Norman Baker MP writes… A virtuous circle for cycling

Many of you will know that I don’t need to be asked twice to wax lyrical about the benefits of cycling. Cycling isn’t just about getting from A to B. Quite often it’s the quickest way of getting around, not to mention the healthiest, most environmentally friendly and the most predictable. It’s wallet-friendly, for those of us with an eye on rising fuel prices, and it’s space friendly, at a time when parking spaces in town and city centres are both at a premium and becoming increasingly expensive to use. Each car parking space could fit up to 20 bikes, quite apart from the fact that bikes can be stored in much smaller nooks.

But while cycling isn’t unsafe, it isn’t always as safe as we would like. While the number of cyclists killed on our roads is going down, even one death is one too many. There is also a perception that cycling is dangerous, which means that hundreds of people are being put off cycling and missing out on the various benefits it brings.

That’s one of the reasons I announced £15m for the National Cycle Safety Fund yesterday. This money will be spent on tackling some of the worst safety hotspots outside London and I hope, will create a kind of virtuous circle: protecting current cyclists and encouraging more people to get on their bikes and take up cycling. I want to see more and safer cycling.

Justifying the spending of millions of pounds on cycling and cyclists in the current economic climate might be difficult for some to understand. But I point to the hard evidence of the benefits, not just those outlined above, but the benefits to the economy. The transport charity Sustrans recently published data showing that many cyclists chose to cycle a route they could have driven last year, saving 52 million car journeys and 760,363 tonnes of carbon, which would have cost the economy £40m. That’s why I have been consistently arguing for more money for cycling, even though budgets across Whitehall are being squeezed: funding for 7,500 new cycle spaces at railway stations and 38 new and improved cycle routes as part of a £30m package; £35m funding for Bikeability cycle training to teach the next generation of cyclists how to be safe and confident on a bike; and the £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which will fund many schemes relating to cycling. And I’ve done things like giving local authorities in England the power to install Trixi mirrors where they think they are needed without having to fill in acres of paperwork to ask for permission. Trixi mirrors enable lorry and HGV drivers to see the left-hand side of their vehicle, which is usually a dangerous blind spot. We’ve also made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

This is a good start but there’s always more we can do and I will carry on making that case loud and clear within Government.

Norman Baker MP is the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister

* Norman Baker is the MP for Lewes, a Minister of State at the Home Office and formerly Minister in the Department of Transport

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6 Comments

  • jenny barnes 27th Jun '12 - 4:01pm

    ” We’ve also made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits to protect cyclists and pedestrians.”

    That’s nice. What do you do when the local authority, despite being lobbied by local schools, health professionals, and many many other civic organisations via a campaign that has been running for 2 years or more following an unnecessary cycling death, and in an area where there are few roads that are safe or possible to drive on at over 20mph.. what do you do when they just won’t do it?

  • @Jenny – presumably the answer is to encourage Lib Dems to win seats on that council and change things

  • jenny barnes 27th Jun '12 - 6:08pm

    Stuart – yes, that would be nice. After the last election in 2011 the few LDs on the borough and parish councils were eliminated. Perhaps we could change the electorate.

  • Anything that helps more people feel safe on cycles is a good thing. And as others have said here there is great deal of resistance against measures that help cyclists. In some parts of the country, the old disused railway lines are being opened up as cycling / walkways. It isn’t possible everywhere, but where they are practical, it helps keeps cars and cycles separate. Any money spent on this problem, is money well spent,… IMHO.

  • The money’s welcome. And I don’t want to sound churlish. But I think I’m about to anyway!

    £15 million. Shared among (I make it) 119 highways authorities in England (outside London).

    That’s £126,000 each.

    What does £126,000 buy you? In London, it buys a few hundred metres of disjointed strips of green road paint, which for much of the day is parked upon. (http://bit.ly/MV01ND). The lanes are narrower than the minimum in the official guidelines, and they are not segregated from the double-deckers and lorries. This sort of thing is what each council could spend the money on, and it wouldn’t encourage a single extra bottom onto a saddle.

    Giving our councils money to waste on very poor standard infrastructure might make Norman Baker feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it helps no-one else. The ‘facilities’ are duly found to be both too crippled for seasoned cyclists to use, while simultaneously not reassuring or continuous enough for potential newcomers.

    It’s true that there’s more than the new £15m on the table. There’s £35m for Bikeability – but this attempts to tool potential cyclists up for the battle on the roads rather than address the poor infrastructure and lack of road law enforcement that makes such an approach appear necessary. There’s £560m in the local sustainability fund, but this is not a dedicated fund for cycling. And then there are the trixi mirrors, a well-meant distraction that doesn’t really help (http://bit.ly/sg0UBS).

    There’s also the shirking of the opportunity to introduce widespread 20mph limits. ‘Localism’ is being used as an excuse for ministers to wash their hands of problems. The evidence on 20mph in urban areas is clear. We don’t have regional drink drive limits, local seat belt laws or town-by-town MOT standards. Why should the life chances of pedestrians and cyclists suffer in those areas of the country with backward-looking council administrations that might never be shifted, when Mr Baker is in a position of power, now, and could act?

    I agree with Mr Baker’s point about cycling’s link to economic growth (not to mention the benefits for activity levels and reduction in pollution and congestion, all things that will save either the NHS or businesses money). I’m therefore puzzled as to why, having acknowledged cycling’s economic potential, he won’t invest in it properly.

  • Meanwhile…the increase in fuel duty is scrapped costing £500m. 3p per litre can easily be saved by most drivers actually driving in a more fuel efficient way…if people really care that much about their 3p per litre.

    What a difference could be made to cycling, walking and public transport with an investment of £500m.

    This is not a green government and the funds mentioned by Norman are good and welcome but a drop in the ocean compared to how much we subside a car industry that is choking our cities, increases poor health (COPD, obesity and so on) and by dint of economies of scale and cost – increasing the price and decreasing the frequency of public transport.

    Not only am I angry about the fuel duty scrap, but also massively disappointed that neither Norman nor Ed Davey are out making any of the arguments above.

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