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The Lords debate cycling... and it doesn't descend into abuse!

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Normally, each time the House of Lords holds a short debate on cycling, up get a troop of seasoned peers to condemn the behaviour of cyclists. But yesterday's debate was refreshingly light on anti-cyclist drivel and strong on good policy.
Lord Berkeley is Secretary to the APPCG and Vice-President of CTC
Lord Berkeley is Secretary to the APPCG and Vice-President of CTC

The debate was triggered by a question tabled by Lord Berkeley, the Secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and a Vice-President of CTC, who'd asked us for ideas for a question.

We'd suggested the topic of Highways Agency (HA) funding because this represented one of the key calls from the Times's campaign, and because this is one area where the Government have a direct effect: they set the budget and direction for the HA.

We're also greatly concerned about the substantially higher risks endured by cyclists using major roads, such as those the HA control. In 2011, for instance, 170 cyclists were killed per billion kilometres cycled on rural A-roads, such as those the HA run. By contrast, 8 cyclists were killed per billion kms cycled on minor urban roads (lower than the average rate of death in the Netherlands).

The answer came back that there was a "small improvements fund" of £50m in the HA, some of which is spent on cycling. The spokesperson for the Government couldn't give an exact figure, but we know that this year some money has been dedicated to a special fund to tackle the worst junctions, including some of those recommended to the Times by cyclists earlier in the year. 

The bicycle could be accurately described as a green car that can run on tap water and tea cakes and has a built-in gym"

Lord Taverne

The questions for such debates are posed in advance, a Government response is made, then Peers can make follow-up queries. However, on many previous occasions where cycling has been discussed in the Lords, an initially sensible question has been hijacked to introduce other strange ideas.

Sometimes the Lords simply engages in a bit of cyclist-bashing, although usually one or two pedalling Peers stick up for us. Last year, for instance, a debate on 'cycling on the pavement' ended up with the Lord Sugar's suggestion that cyclists carry identity papers. 

Lord Berkeley discussed the importance of segregation - on HA roads the only solution is fully segregated cycling facilities, while Lord Taverne issued a paean to the bicycle. 

There were a few negative grumbles about cycling on pavements and not wearing high-vis - but far fewer than usual. What was really reassuring was the contribution of three other peers. Baroness Gardner of Parkes raised the issue of under-running bars on heavy goods vehicles.

Why do the Government not take up the programme that the Times has launched, "Cities fit for cycling", in which it says that in order to get dedicated cycle lanes and improve our safety record we need £100 million a year spent on cycling?"

Lord Davies of Oldham

Lord Davies of Oldham was the previous Government's transport spokesman at one point, and has, from the Despatch Box, answered many such questions in his time. He latched onto the Times's call for 2% of the HA budget to go to cycling, amounting to £100m for segregated cycle routes along the busiest roads in the country.

Finally, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall raised the issue of the need for better awareness of cyclists in the driving test - a crucial issue that CTC has long called for.

In all cases the Government spokesperson, Earl Attlee, played the usual defensive manoeuvres, remaining polite and accommodating, but offering nothing concrete.

All this is useful pressure, even though it doesn't add much in policy terms. But the very fact that a debate on cycling in the House of Lords ended with positive, useful points and not just jabbering about bad cycling illustrates the shift in political and social attitudes towards cycling which has taken place in 2012, not least due to the Times's campaign.

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