing serious change as time passes) on the County Council’s approach.

‘Local strategies should be prepared in close consultation with cyclists’ organisations and other transport user groups’ – NCS section 3.4.1].
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The County’s own Cycling Strategy is being reviewed: this was prepared before the National Cycling Strategy was introduced, and though it aims to make cycling safer and more convenient, and to promote cycling, its targets were modest and focused on, for example, what length of cycle track could be built. Old timers among you may remember that making comments on this document was one of the first reports the Campaign produced, and prompted our own Manifesto.

Brian Smith, Director of Environment and Transport pointed out at a lecture several of us attended last month that despite the high absolute numbers of casualties, the cycle safety record is actually better in the County because it is shared among so many more cyclists and journeys. But as John Richards observes in Do cycleways always mean loss of priority?, safety and convenience can be uncomfortable bedfellows, if cycling policy is viewed as a matter only of building cycle tracks and paths. The National Cycling Strategy takes a rather different line.

While safety is a primary concern, the model cycling strategy for local authorities that it includes picks up the same hierarchy of priorities as the guideline book Cycle Friendly Infrastructure:

  • Traffic reduction
  • Traffic calming
  • Junction treatment and traffic management
  • Redistribution of the carriageway; and at the end of the list
  • Cycle lanes and tracks

The Strategy also covers much broader ground: for example, cycle parking and security, cycle-friendly employer schemes (already something the County Council is involved in), maintenance and land use development.

I think it is fair to say that the County Council already points in the right direction on nearly all of the National Cycling Strategy issues. However, what is important is that the National Cycling Strategy gives a different emphasis, and serves as a pointer to the areas where, though meaning well and saying the right things, the Council has not really done very much. A positive report on priority assessment for cycle budgets, strategy and relationship with development and development plans prepared for the Strategic Joint Forum of our area’s three Councils make a good start by actually mentioning the National Cycling Strategy. We have not been aware of this happening in such papers before.

If there is one item that I would like to see come out of the policy adoption it is the use of Cycle Audit. This is a formal means to assess all development – both buildings and all changes to roads (not just cycling specific developments) – against a check-list of best practice for cycling. Edinburgh has such a system in operation now, with a very straightforward assessment form. For example, this requires a strong formal justification for a new one way street which does not have cycle exemption. This would complement and help to balance the existing safety audit procedures. (Many councils also audit all kinds of schemes and policies for impact on people with disabilities, race issues and so on, so the idea is not unfamiliar.)

Dave Earl