Get Britain Cycling: Calls for top-down political leadership

Why investment in cycling infrastructure is crucial

On Monday, the final session for the Get Britain Cycling inquiry heard from two of the government ministers who should be at the forefront of cycling promotion. Transport minister Norman Baker, who described himself as cycling minister for the purposes of the investigation, and under secretary of state for transport Stephen Hammond were the last to speak, and I’m afraid I was underwhelmed by what they said. 

The inquiry has been notable for the degree to which it's been a meeting of like-minded people who broadly agree on everything. However, while the unanimous endorsement of the benefits to be gained by getting more people cycling more often is a good start, it needs some degree of political and financial support. That, ultimately, could be where the laudable objectives of Get Britain Cycling fall down. 

The two MPs made the right noises but essentially committed themselves to nothing at all. They told us how much money has recently been promised, and spoke of the need to see the number of people participating in cycling going up and the number of casualties going down. 

In response to a question from the chair they confirmed that, when the inquiry’s report is published in April, they will take its recommendations seriously. The trouble is that the passion and commitment shown by almost all the other witnesses was notably absent in Mr Baker and Mr Hammond’s responses.   

We have to hope they will pay more than lip service to the recommendations that will come out of the inquiry, which I’m sure will include some of the fresh and interesting ideas that have come out of the panel sessions. 

These include inexpensive measures, such as making cycling part of school sports, making it a legal requirement for cycling infrastructure to be taken into account in all planning decisions, putting cycle safety at the heart of driver education and reducing speed limits in urban and rural areas. There are also those additional recommendations that will require significant investment.

Unfortunately, without investment in infrastructure, the other measures are unlikely to have a significant impact. Parents won’t let their children cycle to school if they have to share the roads with cars and lorries, and the average casual cyclist won’t jump on a bike for short journeys unless they feel safe doing so. There have to be dedicated, safe cycle paths in towns and in the countryside if we’re to see a significant increase in bikes being used to get from A to B. 

It’s repeatedly been said that leadership is required from the top of politics. London mayor Boris Johnson seems to have taken this to heart and be determined to play a part in getting the UK capital cycling. But we haven’t yet seen the same personal commitment from anyone in central government. As Jon Snow pointed out yesterday, “the politician that takes leadership on cycling and really revolutionises it will leave a legacy for generations”.    

For Simon Edwards' take on the previous session of the inquiry, see Get Britain Cycling: Improving road conditions

Prolegal are a team of bike solicitors who specialise in representing victims of serious cycling injuries.

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