“Get Britain Cycling”: Are cyclists set to win?

Today sees the launch of the Summary and Recommendations of the “Get Britain Cycling” report. Reporting on this on the front page of The Times we see “Cyclists are set to win revolution in road safety”. Is this so? Road Danger Reduction Forum President Lord Berkeley is one of the Panel members of The Get Britain Cycling Inquiry. I have a reputation for pessimism (or as I would say, healthy scepticism) and as RDRF Chair I give a detailed analysis of the Summary and Recommendations below.

Make no mistake, along with Mayor Johnson’s “Vision for Cycling”; the production of this report is a pivotal moment for the possibility of not just cycling, but sustainable transport as a whole in Britain. So: are cyclists – and all those of us interested in the development and implementation of sustainable transport policy indeed “set to win”?

The report by Professor Phil Goodwin is one of the outputs of the Get Britain Cycling (henceforth GBC) Inquiry, here I just analyse the main Summary and Recommendations. Nit picking alert: this is an in depth consideration of an important report, so I do go into some detail.


Foreword, Cycling in Britain: The Potential for Growth, Vision. These introductory sections are upbeat and correct in calling for the UK to look at levels of cycling elsewhere in Europe and to increase the modal share up to these levels by measures including contesting the cycling stereotype of sporty young affluent men. There is an ambitious target of 10% modal share by 2025 and an absolutely correct demand for strong political leadership. The recommendations come under five areas:

  1. A New Priority For Investing Public Funds
  • Create a cycling budget of at least £10 per person per year, increasing to £20.
    •   Ensure local and national bodies, such as the Highways Agency, Department for Transport, and local government allocate funds to cycling of at least the local proportion of journeys done by bike. This is splendid. In London a budget of about £12 per year is on the cards, and an amount equivalent to the percentage of journeys would be some £18 per head. £20 is about right, and it makes sense to start at a lower amount in other parts of the UK to get things moving. Of course, there are two problems with keeping the level of spending at around the proportion of journeys made by bike: Firstly, in places where very few people cycle not enough money will be on the table. Secondly, there is an implication that we should be having large budgets on transport (particularly wrong with road building)  in the first place. I would suggest that we need to look at the external costs of motoring and attempt to recoup them from motorists, or at least bring those issues into the equation – but that would frighten the government and the media too much.
    •  Cycle spending that makes a tangible contribution to other government departments, such as Health, Education, Sport and Business, should be funded from those budgets, not just the DfT. Absolutely. This is not only completely justified, but would answer the question raised above about relying on proportions of transport budgets.

What could go wrong? The money has, of course, got to be spent properly. It also does not make sense to have “cycling projects” if other developments occur which are overly car dependent or anti-cycling (although those issues are addressed elsewhere). I would be concerned that traditional transport practitioners would do as little as possible with any statutory requirements on the spend of this funding.

2. Redesigning Our Roads, Streets And Communities

  • A statutory requirement that cyclists’ and pedestrians’ needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes, including housing and business developments as well as traffic and transport schemes, including funding through the planning system. Yes, absolutely! I sat on a committee of local authority representatives in the 1990s talking about the “early stage” bit – and look what happened. Nothing, because it was not made a statutory requirement. So “statutory” has to mean just that, and not allow tick-box bureaucrats unwilling to support cycling to get away with not doing the right things.
  •  Revise existing design guidance, to include more secure cycle parking, continental best practice for cycle-friendly planning and design, and an audit process to help planners, engineers and architects to think bike in all their work. Absolutely. It is critical to not separate things out into “cycling schemes” and the rest. Cycling has to be part of everything. I would suggest that cycle parking has to be thought of for existing developments as well: it will have to be retro-fitted for most housing, which will not be new for decades to come.
  •  The Highways Agency should draw up a programme to remove the barriers to cycle journeys parallel to or across trunk roads and motorway corridors, starting with the places where the potential for increased cycle use is greatest. Yes
  •  Local authorities should seek to deliver cycle-friendly improvements across their existing roads, including small improvements, segregated routes, and road reallocation. Good to see an awareness that car parking, general traffic lanes and time at signals have to be reduced for motor traffic – I’m assuming that is what “road reallocation” means.
  •  The Department for Transport should approve and update necessary new regulations, such as allowing separate traffic lights for cyclists and implementing Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. Yes, but probably a lot more radical than devices currently being discussed.

