Sunday, May 5, 2013

Get Britain Cycling: Branson Pickles for Cameron?

The ‘Get Britain Cycling’ Inquiry has published its report. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) inquiry heard from many experts, and the report has generally been well-received in the cycling blogosphere. Cyclists in the City described it as "massively impressive work".

Celebrities such as Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson have been endorsing it,  and you can too. You don't have to have a business empire or a title, and you don't have to have to go through a 12-week job interview consisting of contrived tasks at the end of each someone gets melodramatically fired - just sign the online petition, and make sure your friends and family do. Nearly 52,000 people have done so at the time of writing. Hurry now - don't be disappointed!

If only fixing cycling were as simple as writing a report or signing a petition. People have been doing both those things for decades and all we've got to show for it is, well, lots of reports and petitions.

Could things be different this time? Cameron said at Pee Em Queues: “The report has many good points...We should be doing much more in our country to encourage cycling...I hope local authorities can follow [London Mayor Johnson's] lead and do more."

Hmm. Cameron clearly hasn't read the report very thoroughly, because it says

"the Government needs to set out an action plan for more and safer cycling with support from the Prime Minister down."

Yes, the Government - your government, Mr Cameron. And 'Prime Minister' means you. As this blog has pointed out several times in the past, the fact that responsibility for cycling is split between too many different organizations with no strong central vision or leadership is in many ways the most serious obstacle in the way of progress on cycling. Just pushing the responsibility onto local authorities - the same local authorities, presumably, that are implementing massive cuts and have no spare cash for cycle infrastructure - is going to achieve nothing. Local authorities don't have the political will. Local politics is dominated by parochial concerns such as parking and dog poo. There are few votes in cycling at a local level, and lots of political risks associated with allocating roadspace away from precious parking spaces and unrestricted car use.

Cameron's problem, perhaps, is that his party is split between the more enlightened elements, who 'get' cycling, such as Boris Johnson and Sarah Wollaston, and the reactionary wing who never really bought into Cameron's green agenda (such as it is) and cling to the outmoded 70's ideas of roads being exclusively for cars and bicycles a reluctantly-tolerated obstacle to the motorist rather than a transport option. Eric Pickles, for instance, never misses a chance to promote more parking and the 'war on the motorist' agenda.

There are, however, widely-reported plans that the Government is about to launch an 'Office for Active Travel', with a substantial £1bn budget. The announcement could coincide with the next spending round at the end of June. Of course, such a body would need to have significant powers to make things happen in different deparments (including Pickles' Communities and Local Government) and at different levels, from the DfT to TfL to local councils.

So, will Branson or Pickles win the day? Will Cameron get his OAT?

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