Does Labour support cycling?

MICHAEL-DUGHER-MP Daily Mirror

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Michael Dugher MP (Photo: Daily Mirror: 2nd December 2014)

In the last week of November 2014, the Labour shadow Minister, Michael Dugher MP, set out Labour’s “cycling vision”. I reproduce the statement from Local Transport Today with comments:

Where this Government has refused to act, a future Labour government will deliver for cyclists

 This week, I visited Pakeman Primary School in north London and saw first-hand how the ‘Bikeability’ cycle course can give children the skills and confidence on their bikes.  Later that day, I also went to the Archway Gyratory to view exciting new plans for a remodelled junction and new cycling infrastructure.

Getting more people cycling through initiatives like these is really important. But there is still a lot more that needs to be done. 

In August last year, David Cameron said he wanted to start “a cycling revolution”.   Over a year later, and just five months before the end of this Parliament, all we’ve had from the Government is a draft Cycle Delivery Plan and an “informal consultation”.   What we need is real action now to ensure that the country benefits from safer roads, increased levels of cycling and effective road sharing for all types of road traffic.  Where this Government has refused to act, a future Labour government will deliver for cyclists. 

More people cycling every day is not only good for public health, it’s good for the environment and the economy.  And it’s also good for other road users too.  It frees up the roads for motorists, which results in less congestion, safer roads and better air quality. 

That’s an interesting view of the role of cycling: “It frees up the roads for motorists…” But if it does so, then more cars will be there than otherwise, which in terms of sustainable transport is the opposite of what is required. Even if the same number are there as before, problems from emissions etc. have not improved.

There is a growing consensus that the Government’s draft plan is not even close to what is needed to make a difference.  British Cycling, for example, said the so-called plan “falls short” on delivering on David Cameron’s promise and the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), a national cycling charity, called it “derisory”.   

This verdict chimes with the Government’s overall record on supporting cycling.  It shut down Cycling England, the independent body to promote cycling, and abandoned Labour’s ‘Cycling Towns and Cities’ programme, which helped to promote the use of cycling locally. 

Labour has a good record of promoting cycling in government, with both the number of people cycling increasing and the number of road casualties dropping. 

 No, Labour does not have a ”good record of promoting cycling in government” . Cycling England was essentially a low-key quango which was set up because the commitment and expertise inside the Department for Transport was so low that help had to be sought from outside. Labour, under Chancellor Alistair Darling, repeatedly refused to allocate the funding Cycling England requested.

What Labour does have is a record of overseeing massive increases in motor vehicle traffic, despite claiming when it came to power that it would reduce motor traffic.  With the exception of London, it would be difficult to see any significant overall rise in cycling during the Labour years, despite it being far easier to increase a mode’s share when it is as very low, as it was when Labour came to power in 1997.

It is unclear whether the road casualties he refers to are in general or among cyclists – but both of these numbers tend to decline irrespective of formal “road safety” interventions – and there are hardly any which Labour could claim that it introduced to any significant effect during its reign.

In 2002, there were 300,000 trips made by bike in London per day, and 20 fatalities.  And by 2010, there were 490,000 trips made, and the number of fatalities had halved.  

 London is the exception, with Labour in power for most (but not all) of this period. The rise in cycling in London can be attributed to – well, what exactly? I would claim that I assisted in a small take-up of cycling in projects I ran when working for a London Borough in this period. But on the whole very little of the rise in cycling can be claimed as due to initiatives from London government under Mayor Livingstone. 

Cycling was due to increase in London for the simple reason that it could hardly go any lower, and there was rising demand for all forms of transport with population increase. Possibly the initial rise was due to the concerns about raising the costs of motoring with the prospect of the Congestion Charge – although eventually this only happened on a very small proportion of London’s roads where the Congestion Charge applies. And Labour is hardly pushing road pricing now.

 As for the death rate decline, that can largely be put down to a Safety in Numbers (SiN) effect as drivers became more aware of the increased presence of cyclists, as well as the long-term underlying trend. Some work in making lorry drivers less dangerous (although a lot of that is purely a SiN effect in the HGV driver community) was done; HGVs were involved in about half the cyclist deaths. But the outlook for serious injuries has been less dramatic. I don’t think it is possible to link specific interventions by Transport for London (with the possible exception of work with HGV safety) to casualty rate declines in any clearly significant way. I would say these have been marginal at best.

