2011 Transport White Paper: what's for cycling?

By Command of Her Majesty, in January 2011 the British Secretary of State for Transport presented to Parliament a White Paper titled: Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon – Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen. The launch of this initiative is accompanied by a Local Sustainable Transport Fund of £560 million spread over four years to 2014-15. Overall, says Transport Under Secretary Norman Baker, including the Integrated Transport and Highways Maintenance Blocks available to Local Authorities, there's almost £5 billion of Government funding for small local transport schemes over the next four years.

It doesn't look as if there's any new money, as overall the Government is looking for savings, but we are encouraged to believe that something is going to happen, and some of it will happen to cycling.

Making sustainable local transport happen

This is all about getting the economy back on track, tackling climate change, and doing things locally in the new Big Society. Economic growth and carbon reduction haven't traditionally gone hand in hand but maybe Local Authorities working more closely with their communities will pull something out of the hat. The trouble is, for cycling, there isn't much of a community as there is, for example, in housing provision, education, and health. There might be a road club or two and Sunday rides organised by the CTC, but cycling is not a mainstream social movement at the local level. Sustrans?

Anyway, two-thirds of all journeys in the UK are under five miles in length and the Government believes it would be good if many of these trips were cycled, walked, or undertaken by public transport. If only cycling was a convenient choice, many people would cycle to work or go shopping on their bikes. Good for cutting carbon emissions and traffic congestion. The White Paper also notes a lack of physical activity and poor physical fitness contributes to obesity, cardiovascular disease, strokes and other conditions, as well as to poorer mental wellbeing, and cycling offers an easy way for people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. Cyclists of course have been saying these things for years. The question is, apart from a new Government, what's different now?

Bids from local transport authorities to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund will be particularly welcome if they can demonstrate support and the involvement of voluntary and community organisations and the private sector. £560 million spread over four years isn't very much for the whole of the UK and given that there isn't usually a strong cycling lobby at the local level it's hard to see how much will change. I didn't know there was such a thing as the Active Travel Consortium, but there is, with a £30 million portfolio of projects "to help people all over England change their travel habits and improve their health by giving them the practical support they need to walk and cycle as part of their everyday lives." Do member groups of the consortium work with Local Authorities? No idea. I should find out, as the Government's message is: "If you want something done, get involved."

White Paper: ... encouraging sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport and cycling and walking more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.

It's hard to envisage the process by which improved cycling infrastructure and improved driver behaviour towards cylists – two of the things that most agree would encourage more people to travel on their bikes – is going to happen. Local Councils might build a few more poorly designed cycle lanes here and there but their contribution to better safety and greater convenience is unproven.

White Paper: The health benefits of cycling significantly outweigh the risks – being sedentary represents a greater risk to health ... Research suggests that for each life lost through a cycling accident, approximately 20 lives were extended by the health benefits of cycling.

Attitude surveys show people's apparent willingness to switch to cycling for shorter journeys if only it was safer. Nowhere in the Government's proposals is any suggestion of a reversal of the burden of proof in collisions between motor vehicles and cyclists, a measure that at a stroke would be the signal that they really believe what they're saying about the benefits of cycling (read more about this at UKcyclerules).

It's good to see that Bikeability – "Cycling Proficiency for the 21st Century" – will continue to be centrally funded until 2015 but its emphasis is the behaviour of cylists, not motorists. Just as important is parents' perception of the roads as a safe environment for their children. I'm not so sure about the Department for Transport's Cycle Journey Planner – a sustainable, national, online cycle trip planner that meets the needs of both novice and experienced cyclists – looks like an over-ambitious waste of money. It aims to remove one of the key barriers for novice cyclists – knowing where it is easy and safe to ride. Although I agree it's a barrier, its hard to see how a computer program can determine routes as being safe. Really they should all be safe. And is it a role of the state to help "family and social groups to plan leisure rides in cycle friendly locations?" I don't think so.

CTC Campaigns Director Roger Geffen: Conditions on our roads remain intimidating for many people, and measures such as quality cycle training can only achieve their full potential value-for-money when highway authorities stop producing dreadfully designed "cycle facilities" which are often worse than useless.

In 2007 the Department for Transport published a 'Manual for Streets' for England and Wales. It refers mainly to residential streets, which "should not be designed just to accommodate the movement of motor vehicles – a prime consideration is that they meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists." Cycling-specific design guidance is in a sister document: Cycle Infrastructure Design (3.28 MB PDF). Unfortunately, highway authorities often ignore the DfT and do their own thing: worse than useless. The devolvement of responsibility to the Big Society will mean they do their own thing even more. It's now up to cyclists (not the DfT) to try to influence local Councils to do it properly.

More welcome is £4 million funding for four flagship Bike'n'Ride train operating companies and longer rail franchises where operators invest in the improvements passengers want. Cyclists always complain about the lack of reliable facilities for carrying bikes on trains; reliable, for example, in the sense that you can be sure of being able to return home on the train from an away-day trip with your bike, or that you can pre-book your bike on a train journey to Dover or Land's End.


Bored and sceptical

By page 44 of the 99 page White Paper (Cycling Towns) I got bored of reading it. Suspect it's just political waffle and nothing much will actually happen to increase the number of people cycling. After all, clogged up urban roads, the potential of railways, and the benefits of cycling are nothing new. I'm not sure I even care how many other people cycle – I enjoy it fine as it is. But I suppose for the sake of my offspring I should take an interest. Here goes...

My local Council runs a Cycle Forum that anyone can attend. So that's what I'll do. Away with the cynicism. My commitment to the Big Society starts here.

Download and read the (2.60 MB PDF) 2011 Transport White Paper

3 comments on “2011 Transport White Paper: what's for cycling?”

  1. Alan wrote:

    Very thoughful and thought-provoking, Patrick.

    Big Society: "We need your taxes to pay off our debts, so if you want anything doing now, you'll have to do it yourself."

    The whitepaper has many good words about why things should change, and encouragement to local authorities about what might attract grants, but no real policy. So I anticipate a few more shared-use paths so pedestrians and cyclists can frighten each other, and some narrow cycle lanes that encourage us into gutters or the door zones of parked cars.

    I see no political leadership towards making urban centres pleasurable for people instead of cars. I am becoming convinced we need to make short journeys inconvenient for motorists, so other modes become the preferred option.

    More cycling is good for society as a whole. I don't see that happening until we (society) realises that more driving is bad for us.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Alan, you might be interested in the work of Ben Hamilton-Baillie Associates. They are specialists in shared space schemes in town centres. Political leadership is part of the solution, but every Local Authority wants to make its town centre nicer than its neighbours. Hamilton-Baillie's projects look encouraging to me. Once the word gets around, this might catch on.

    Shared space: a street or space in which movement is determined by negotiation and social protocols rather than state regulations or control, accessible to both pedestrians and vehicles, and designed to enable pedestrians and cyclists to move more freely by removing design features that encourage motorists to assume priority.

  3. Mike wrote:

    An interesting article, Patrick, and I imagine far easier to read than the White Paper that inspired it.

    Sadly, and cynically, I suspect it is far more an exercise to get politicians off the hook than to get motorists onto bicycles!

    People being people, they will almost always go for the easier, more convenient method of popping to the corner shop or nipping down to the pub/betting shop/town centre – and given that 99% of towns cater more for motorists than anyone else...

    Personally I will give my next general election vote, regardless of party politics, to the party with the highest number of fully committed cyclists 😉

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