Get Britain Cycling: Health benefits of cycling

Chris Boardman makes recommendations on schools and infrastructure

The fourth session of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry heard about the health benefits of cycling, and how the success of British cycling in 2012 can be used as a platform to inspire more people to get on their bikes. 

The main thrust of the evidence was that getting more people cycling will tackle health problems such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It would also reduce car use and ease the pressure on public transport systems. 

More cycling would lead to a healthier population, lower carbon monoxide emissions, less noise, slower depletion of fossil fuels and less expensive investment in roads and railways. Cycling is good. We heard from Dr Adrian Davis, a public health and transport expert, that every £1 spent on cycling initiatives could produce a £4 saving to the NHS. 

The inquiry also considered how local authorities might be able to make the most of taking over responsibility for public health from the NHS from April 2013. As the budget for public health is ring-fenced, this presents a big opportunity for local government to take the lead in developing cycling around the UK, through education and training, community initiatives and infrastructure improvements as a means of looking after public health. 

Several speakers expressed well-founded optimism that the new regime will bring about a more joined-up approach, binding cycling with the promotion of health and wellbeing. 

The inquiry considered how to incorporate cycling and better cycle training into the school timetable. One possibility is to make it a requirement for schools to purchase bicycles, to offer cycling as an option in PE lessons. 

Cycling, like swimming, the inquiry was told, is a life skill with which all children should be equipped. As the cliché confirms, once learned it is never forgotten. While many primary schools offer some cycle training, it’s still rare in secondary schools, and opportunities are being lost to teach children how to ride safely. 

As for cycling to school, the inquiry’s star witness, Chris Boardman, said his children were told that they couldn’t cycle to school because “what would happen if everyone started doing it?”. Clearly a change in attitude is needed, as well as sufficient cycle parking spaces in schools.

Mark Brown of the Cycle to Work Alliance took MPs by surprise by announcing that not all government departments have signed up to the government-sponsored Cycle to Work scheme. Members of the group requested more details and said they would ensure that this situation is rectified. Let’s hope they get results. 

Chris Boardman illustrated a textbook deterrent to cyclists, which is a typical example of the inadequacy of cycle tracks on the roads. He described a route where the cycle lane disappeared, required the cyclist to dismount, cross a dual carriageway and rejoin the road at a point where there was no cycle path.  

He described the inquiry as a “watershed moment” and said that, in terms of capitalising on Britain’s 2012 success, we have a window of opportunity but a finite time to get something done. He spoke of three factors necessary to achieve Get Britain Cycling’s objectives: clarity of vision, measurable, tangible goals, and the funding to do it. 

Attending the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry sessions is a comforting experience. Speakers are pleasingly united in their desire to support cyclists across the UK, and to address the fundamental problems that put cyclists at risk on our roads. 

The only slightly dissenting view tends to come from Oliver Colvile MP,  the token non-cyclist in the group, who doesn’t cycle for fear of being squashed under a bus and doesn’t see why people can’t get the requisite weekly exercise by playing a nice game of cricket.

For Simon Edwards' take on the previous session of the inquiry, see Get Britain Cycling: Justice system is failing cyclists

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

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