This progress did not just happen by chance, but through decisions that were made – initiatives such as ambitious road safety targets, Cycling England, and funding for Cycling Towns and Cities.  In addition, our ‘Sustainable Travel Towns’ – Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester – resulted in increased cycle trips by between 26-30 per cent.  And the six ‘Cycling Demonstration Towns’ (Aylesbury, Brighton and Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster) proved how targeted investment can deliver results with cycling rates increasing by 27 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

 I have mentioned Cycling England. I don’t think declines in road casualty statistics happen because of “road safety” interventions (including the setting of road safety targets) to anything like the extent that road safety professionals and Government think, The effects of projects in the programmes described are highly debatable. What can be said is that selecting a few cases of “low-hanging fruit” where interventions could most easily increase cycling and walking is hardly demonstration of a commitment towards active travel and sustainable transport policy, even if the results were as dramatic as claimed.

Labour would work to make further progress in government in 2015 by ensuring better cycling education, stronger road safety enforcement and enhanced road engineering for the benefit of cyclists.   To achieve these objectives: 

First, we will outline a proper long-term plan with clarity over funding sources. 

Why not do that now? The figure used by those pressing for the Get Britain Cycling programme is £10 per head of the population, rising to £20 per head.

This all has to  be put in the context of spending on road building for more motor traffic. When the initial Government plan for £15 billion to be spent this way came out on November 10th he attacked Cameron over for not spending enough on road building. (And in fact the £13 or 15? billion was probably an underestimate )  Anyway, we have had the announcement on December 1st – which was Mr. Dugher responded to as follows:   “yet another re-announcement” on road improvements, and in reality “no additional money has been announced“.

We know David Cameron’s record on infrastructure is one of all talk and no delivery. Infrastructure output has fallen significantly since May 2010, and less than a third of projects in the Government’s pipeline are actually classed as ‘in construction. “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists, who have been consistently let down by this government.”

On top of this, Labour has not opposed the continuing decline in the cost of motoring under the coalition government. What it has done in power, and apparently intends to do in future, is to make motoring more convenient and attractive, and facilitate more of it.

Although this interview may well have been spun by the car fanatics at the Daily Mirror  , his first major interview indicates an even more car-dominated approach (see the Appendix below)

Second, we will be ambitious in promoting active travel.  Rather than waiting for over four years to produce a half-hearted ‘draft plan’ for cycling, we will act fast and ensure that our strategy delivers clear targets and has cross-departmental support.  Over half of all car journeys are shorter than five miles, and one fifth are under a mile.  We want cycling and walking to be made the easy and safe option for most short journeys. 

 I first heard a Minister (Lynda Chalker) saying that cycling would be “encouraged” in 1984 – that was one in power, not in opposition. The record since then for all parties in power is of a massive increase in car usage and no increase in cycling (except in London).

Third, we will ensure that the needs of cyclists are assessed at the design stage for major transport projects and maintenance schemes.   Active travel was not a consideration when much of our current transport infrastructure was planned, but this is no longer an excuse.  We will put pedestrians and cyclists at the centre of our roads policy, as opposed to the Government’s approach where they seem to just be an afterthought.  

This is presumably the ”cycle-proofing” we have heard so much of. It is interesting that this is not on existing roads, but only new schemes. Pedestrians and cyclists are not at the centre of roads policy. More cars and motor traffic are.

Fourth, we will ensure cycling becomes an ever safer transport option by looking to follow what the Labour Government in Wales has achieved through their Active Travel Act.

 Which is what exactly?

Fifth, we will introduce a powerful HGV Safety Charter, which will call on all HGVs to be fitted with safety kit, including rear-view cameras, rear warning signs for cyclists and flashing light beacons.   HGVs are involved in nearly 20 per cent of all cycling fatalities, but make up only 6 per cent of road traffic. This cannot continue.

