Ten years

I was pessimistic in Newsletter 31 about the prospects for cyclists in the Government’s ten year transport plan, as we awaited its publication. It came out while the newsletter was being printed, so this is the first opportunity to look at what it really says, rather than the informed speculation that preceded it.

The headline, of course, is the amount of money that is to be invested in transport – £180 billion of extra money over ten years is a lot in anyone’s books, though a substantial part of that is from private sector funding. Big funding, though, seems to mean big projects. It offers good news for railways and tramways. It puts investment back into major roads for the first time for several years, with a promise or threat, depending on your outlook, of a hundred new bypasses, major road widening and technology-led traffic management. Where does that leave cycling?

Image as described adjacent
Integrated transport? The Plan’s cover picture has a politically correct cyclist waiting at a give way line while the car speeds past.

Cycling may benefit directly from the major funding increases promised for local transport. These are grants to local authorities, including Cambridgeshire, to support their local transport plans. That is also where the indirect benefits for things like 20 mph zones and safer streets come from. Unfortunately, this is also a big flaw: none of these things are ‘ring-fenced,’ so there is no guarantee that there will be any change. The Plan does not make any specific provisions. While generally positive about speed limit enforcement, Cambridgeshire is mainly hostile to reducing speeds.

We already knew that the Government would renege on the first target of doubling cycling trips over the six years 1996 to 2002, set out in its National Cycling Strategy. Instead, and slightly surprisingly, it has introduced a new target of tripling trips in the ten years 2000 to 2010, the lifetime of the Plan. It is hard to see why this is any more achievable than the original target, when there is nothing at all in the Plan to back up the National Cycling Strategy.

There are thirty five mentions of ‘cycling’, ‘bicycle’ etc. in the Plan. Most of these are things like captions on graphs showing modal split, or woolliness such as ‘encouraging shops and services at the neighbourhood level so people can walk or cycle for their day-to-day needs.’ There is no indication at all of how this will be achieved, who will do the encouraging, by when and with what monitoring of effectiveness. An excellent sentiment, but lacking teeth.

The Plan also shows the way in which its non-cycling authors think about cyclists: as pedestrians with wheels, rather than cars without engines. ‘Cycling’ is nearly always suffixed by ‘and walking’, a habit we have also had cause to criticise the County Council for adopting. The Plan’s section on cycling and (you guessed it) walking – see Box – is about as specific as it gets. The one exception is for London, where there is a commitment to complete the London Cycle Network.

Incredibly, there is a whole chapter on Safety, which mentions cycling only in this sentence: ‘We want people to travel safely and to feel secure whether they are on foot or bicycle, in a car, on a train, or bus, at sea or on a plane.’ In contrast, there are details on major investment in train warning systems, and rail staff notification procedures and on so on. While any casualties are regrettable, the amount of new money being spent on rail safety is out of proportion. Many more cyclists die on Britain’s roads than die in rail crashes, yet we are talking factors of tens of thousands of times less funding for safety initiatives.

In the last newsletter, I was pessimistic. Based on advance information I might have given the Ten Year Plan ‘2 out of 10’ for cycling. Having seen the real thing, maybe I’d give it 3.

David Earl

From the Plan

Poor facilities and an unsafe environment continue to inhibit growth in walking and cycling. Cycling accounted for less than 2% of all trips in 1998. This compares unfavourably with other European countries (including those with similar climates, such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands). In 1995 the EU average stood at 186 km cycled per person, compared with 76 km per annum in the UK.

Indicative of the decline in walking is the increase in car use for journeys to school, which has nearly doubled in the last ten years from 16% to 29%, and which in turn makes for an even more hostile pedestrian environment.

The substantial increase in local transport funding over the period of this Plan will enable local authorities to bring forward a significant expansion of schemes to make walking and cycling easier and safer. These should include strategies aimed at specific journeys and destinations, such as creating safe routes to schools and stations. Although we do not in this Plan seek to ring-fence national provision for these purposes, we do expect to see evidence in Local Transport Plans that local authorities have developed and will implement strategies to secure substantial increases in cycling and walking.

Our target is to treble the number of cycling trips from their 2000 level by 2010. This is an ambitious, but achievable objective. Growth is expected to be triggered both by improved local provision for cycling, and from the impetus created by the National Cycle Network currently being set up, coordinated by Sustrans.

The increased provision for Local Transport Plans will also allow all local authorities to do more to improve safety, particularly for children. We have set a target of reducing by 50% the number of children killed or seriously injured in road accidents by 2010 compared with the average for 1994-98.

So we will be looking to authorities to create more traffic-calmed 20 mph zones, particularly around schools and in residential areas, where most child accidents occur. We are also evaluating a number of ‘Home Zones’ – residential areas treated with traffic-calming and other measures, which aim to improve residents’ quality of life and improve safety.