Government ministers have launched an Active Travel Strategy, aimed at increasing the amount of cycling and walking.
Before you break out the bunting, it says all the usual stuff we know already about how cycling and walking are the key to happy, skinny people and world peace. Unfortunately, having spent all our money on the Iraq War, there's not much left to spend on cycling. And what little there is left for this initiative (£12M) will be spent on cycle training.
Research shows the reason people don't cycle is because of safety concerns. Cycle training is fine, and can make nervous cyclists more confident, but first, you need safe routes for people to cycle. The Active Travel Strategy aims include "Cycle parking at or within easy reach of every public building." In Merton, there is no safe, legal way for me to cycle with my kids to either of the two swimming pools, even though there's plenty of cycle parking at both. It really isn't rocket science! We need to remove the hazards from cycling. We cannot train our way round the problem.
The Active Travel Strategy document gushes on about the progress made in the Cycling Demonstration Towns, in particular Darlington which achieved a 113% increase in cycling modal share. However, you need to dig a little under that headline figure before you conclude that cycling is going to double across the nation thanks to this Strategy.
1. Darlington put in place "infrastructure measures to create a city centre ‘pedestrian heart’ and development of seven radial cycle routes." Where are the infrastructure measures in the national Active Travel Strategy? I found one: "Through Cycling England, DfT is funding 250 safer links to approximately 500 schools". There are about 21,000 schools in England, by the way.
2. Darlington started from a modal share for cycling of 1%. You can't get much lower than that. Even now, it's only 2% (113% of bugger all being not much), which is about the national average, which remember is among the lowest in Europe. You could read the figures another way: it took 3 years of investment to get 1000 more people cycling.
3. Darlington is small and flat. It's only 4 miles across. Why anyone who lives there has a car is a bit beyond me.
Now, I've not seen or ridden the Darlington 'radial routes' so I don't know how good they are. If they're any good, maybe more people in Darlington will 'get it'. But on the other hand, the 113% increase in modal share in terms of the number of people actually cycling is so low, it could be down to the Hawthorne effect.
I've seen too much of this. Central government write a lot of words, and give a small amount of money to a variety of charities who don't have the authority to do anything in terms of infrastructure. Building cycle routes fails at the planning stage, because if you move just one parking space, residents and businesses are up in arms and councils usually cave in. Because the charities cannot build cycle routes, the money gets spent on bike racks, training, marketing, promotional leaflets: anything but the infrastructure that's necessary for long-term change. The Government need to quit writing strategies and start mandating Councils to achieve an increase in modal share for cycling. They need to give them the authority to build proper cycle routes for cyclists, rather than for the convenience of motorists.
Well, guess what, a few people seem to agree with me - take a look at this .