By 2017, we want all HGVs fitted with audible warning systems for drivers, and side-guards and blind-spot elimination devices.  We believe these changes are paramount and, if necessary, we are prepared to legislate to ensure that they are brought forward. 

The immediate issue is the EU delay (although to be fair Labour has made the right noises here) on bringing in safer HGV cabs   hich undermines all these intentions, which are just fluff around the edge compared to a new design direct vision cab.

Before such cabs are standard – and for use of lorries when they are – there already is a national Standard for Construction Logistics: Managing Work Related Road Risk which addresses issues around the “blind spot”, driver behaviour and safer freight routing. That could be endorsed now.

And what about reversing the increase in speed limit for HGVs  just brought in by this Government? No mention of that issue.

Sixth, we will restore national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries, which have been dropped by the current Government, alongside clear goals to increase the number of people walking and cycling. 

 The author Douglas Adams once said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Targets for cycling’s modal share have passed by , with the actual modal share far – and dismally – lower for decades, if not exactly “whooshed”. 

Seventh, we need to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to cyclist deaths and serious injuries. 

 The crucial point is to stigmatise behaviour which threatens other road users by having a clearly explained and understood programme of law enforcement and sentencing. Waiting until cyclists are killed or seriously injured (or even slightly injured) is missing the point. Penalising those who drive in a manner which endangers others only in that small minority of cases where someone is killed or seriously injured can be counter-productive.

And finally, we understand the need for sustained and certain support for cycling education.  That’s why we have committed to providing funding for ‘Bikeability’, which will ensure all children are trained in cycle safety from a young age.   

I have doubts about much of the “cycle training” which goes under the name of Bikeability: much seems to be creating the impression that cycling is inherently hazardous, with emphasis on hi-viz and helmets. How much genuinely empowering and enabling cycle training is going on? And if it of high quality, it needs to be available to adults who want to build up confidence.

So, Labour will implement real changes.   We’ve seen over the last four and a half years that it’s easy for politicians to talk about their support for cycling and promise a “cycling revolution”.  But people can see through the hype.

Er, yes.

What is needed is real action and a long-term strategic effort to promote cycling from both national and local government.  And this is what we will set out to deliver in 2015.   

 We’ll be watching.

 

APPENDIX

Pandering to car fanatics?

Let’s look at what Labour’s spokesman says here.

“.. he admitted drivers have for too long been seen as a “cash cow” for governments who cream cash off them with fuel taxes and penalties.” Although motoring is cheaper, and law-breaking motorists stand little chance of (minor) penalties.

“.. he said he wants to represent “white van man, women drivers, small businesses and any other road user”. Although road users walking and cycling don’t seem to count.

Mr Dugher said: “Most ­politicians don’t talk about road users enoug,h and we have got to put right. The truth is the things that p**s off motorists are the things that p**s me off too.”

Does saying “p**s off” make you a man of the people?

Which motorists is he talking about? The lowest common denominator of rule- and law-breakers who think they have “paid a tax” which means they own the road? One of the major problems for cyclists is the abuse and prejudice which is based on the myth that motorists have “paid for the road” – this attitude feeds it.

The Barnsley East MP, who drives down the A1 each week to ­Westminster in his Vauxhall Astra,

( A minor point, affected by precise details of origin and destination – but why is the “proud son of a railwayman” not doing the 2¾ hour journey by train from Barnsley to central London rather than the 185-mile journey which would have be done at 67 mph average to be as quick?)

With regard to fuel taxes and road cameras, Mr Dugher – who admits he has three points for speeding – said:The Government can’t see the motorists as a cash cow. Too often there’s that mentality”.

So paying a fair amount of taxation to compensate for the massive costs of motoring to public health, society and the local and global environment is “being a cash cow”?

“..11% of car ­journeys are under a mile. If car drivers switched just one car journey a month to a bus or coach that would mean one million fewer car journeys, and save two million tons of CO2.”

This is ludicrous. One journey a month is irrelevant – and how about switching to foot or bicycle? And no switch will occur with a few fine words, but making it far more attractive to walk or cycle and less attractive to drive might just work.

 

APPENDIX TWO (20.02.2015)

More nonsense from Dugher here . “Stand up for motorists…”. Oh please…

 

 

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