Wednesday 24 April was a big day for the UK’s cycling future. The Get Britain Cycling report could be the blueprint that makes the nation healthier, wealthier and a fundamentally more pleasant place to live
Gathered in one highly credible document, based on evidence from more than 100 experts and cycling advocates are 18 logical and achievable recommendations that will make cycling safer, more accessible and more enjoyable for everyone who rides now and hopefully will ride a bike in future.
It called for a tenfold increase in funding to £20 a head, political leadership cutting across Government departments, action on lorry danger, cycle training for all children and prioritising cycling provisions in all planning schemes.
The report and most of its findings was welcomed by campaign groups of all persuasions, from motorist organisation The AA to Sustrans and British Cycling.
They welcomed its bold ambition, its reasonableness and its affordability.
So now the next phase begins – to make sure this blueprint stays near the top of the political agenda and that Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and other senior cabinet members put cycling first.
To use one of the report’s favoured phrases, they need to be made to Think Bike.
Cameron et al need to publicly pledge to protect and serve cyclists’ needs in the same way past governments have protected and served motorists’ interests.
Yesterday was a good start. Cameron was forced to publicly acknowledge and commend the Get Britain Cycling Campaign’s report in Prime Minister’s Questions. Parliamentary Under Secretary for Transport Stephen Hammond announced a working group to prevent cyclists being killed under lorries.
There are threats, though. The Government’s austerity policy will always represent a threat to funding for cycling, a mode of transport accounting for a tiny fraction of the country’s daily journeys – just two per cent. The political groups and lobbyists could let the issue slip off the agenda, though given the enthusiasm in the room yesterday and the work already done, that seems unlikely.
As CTC’s Campaigns and Policy Director, Roger Geffen pointed out, though the transport minister Norman Baker is a knowledgeable and passionate cycling advocate, he is a junior minister in the junior coalition party. His influence extends only so far and he needs more influential backing, though he has already set up a series of cross government groups that tie in the Department for Health and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
There’s a big test coming up. In June, there’s another spending round. Can cycling’s position be maintained as other, bigger, pressures on public investment – health, education, welfare – lumber up to protect their share of a diminishing pot of money?
Beyond that, the next UK general election will be the moment we really see if Think Bike has been inculcated at the heart of Government. The dream scenario would be mainstream political parties making meaningful manifesto pledges to secure the cyclist’s vote. That will be the real test.