UK government promises cycle training for every child, Sustrans says infrastructure must follow

Government promises 400,000 more Bikeability places every year, plus further investment

Portrait Of High School Student Wearing Uniform With Bicycle Outside School Buildings

The UK Department for Transport has today announced a major expansion of the Bikeability scheme, promising that every child in England will be given the opportunity to undertake cycle training.

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Bikeability is the modern incarnation of the old Cycling Proficiency Test. It’s a programme that teaches basic cycling skills, including how to ride safely in traffic.

The Government has committed to offering an additional 400,000 places on the scheme each year as part of its efforts to increase cycling and walking, saying that the expected spend in these areas, which it refers to as “active travel”, will double to £2.4 billion in the period from 2016 to 2021.

According to a DfT press release, more than 80 per cent of children aged between eight and 10 years old own a bike and more than three million children have taken part in Bikeability since it launched in 2006.

The release quotes Cycling and Walking Minister Chris Heaton-Harris as saying “cycling is a fun and enjoyable way for children to get to school, the shops or see their friends. It is also environmentally friendly and has a positive impact on their mental and physical health.

“Extending Bikeability training will inspire the next generation to take to the roads as confident and proficient cyclists and will play an important role in helping us meet our net-zero emission targets”.

Along with the specific Bikeability pledge, the Government has promised to invest an additional £20 million in the Access Fund, which local authorities draw on to fund projects that encourage cycling and walking.

A further £1 million is earmarked for the Big Bike Revival, which targets reluctant cyclists, while a final £1 million will go towards Walk to School programmes offered by Cycling UK and Living Streets.

Cycling charity Sustrans has issued its own press release in response to the Government’s announcement. CEO Xavier Brice is quoted as saying the following:

“We welcome the intention to extend Bikeability training to all school children.

“Walking and cycling for shorter journeys provide great health and environmental benefits. And with road transport now accounting for 27 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, making them easier and accessible to more people is one of the best ways to reach our carbon-zero targets.

“The high percentage of Transforming Cities Fund being spent on walking and cycling show that many city leaders have the ambition to make it more convenient for us to walk and cycle. The public is supportive of those plans.

“Bike Life, the UK’s largest assessment of cycling in seven cities shows 75 per cent of residents would like to see more money spent on cycling infrastructure. And the government’s own recently published National Travel Survey shows that three-quarters of the population think we should drive less.

“We are looking forward to seeing a long-term, serious investment plan in next month’s budget that will enable cities and towns to deliver high-quality infrastructure so that more people across the UK can do what they want – make everyday journeys safely and easily on foot or by cycle.”

Brice hints at a key point here; more cycle training can only be a good thing, but on its own, it isn’t enough. Real investment in the infrastructure that makes cycling appealing to the general public is arguably more important.

Given the right conditions, it seems likely that many more people would be willing to cycle for utility purposes day-to-day, but there are numerous obstacles to that becoming a reality.

For bikes to replace cars, people who aren’t enthusiasts need to be convinced that cycling is a safe and practical alternative to driving.

That means thoughtfully designed roads, provision for secure bike storage in public places, and a whole lot more.

What about Wales and Scotland?

It won’t have escaped your notice that we’ve only mentioned England here. That’s because transport and education powers in Wales and Scotland are devolved.

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There’s information on the Welsh government’s efforts to encourage cycling here, while Transport Scotland has its own active travel page here.