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CTC in 3-day talks on delivering PM's "Cycling Revolution"

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CTC has had 3 days of discussions with the Department for Transport's cycling policy team about what both they and we hope will be a genuinely "ambitious" Cycling Delivery Plan. But we face clear challenges too.
CTC has had three days of discussions with DfT
CTC has had three days of discussions with DfT

Earlier this week (on October 21st to 23rd), CTC hosted 3 days of talks with members of the Department for Transport's cycling policy team at CTC's national office.

These mainly focused on our aspirations for what should be included in the Government's forthcoming 'Cycling Delivery Plan', which will outline how David Cameron's promised 'Cycling Revolution' is to be achieved.

The good news is that the officials are genuinely keen to deliver a really ambitious Plan - indeed the word 'ambition' was repeatedly emphasised. They also talked with real conviction about the need to make cycling a normal activity, for people of ages, backgrounds and abilities: male and female, young and old alike.  They were  hugely enthusiastic about CTC's projects to increase the diversity of cycling, reaching out to women and to disadvantaged groups and communities.

They also assured us that Robert Goodwill MP, the new minister for cycling, is very keen on the cycling brief, as someone who regularly cycles to work in London and for longer distance rides around his Scarborough & Whitby constituency. 

However our discussions also flagged up five key areas of challenge, both for them and for us as campaigners for more and safer cycling.

Consistent high-standards of cycle-friendly planning and design

The Prime Minister's announcement of ambition to launch a "cycling revolution" was backed up with a statement outlining the idea of 'cycle-proofing'.  This was intended as an answer to calls in the report of the parliamentary 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry, for high-quality cycling provision to be included in all highway and traffic schemes, including new developments.  Ministers have specifically tasked the Highways Agency with ensuring that all new work on the strategic network (trunk roads and motorways, including their junctions and crossings) is "cycle-proofed", and has encouraged local authorities to do likewise.  However, questions still remain:

  • Will the Government adopt new design standards to reflect continental best practice, together with changes to traffic regulations to ensure that cycle tracks can be given the same level of priority and safety at junctions as they have in countries like the Netherlands?
  • How will Government ensure that high standards are consistently adhered to?
  • What professional training (or retraining) will be provided to help traffic planners and engineers to think bike, particularly those who never received training on this through their earlier professional qualifications?
  • What changes are needed to traffic models and audit processes to enable and ensure that engineers "think bike" constructively in all schemes, rather than using these as reasons to omit cycling provision?

CTC has also suggested that "cycle-proofing" needs to extend to planned road maintenance work. If you are resurfacing a road, this is a highly cost-effective opportunity to redesign it to be more cycle-friendly. That's how New York's Department of Transport introduced several of its recent high-quality segregated cycle routes, and Plymouth City Council is one authority which is also looking to maximise the synergies between its cycling and planned road maintenance work programmes.  We believe all councils should be encouraged to maximise this very cost-effective approach to improving cycling provision.

Safety for cyclists

In addition to quality cycle provision, we also talked about the need to promote cycle-friendly attitudes and awareness among drivers, to back this up with strengthened road traffic law and its enforcement, and to tackle the threats posed by lorries.

There are several timely opportunities to influence driver attitudes and behaviour. The Government is due to publish a Green Paper on the training and testing of learner drivers shortly. CTC believes not only that cycle awareness needs to feature more strongly, but also that cycle training has an integral role to play in improving road skills amongst teenagers who may be thinking about learning to drive.

There are also consultations due out in 2014 and 2015 on the prosecution and sentencing of bad driving offences. CTC and its partners in the Road Justice campaign will be arguing for far greater clarity about the legal distinction between "careless" and "dangerous" driving, and for much greater use of driving bans for drivers who may not be dangerous people but have nonetheless driven in a way which clearly caused real danger.

Finally we made it very clear that action must be taken to reduce the unacceptable death-toll caused by lorries, particularly in London.  The Government needs to back up what Transport for London is already doing to ensure that lorries are equipped with mirrors, sensors and cameras, that drivers receive cycle-awareness training (and preferably, actual cycle training) and that new lorries are designed to be cycle-friendly.  Above all though, action is needed to reduce the numbers of lorries on busy roads at busy times.

Positive promotion

DfT's cycling team clearly "gets it" on the need to promote cycling as a normal activity for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.  The challenge now is to ensure that other departments play their part too.  In particular, Michael Gove's education department has been notably reluctant to contribute to the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, or the Government's response to it, and cancelled a key survey of how young people travel to school.  This is leading to a post-code lottery in the provision of Bikeability cycle training, with some councils and schools embracing it enthusiastically, while others still reject it as "dangerous".  The Department for Education really needs to get on board with ensuring that Bikeability training is available to all pupils, of primary and secondary schools alike.

The Government departments for business (BIS), for health (DH), for culture, media and sport (DCMS) and for rural affairs (DEFRA) also have roles to play in promoting cycling in workplaces, for health patients and for under-represented groups, including for recreation and tourism as well as day-to-day cycling.

Measuring success

The "Get Britain Cycling" report called for targets to increase cycle use from below 2% of trips today, to 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2050.  Unfortunately, "target" is a dirty word in Government these days! However road safety experts have widely criticised the Government for its withdrawal of road safety targets, saying that local authority officers responsible for road safety now find it harder to argue for the resources they need.  Targets are a crucial signal of what the Government really regards as important.

However the form of these targets also matters, particularly for measuring progress on improving cycle safety.  Targets or indicators need to be "rate-based", i.e. you need to measure the risk of a (fatal or serious) cyclist casualty per mile or per trip cycled, not simply the numbers of casualties.  Otherwise, you constantly end up with bad headlines when cycle casualty numbers increase, even if cycle safety has in fact improved, thanks to a much higher increase in cycle use.

Finding the funding

Perhaps the most important recommendation in the Get Britain Cycling report was the call for spending on cycling to increase to at least £10 per person annually, rising to £20 per person as cycle use grows. We emphasised to DfT's officials that you cannot expect to produce an ambitious Cycling Delivery Plan without ambitous levels of funding to deliver it.

As for the evidence needed to justify this level of spending to the Treasury, we said that there is already masses of evidence of the sheer scale of the economic value of cycling's overwhelming health, environmental, congestion-busting and quality of life benefits, for urban and rural areas alike.  The Government is ploughing vast sums into road schemes and the HS2 rail link on far flimsier economic evidence.  Why is the cycling lobby always packed off to provide yet more evidence to justify investment in such an incredibly cost-effective solution to so many of society's challenges!

* * *

I am much heartened by the willingness of the DfT's cycling team to spend 3 days with us discussing what needs doing, the obstacles that might lie in the way, and how these might be overcome.  We will ultimately judge the Cycling Delivery Plan by whether it properly addresses the above issues. However we are also very keen to help them develop the cycle-friendly design standards, and to secure the funding and other commitments from Ministers, from colleagues and ministers elsewhere in Government and other bodies. DfT's cycle policy team clearly shares our aspirations for a genuinely ambitious Cycling Delivery Plan.  May the positive dialogue continue!

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