This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 88.
John Grimshaw, famed as the founder of Sustrans and now technical advisor to Cycling England, addressed the Campaign’s monthly meeting on 1 December 2009 to discuss progress with the country’s Cycling Demonstration Towns. He began by congratulating us for being the premier cycling campaign in the 18 towns. Cycling England has had £140 million to spend over two and a half years to get more people cycling, more safely and more often (presumably a tip of the hat to our strapline: For better, safer and more cycling in and around Cambridge). The towns each received £500,000 funding per year (except for the smaller town of Aylesbury, which received £300,000 per year) from October 2005, amounting to £5 per capita, which was matched by the local authorities to reach the European average of £10 per capita, ten times the English average.
In November 2009 Cycling England produced a report (at www.dft.gov.uk/cyclingengland/site/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/as-report-nov-2009.pdf) on the first six towns in Phase 1 of the project, which all showed a steady increase in cycling (compared to a broader decline in the rest of the UK, although on a par with London) and also an increase in physical activity. Cambridge has the highest level of cycling of the 18 cycling towns but it’s feared that the increasing number of incomers with no tradition of cycling may lead to lower cycling rates, as has happened in Amsterdam. Cambridge did of course start building major cycling facilities long before Cycling Demonstration Towns had been invented, including the covered bridge at the station (and other fine bridges), a few cycle contraflows, and good (and also bad) examples of almost every other aspect of cycling provision. Cycling England is encouraging all cycling towns to make one-way streets two-way for cycling, backing our struggle in Cambridge for the DfT to allow ‘Except Cycles’ signs to be attached below ‘No Entry’ signs – which ended in success a month after this meeting! (See separate article for details.) It also seems that Cycling England’s funding for Cambridgeshire was contingent on good cycling links with the guided busway, which should fill us all with good cheer.
Cycling rates up
Cycling England started by looking at cycling rates in various countries in 1996 (UK 2%, Sweden – much colder – 10%, Switzerland – much hillier – 15%). The aim then was to quadruple cycle use by 2012 – a target now forgotten. However, cycling rates in the first six demonstration towns (Aylesbury, Brighton & Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster with Morecambe) have been measured against a baseline sometime in 2005, and by March 2009 these had risen by between 10% and 57%, an average of 28% (6.2% per annum), i.e., the number of adults cycling for at least 30 minutes once or more per month rose from 11.8% of the population to 15.1%. Those who cycled for at least 30 minutes 12 times or more per month rose from 2.6% to 3.5%, an increase of 37%. Automated cycle counters are being used, including on off-road routes, but other counts are being held on just one single day, and survey points are rather odd in some places, being determined by the route of a river.
Schemes have been developed by the towns themselves, not by Cycling England, who encouraged them to look at facilities in continental Europe, where far more space is allocated to cyclists, most importantly with priority at junctions. Cycling England also asked them to look at who could be motivated to cycle and how. The target is non-cyclists (not cycle campaigners!) – how can people who don’t cycle be persuaded to start pedalling? There’s a stark division between those who insist on their right to ride on the roads and those who feel totally unsafe on the roads and want off-road provision at all points – but will they change their attitude once they are cycling regularly? Many people are hostile to cycle facilities because so many are of such poor quality and badly maintained, with broken glass, for instance, not being cleared; others may be good quality but lack lighting (Cycling England are trying out movement detectors for lights, among other initiatives).
In many towns (such as Bristol and Worcester) cyclists and pedestrians are almost invisible. Why? The government never tried to stop the decline in cycling in the 1950s and 1960s, when cars began to take over. In the 1950s the Labour Party was opposed to cycling in Cambridge (some would say, what’s changed?). The CTC even campaigned against cycle routes in the 1960s. Was it because of the identification of cycling with backwardness, class linkages, poverty? Or because we had North Sea oil? At that time the government was very keen to promote the huge motor industry (whatever happened to that?). Countries like Denmark never had a car industry; nowadays most drivers there are also cyclists, and treat fellow cyclists well, whereas even in Cambridge, with all its cyclists, there is much aggression towards them from drivers. Most British traffic engineers still think their job is to deal with congestion and to keep motorised traffic moving; Cycling England has been running workshops with traffic engineers to open their eyes to the broader picture.
There’s been a dramatic increase in obesity over the last ten years, which now costs as much as congestion, at least in the United States. Obviously getting people out of cars and onto bikes will have huge health benefits, and Cycling England now gets some money from the Department of Health. John Grimshaw feels that leisure cycling is the best way to get non-cyclists onto their bikes, but evidence is needed. He’s also consistently amazed that we don’t just look at Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, for example, and accept that high levels of cycling are a consequence of extensive networks of cycle routes such that you simply don’t have to cycle on heavily trafficked roads. In Münster there are high-quality continuous cycle routes (including around the city’s former moat) and cycling’s modal share has increased from 29.2% to 37.6%, while walking has declined to 15.7% – and a fall in walking is something we should expect here as cycling rates rise. Dutch design guides also require segregated facilities where there are high vehicle flows or fast speeds. Here too we simply have to ensure that would-be cyclists have a choice of routes which they consider safe, starting by giving every town a traffic-free route to demonstrate to the authorities that the public will cycle if only they are given a chance. In Cambridge the genome route (from Shelford to Addenbrooke’s) has raised the profile of cycling and is now used by 800 cyclists a day (and could be widened at little extra cost). Likewise, a new bridge in Lancaster led to cycle crossings of the river increasing from 443 to 1,114 a day. But there are, inevitably, some cock-ups, such as the new cycling bridge in Aylesbury where cycles can’t fit into the lift (this wasn’t deliberate but is still inexcusable).
John Grimshaw asked us what is a good cycle route? There were many different answers: a road, a route from A to B, a route where people feel safe, a continuous route, a red (or other colour) route. Cycling England’s definition for cycling towns is ‘a route which gives sufficient advantage to attract would-be cyclists’, shorter, quicker, pleasanter than a car route – one which makes it clear that cyclists (and pedestrians) are valued travellers in the cycling town, in a modern town and in the 21st century. It can have many different components: lightly trafficked slow-speed roads; short cuts; attractive traffic-free sections through parks and so on, with reasonable priority at junctions, clear provision on main roads, permeability of town centres, convenient parking and clear signage. It was also suggested that cycling needs to be integrated with the rest of the transport system, including parking at stations etc., and that area-wide slow speeds help.
The Cycling Demonstration Town projects are clearly providing value for money – for every £1 spent, there’s been a return of £2.59 through decreased mortality – but it takes a long time for an effective programme to get started, so investment must be sustained over the long term. At the moment Cycling England is only funded until next year (2011), and as a general election is due this year there is some uncertainty about its future. There’s no doubt about the level of interest among local authorities (Cycling Towns phase two attracted 74 bids), but this has to be translated into commitment from central government.
Here in Cambridgeshire the County Council insists on only using images of cyclists wearing helmets, a policy which we deplore and are working to change. John Grimshaw’s photos all showed ordinary cyclists in ordinary clothes and without helmets; according to him, helmets are restricting the promotion of cycling. Most European countries do not insist on cycle helmets. We should be taking our senior councillors to Münster (or indeed Assen, where we have taken some cycling officers and others) so they can see what it is like there.
Edited by Tim Burford from Monica Frisch’s notes taken at the meeting