The UK's Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, announced a £140m (£110m in new funding) three-year plan to develop cycling in England.
The fund aims to "help half a million children cycle safely and a generation of adults rediscover their bikes," say the Department of Transport. In getting more people on bikes, the Government hopes to tackle both road congestion and childhood obesity.
The money will be given to Cycling England, a Governmental body launched in 2005 to promote cycling in the country. The body already receives £10m per year in funding, but it will get an additional £110m over the next three years provided by both the Department of Transport and of Health. That will be broadly split in three ways:
- To allow 500,000 10 year-olds to take part in Bikeability cycle training by 2012, teach them to ride safely and responsibly.
- Build another 250 Safe Links to Schools, connecting around 500 more schools to the National Cycle Network. Many schools with links have already doubled the number of pupils cycling to school.
- Create up to a further ten 'Cycling Demonstration Towns' in England, as well as the first large Demonstration City. Currently, there are six towns that demonstrate 'best practice and promotion of cycling': Aylesbury, Brighton, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster with Morecombe.
"The results of both Bikeability and Cycle Demonstration Towns are hugely impressive and prove that by providing the right facilities and support more people are willing to get on their bikes," said Ruth Kelly. "For example, Darlington has quadrupled the proportion of children cycling to school. Aylesbury has also seen a five-fold increase in residents using a bike as one of their two main means of transport in the last two years. That is why think it is right to expand this project so we encourage healthier lifestyles and more sustainable communities."
The Department of Health's Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, said that the plan would have "a positive impact on the health and well-being of children and young people across the country." The Department of Children, Schools and Families and the London Cycling Campaign have also praised the plans.
A drop in the ocean
While the funding has been greeted with enthusiasm by many involved with cycling, it's still dwarfed by England's annual road budget of £6.6billion.
Cycling Plus editor Rob Spedding told BikeRadar, "It’s a start and any investment in cycling has to be applauded. But it's about time. When you consider that the Government spends billions every year on the roads - ostensibly for the benefit of drivers - then £140m is a drop in the ocean.
"I do think that before cash is spent getting kids ready to ride on roads, some funds should be used to better educate drivers about the correct way to drive around cyclists."
The announcement comes days after the news that part of the popular Bristol-Bath cycle path could be turned into a bus lane, which has been met with a strong negative reaction from the local cycling community.