 3. Safe Driving And Safe Speed Limits 

  • Extend 20 mph speed limits in towns, and consider 40mph limits on many rural lanes. 20 mph was discussed by Buchanan some 50 years ago, and bringing in more of it is just bringing us up to the standards of many European countries. Of course, a limit has to be complied with – the thorny issue of enforcement is not touched on in the recommendations, although it is a cause for the inquiry being “very concerned that the police seem not to be interested in enforcing the law when it comes to speed limits”. GBC does consider rural roads a lot more than many current discussions about cycling which restrict themselves to urban areas and streets, so it is good to see consideration here – except that I doubt 40 mph (even if enforced) on country lanes is adequate. And , of course, a key feature of all discussions on speed is the issue of breaking 30 mph limits where they exist and are likely to continue to do so.
  • Improve HGV safety by vehicle design, driver training, and mutual awareness with cyclists; promote rail freight and limit use of HGVs on the busiest urban streets at the busiest times, and use public sector projects to drive fleet improvements. This is all fine: it could be mentioned that the increased numbers of London cyclists have pressured drivers and operators into better (albeit not better enough) behaviour and a resultant reduced cyclist casualty rate with lorries since 2000, so change is possible. But as with everything else, more enforced legal obligations for operators and drivers are required, such as stricter liability in civil (and I would suggest criminal) law for collisions involving cyclists or pedestrians. The fleet improvements can be extended in to the use of all motor vehicles used for work purposes.
  • Strengthen the enforcement of road traffic law, including speed limits, and ensuring that driving offences – especially those resulting in death or injury – are treated sufficiently seriously by police, prosecutors and judges. An absolutely key point. The RDRF has always argued that real road safety is safety for all, and enforcing the laws relating to motor vehicle use should benefit the safety of all road users. This is not something to be done “for cycling” but simply requiring appropriate behaviour by those with the potential to significantly endanger others as part of the requirements of a civilised society.

The preamble to these recommendations correctly refers to cycling as being a  safe activity, and that more cycling leads to safer cycling. I would suggest, however, that enforcement of road traffic law should actually focus more on rule or law breaking by motorists (such as overly close overtaking) before collisions occur.

 4. Training and Education

  • Provide cycle training at all primary and secondary schools. A crucial point is that secondary school children are very difficult to reach – measures should be in place to make this sector far more likely to have Bikeability training
  • Offer widespread affordable (or free) cycle training and other programmes to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to give cycling a try, as evidenced by NICE. Adult cycle training is capable of necessary boosts to confidence.
  •  Promote cycling as a safe and normal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds. “Safe and normal” – absolutely. Too many supposed Bikeability courses require hi-viz and helmets, and “dangerise” cycling. It is going to be necessary to monitor and audit schemes, as TABS is currently attempting.

5. Political Leadership

  • The Government should produce a cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan, with annual progress reports. Obviously. There is no point having any targets unless they are monitored. Currently it is very difficult to find any local authority that actually has a reasonable idea of how many people are cycling. And these targets (and their failure to meet them) need to be employed to reduce general transport funding to recalcitrant local authorities.
    •   The Government should appoint a national Cycling Champion, an expert from outside the Department for Transport. Chris Boardman?
    •  The government should set national targets to increase cycle use from less than 2% of journeys in 2011, to 10% of all journeys in 2025, and 25% by 2050. Pretty ambitious – but worthless without quality monitoring and a willingness to penalise those with responsibility if they have not fulfilled their obligations.
    •  Central and local government and devolved authorities should each appoint a lead politician responsible for cycling.


My main criticism (indeed my only significant one)of the GBC report  is that the need to reduce the privileges of the motorised is underplayed. These privileges are not just in the ease of rule and law breaking, which is covered to some extent, but in terms of road space (car parking, carriageway lanes etc.) available, which is briefly referred to. I would suggest that we need to talk about raising the price of motoring, which I fear is becoming not sufficiently greater than that of cycling. This is not merely inequitable, but will restrict the take up of cycling by those who find it too expensive – a fact which is not often referred to.

But on top of this, I would suggest that the need to reduce motor vehicle traffic is not only helpful – and perhaps necessary – to cycling, but a necessity for a sustainable society. Cycling is a lot more than “not car”, but “not car” is an important part of what it is, and justifying the arguments for it. A good emphasis in GBC is the need for the improvement of the environment for society in general, not just in the experience of cycling. Of course, it is going to be difficult for parliamentarians to argue this to the government, and I suspect this is why GBC has not.

