UK election is chance to vote for better cycling

Will manifesto promises result in an improved world for bikers?

If you live in the UK and get the opportunity to corner a politician in the run-up to the general election on 6 May, try asking them what they would do to put cycling higher up on the political agenda.

Regardless of whether you ride your bike on or off-road (and most of us do both), a greater awareness of cycling and its benefits can only make the world a better place.

UK cyclists' organisation CTC have launched a pre-election Vote Bike campaign, pushing for cross-party support in the new parliament for a strong cycling action plan.

If you’re not sure how to go about pushing for better facilities yourself, go to the CTC website and use the Vote Bike online campaigning tool to mail your prospective parliamentary candidates and try to get them to support the Vote Bike Manifesto, which calls for the following:

  • A commitment to cycling from government departments, local authorities, health and other relevant bodies, to contribute to a national doubling of cycle trips while halving the risks within 10 years.
  • Cycling-friendly planning and design by local authorities and developers. Practitioners need the training, skills, assessment tools and political support to deliver quality cycling conditions throughout the road network.
  • Safe drivers and vehicles to tackle the threats of lorries, speeding and irresponsible driving, through training and awareness campaigns for both drivers and cyclists, backed by lower speed limits (eg. 20mph for most urban streets) and stronger, better enforced road traffic law.
  • Better provision for combining cycling with public transport by ensuring good access to stations and interchanges, secure parking (including ‘cycle hubs’ at major stations) and sensibly managed provision for carrying cycles on public transport.
  • Encouragement, incentives and opportunities to try out cycling in schools and workplaces, and for key target groups (eg. health patients and disadvantaged groups), plus tax incentives to support the use, purchase and repair of cycles and related accessories.
  • More and better opportunities for recreational and off-road cycling including the appropriate opening up of green spaces, forests, rights of way, waterways and sections of the UK’s coast.

CTC communications officer Victoria Hazael says: “Vote Bike is aiming to promote strong cycling messages to all candidates, some of whom will become MPs and vote on bike-related issues in the next parliament. Even those who don’t win a seat in parliament are important, as they tend to also be local councillors or have connections in local politics.”

Some MPs who ride bikes belong to the All Party parliamentary Cycling Group. The CTC’s Adam Coffman co-ordinates this group, and says: “It’s vital we know which MPs and peers support cycling, so that we can assist them with the information and research they need to effectively make the case for cycling in parliament.”

Find out if your local candidates support cycling by contacting them via the CTC’s Vote Bike campaign. The site shows how they respond and what comments they make, and the CTC have already had formal statements from most of the main parties. This is what they say:

Labour

“The Labour government introduced Bikeability [the training scheme dubbed 'Cycling Proficiency for the 21st century'] and the Cycling Towns programme … the results show a 27 percent increase in cycling.

“The current Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, has pursued several cycle-friendly policies since he took office, including new investments in cycle-rail interchanges and the Cycle to Work Guarantee – a scheme for major employers committing them to encourage commuter cycling, including a commitment to implement the Cycle to Work tax incentive scheme, perhaps the single most useful long-term policy in support of cycling to have emerged from this government.

“At a recent event hosted by the All Party Campaign for Better Transport, Lord Adonis said: ‘To be honest, our record on cycling in the past has been mixed, at best. But I’m determined cycling should be at the heart of all our efforts to put local transport on a more sustainable footing. I have also placed particular emphasis on the importance of cycling – not as an occasional travel option, but as a mainstream form of transport.’”

Conservatives

“Encouraging cycling will be an important priority for a future Conservative government, as it already is for the Conservative administration in London. We recognise the benefits cycling can bring for tackling congestion, reducing emissions and improving public health.

“Conservatives want to change the culture of highways planning to push the concerns of cyclists up the agenda of the professionals who manage our roads. By encouraging Department of Transport officials to ‘think cyclist’ we would aim to create a culture that would permeate down to officials and councillors who are responsible for managing roads locally. Our goal would be to make cycling a safer and more attractive transport option.

“To boost the take-up of low carbon travel, a Conservative government would also change the way transport schemes are appraised. We would reform the current model NATA, which is the Department of Transport’s cost benefit analysis for appraising the value of transport projects, in order that it reflects the benefits of low carbon schemes like cycling. And we would introduce a moratorium on building on any disused rail lines still in public ownership. This will keep open the possibility of reopening them for cycle use in the future.

“Not only will we encourage officials to prioritise cycling, but we will also reform the much-criticised Transport Innovation Fund. These funds would then be available to create a Transport Carbon Reduction Fund to support sustainable travel. Local authorities will be able to use the funds to encourage the development of new green transport schemes such as cycle routes and corridors.”

Liberal Democrats

“The Liberal Democrats will promote a transport hierarchy, with the least polluting forms – walking and cycling – at the top, working down to the most polluting at the bottom. We will then look to invest in the most environmentally friendly forms, whenever possible."

Specific plans for cycling include:

  • Working with boroughs to develop a cycle recycling scheme so that more people to have access to bikes.
  • Introducing legislation requiring new office blocks and other major places of employment to have proper facilities for cycling, including parking and changing facilities
  • Promoting the expansion of the National Cycle Network, particularly off-road routes as research shows that cycle routes separated from roads have far higher use levels than those which form part of roads.
  • Ensuring cycling is built into all local transport plans and signage for cyclists is improved.
  • Improving facilities for parking and cycle storage at stations.
  • Introducing a cycling ‘Gold Standard’ award for rail and bus stations meeting minimum cycle facility standards, including adequate provision of secure parking and information on local cycle routes.
  • Improving road safety, road quality and reducing traffic levels to make cycling easier, safer and more accessible to all.
  • Promoting cycling competency schemes.
  • Supporting the adoption of large scale bicycle rental programmes.
  • Making 20mph the default, but not the mandatory, speed limit in residential areas. Introducing variable speed limits near schools.
  • Improving road safety by lowering the drink driving limit from 80mg of alchohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg, in line with many other European countries.

Green Party

“On average, a bicycle moves only 2mph slower than a car through the streets of London. Since 2000, Greens on the London Assembly have tripled the money available for supporting cyclists and walkers from £21 million to £63m. To make cycling safer, the Green Party wants a 20mph limit throughout built up areas, including villages. This would reduce the need for specific traffic calming measures everywhere.

“To promote cycling, the Green Party recognises we need to reduce the need to travel long distances for work, leisure and shopping. We need to improve road conditions to make them safe and convenient, and bicyclists need more road space.

“We would push all large employers and organisations to have space for bicycles and belongings that are safe, secure and dry. This should also apply to council and private housing. Elected Green MPs will encourage government tax relief for work-related cycling, on a scale no less generous than car allowances.

“Finally, all rail stations should have secure high quality cycle parking provision, with new rolling stock designed to easily carry bicycles, as demand rises.”

For more responses from Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, take a look at the CTC website.

Summary

Conservative Green Labour Lib Dem
Better quality cycling conditions and facilities Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tackling bad driving and lowering speed limits (20mph on most urban streets) No Yes Yes, where appropriate Yes
Cycle storage and training at all schools Yes Yes Yes - we support Bikeability Yes
Better access for cyclists to stations (secure cycle parking) and onboard trains Yes Yes Yes Yes
Opening up green spaces to cyclists (including access to coastal paths) No Yes - on a case by case proposal with consultation with local residents No comment Maybe - wherever practical

(source: CTC magazine, April/May 2010)

The general election takes place on 6 May in all UK constituencies. A total of 650 seats will be contested, up from 646 in 2005. Voting will take place between 7am and 10pm. The Labour Party, headed by Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, are looking to secure a fourth consecutive term in office.

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