The truth is out there
The only government money provided for cycling has gone to sport, commented Cycling UK’s website recently, but in the recent budget no direct money was announced to make the roads safer for cyclists.
They were referring to the £24m funding to Yorkshire to host the 2019 World Championships. There is no suggestion that money should have gone instead to a cycling strategy. The sport is welcome to their £24m, which reflects Britain’s new standing in the world of international cycling. It’s a tidy sum for the World’s organisation to play with, but the fact is, you wouldn’t get much of a cycle lane out of it!
To fund a decent cycling policy for the UK needs at least £500m per annum. That’s what is being asked for. It may sound a lot to you and me but it is only fraction of the £multi Billion transport budget.
But the point Cycling UK were making was that once again, cycling gets no direct funding within the Chancellor’s pledge of £1.1bn to upgrade local roads. They sounded surprised!
Surely, they must know the government’s game by now. They must know the TRUTH.
Transport is all about cars. Cars win every time. Trains have recently started to get a look-in with increased investment. But cycling has to fight for road space, and here and there is given a bit of cycle lane to go and ride in.
Instead, hard-working campaigners win our admiration for continuing to build and reinforce the excellent economic case for investment in cycling. Sadly, they are going round and round in circles. They hope that common sense will one day prevail and Britain will get a cycling infrastructure to match the excellent Dutch system.
Pigs might also learn to ride bikes.
The campaigners surely know the bitter truth. And yet they always feign surprise when cycling is almost completely ignored in each and every budget.
I don’t pretend to know how to change this. But I do feel that a start could be made by coming clean and telling the growing cycling population how the odds have always been stacked against a half-decent cycling policy ever getting off the ground in the UK.
Everyone needs to brush up on their UK transport history.
The current campaign of urging MPs and councillors to back cycling is a waste of time. It will only ever go so far and nowhere near far enough in bringing about the integrated transport system this country lacks.
This is largely because Britain has adopted a car-based policy to allow people the freedom to drive everywhere at any time. So the very idea of promoting cycling to reduce car dependency is alien to the ideology which under pins transport thinking.
To delve into the transport history you can do no better than read Christian Wolmar’s recently published book “Are Trams Socialist…Why Britain has no transport policy” (reviewed in my blog May 26 this year).
In this he quotes Nicholas Ridley MP as saying:
“The private motorist wants the chance to live a life that gives him (sic) a new dimension of freedom – freedom to go where he wants when he wants and for as long as he wants.”
This was the attitude, reinforced by a powerful motoring and roads construction lobby, which underpinned transport ideology, and still does.
Wolmar tells how, only a few decades ago, in order that people should be able to drive everywhere they want to, there were plans to transform our cities with inner urban motorways until it was realised that by doing this, whole city centres would have to be destroyed and rebuilt. Besides, there could never be enough parking provided for those who wished to stop and view the desolation. The one city centre they managed to wreck was Plymouth.
So that idea was kicked to touch. And instead….they’ve come up with nothing, still holding to the dream that driving is king, and promising somehow to relieve traffic congestion with road “improvements”.
London alone is setting the benchmark for improvements in cycling infrastructure, but this is down to the Mayor, nothing to do with government policy. Another mayor could easily rip them out!
Cycling campaigners need to find a new approach. They could start by telling it like it is, explaining what drives government thinking on transport.
They need to read Wolmar’s book. He’s got it nailed, and he’s positive, too. Me, I think it’s a hopeless situation whereas he thinks government can be made to change, as they have in their approach to rail travel.
But there is no sign of any positive thinking yet for cycling.
As if to illustrate this, Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his recent budget announced a £b1 upgrade for local roads. Theoretically, this could lead to making those roads safer for cycling, too, but we can’t bank on it. In fact there no was direct money awarded cycling. No surprise there.
Hammond was the man who killed off Cycling England when David Cameron was prime minister. Cycling England had pioneered over two dozen cycling demonstration towns which showed that small but effective schemes would encourage more people to cycle instead of drive.
Clearly they were too successful for their own good and I fancy that is why the government closed them down!
Meanwhile, the improvements promised for the road link between Oxford and Cambridge (Cambridge was one of Cycle England’s successful cycling demonstration towns) might work against cycling. The university cities have done much to improve cycling conditions and reduce car dependency. But now there is fear that the fine balance between car and cycle achieved will be upset as the improved road link pours more motor traffic into both cities.
But to bolster our hopes, or more likely torment us further with a vision of Utopia, the cycling press runs yet again another article extolling the virtues of cycling conditions in the Netherlands, where 28 per cent of the population ride as against only 2 per cent in the UK.
I refer to the inspirational piece in the December-January issue of Cycle, the magazine of Cycling UK, written by chief executive Paul Tuohy. He gives us hope!
Until says he just wishes he’d had our Ministers of Transport or even the PM, Theresa May, with him to show what has been achieved for cycling in Holland. You’re wasting your time, Paul. They want out of Europe!
Surely it’s now obvious that no British government will ever create anything remotely like the Dutch have done, and put cycling at the centre of a nationwide integrated transport system – unless there is a massive change in thinking at the core of the establishment.
It can only happen here if cycling becomes an election issue. But given the current crisis caused by Brexit, the public may have more important things on their minds.