That said, the most noticeable feature of the GBC report is how good it is. I really do find it difficult to be critical of almost all of it. It is difficult to tap into my normal pessimism. This is a serious and impressive piece of work to lay before government.

If you want to support what the report has suggested, you can sign the e-petition here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49196

Before concluding, let’s look at something the ever perceptive Chris Boardman wrote in today’s (24th April 2013) issue of The Times: 

“The key place to start is for everyone reading this article to take two minutes to ask themselves, ‘What does the place I want to live in look like?’ ‘What kind of place do I want my kids to live in?’ I doubt anyone’s vision involves more cars or more parking.
“For me, I want my kids to be able to ride to school and the park, I’d like to be able to pedal to the station or shops. This can only happen if there are less cars, and people will only use cars less if they are not the easiest solution. So, the key is local governments having a clear and detailed holistic view of what they want their cities to look like in 10 years. Only then can you measure actions and ask, ‘Does this get me closer to the vision or further away?’

“If they share that vision with people, showing what they want to achieve, I’d be surprised if people didn’t totally buy into it.”

If I can let the scepticism back for a moment: it depends exactly what question you ask.  Asking people if they want it to be easier for “my kids to be able to ride to school and the park” is one question. Asking them if they want the measures required for cars to be “not the easiest solution” is another. At some stage progressing the pro-cycling agenda means coming up against the institutions and ideology of car culture and a car-centred society. We will see what happens to the recommendations of the GBC report when government responds.

And of course, that is the big question: how will government actually respond? Watch this space.

6 thoughts on ““Get Britain Cycling”: Are cyclists set to win?

  1. fonant

    Why are these targets of 10% and 25% in 37 years considered ambitious? They may well be compared to previously feeble targets in the UK, but the Dutch managed to get to 25% and more in less than 37 years, and we can learn from the real-world work they’ve already done. We could build proven-to-be-safe and proven-to-generate-30%-modal-share bicycle facilities today, if we wanted to.

    I would reckon, given the huge suppressed demand for cycling and ever-increasing costs of fuel, that it should be quite possible to get to 25% in ten years given suitable investment levels. Do we really have to wait nearly another two generations before cycling is normal and commonplace?

    Political will, leading to serious investment is still the problem: £10 per person is less than half what the Dutch spend, and they already have their cycle network in place: their expenditure is on improvements and new routes, not in making a new network. We have to spend MORE than the Dutch if we are to ever catch them up!

    GBC is a positive step in the right direction, but if we really do want to achieve mass cycling on a European scale it’s rather weak: especially since we can be sure that actual investment levels will fall below those called for.

    It’s a good report. We’ll have to see whether our political leaders think that there are enough votes in the issue to take any notice of it.

    1. rdrf Post author

      I agree with your last paragraph.

      I don’t think the Dutch got 25% – they already had at least 10%, they only increased by about 10 – 15%, possibly only 5%?.

      Maybe I’m just pesimistic.

      1. fonant

        The Dutch had 26% modal share for cycling in 2009 across the whole country and for all journeys ( http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/CyclingintheNetherlands2009.pdf) and much higher levels in towns. Almost everyone cycles daily, from school children to OAPs, and cycling for transport is so normal that they take it for granted.

        The starting percentage is irrelevant unless you’re concerned about the rate of change: decent, safe, pleasant, convenient cycling (and less convenient motoring) will result in the same cycling modal share in the UK as they enjoy in the Netherlands. If riding a bike becomes the best choice for local transport for the 60% of the population, then 60% of the population will ride their bikes for local transport.

        The UK can get to Dutch levels of cycling much quicker, and at much lower total cost, than the Dutch did. We have the benefit that we know for certain what works: the Dutch have done the decades of real world research already.

        British human beings are no more or less likely to choose to travel by bicycle than Dutch human beings: we are the same species. The terrible road environment is the single biggest barrier to people using bicycles for transport here, as many national surveys, and much academic research, have found.

    2. Mike Chalkley

      £10 per current cyclist is what is being proposed. Given an over-estimate of 2% modal share, this equates to a total spend of 1% of the Dutch spend.

      1. fonant

        I understand it to be £10 per person in the UK (a bit less than half the Dutch spend rate). So a total budget of around £63 million per year for cycling. A drop in the ocean compared to total transport spending, but hugely useful for cycling.

      2. rdrf Post author

        It is £630 – not £63 – million Anthony. Still small, but not THAT small.

        Anyway, more to come from me on this,

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