“…this should be a new golden age for cycling…”

Thus spoke Prime Minister Johnson in the House of Commons on 6th May 2020. Next day the Minister for Transport announced a programme which appears to signal the best chance for genuine Governmental support for cycling and walking for the last few decades. Momentous if it is – and not before time. “Should” – but will it be? I look at the prospects and continue the update of transport in the Covid crisis

In the daily Government briefing on 6th May Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, said “…we’re considering how we can create more room in town centres for pedestrians and make it easier to cycle or walk to work …” .
Then on 10th May we got the  “Encouraging cycling and walking” Press Release

And the announcement from Transport Minister Grant Shapps ( Video here). So let’s look at the main points here (comments in red are mine):

1. A national cycling and walking plan to be published in June. One was due anyway, but we may get some good detail.
2. Renewed commitment to double cycling and increase walking by 2025. The “commitment“ was already there. On a minor (perhaps cynical?) point, with fewer journeys being made, maintaining the same levels of walking and cycling would increase modal share.
3. £2bn for cycling and walking (from the £5bn funding pot for buses and cycling announced in February). Already announced – it’s not “new money”.
4. £250million emergency fund for instant pop-up schemes (pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, cycle and bus-only streets). This is new and important.
5. A new national cycling and walking champion and inspectorate. This looks impressive – “inspectorate” has the ring of authority about it. However, we have been here before with an “inspectorate” Cycling England in 2000 – 2005. It wasn’t able to effect change as it had no powers: a proper inspectorate will need teeth.
6. Legal changes to protect vulnerable road users. It’s unclear what these might be. Yet to be announced.
7. At least one “zero-emission city,” with its centre restricted to bikes and electric vehicles.
8. The creation of a long-term cycling programme and budget, just like the budget for roads.
9. E-scooter trials around England, from June.
10. A voucher scheme for bike repairs and maintenance, and plans to boost bike fixing facilities. In my view this and associated measures to assist returners and newcomers to cycling, will be crucial. Details of this yet to be announced 13/05.
11. Much closer links with the NHS, with GPs prescribing cycling and exercise.

New signage

For commentary, I’d say it’s worth a look at the article by Carlton Reid here, and also the pessimistic assessment of what changes may be facilitated in changing the highway environment from “the Ranty Highwayman”. As the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling and Walking said: “The most significant announcement in the new fast-track statutory guidance published today and effective immediately, is that councils are required to cater for significantly increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians by reallocating roadspace, and that the government can take control of highways powers from councils that don’t comply.”

I’d go with Chris Boardmans comments to Cycling Weekly:

“‘…we have never seen anything like this before…More important than cash, the government has given cycling as a mode of transport a new status, not for ideological reasons but for practical ones, it’s the most logical solution to short-term problems and then, if we choose, it’ll help us tackle long-term ones,”

“Wording in the announcement was strong, unequivocal and backed up by legislation with similarly clear wording for councils. We have never seen anything like this before, it is a step-change in the Government’s position that should not be underestimated,”

I think we are at a crossroads. I really don’t know which way it’s going to go. But this is the first time it has ever been a real choice, and that’s progress“. (my emphasis).

Note that last paragraph!

I do agree with the view of Chris Boardman – this is an unparalleled time for the walking and cycling agenda in this country – but the UK is moving less well at those “crossroads” than some other European countries. We have an ingrained legacy of prejudice against cycling and any perceived (let alone actual) questioning of the role of the private car. What is certain is that professionals and campaigners need to be working hard at this time for the sustainable and active travel agenda.

Apart from the big announcement, the other news since  the last update is below:

The UK

“Go to work in a car or, even better, by bicycle,” Prime Minister 10th May

There is an interesting survey of Councils by Labour Cycles’ Chris Kenyon; a new guide for highway authorities by Urban Design Group FAST URBAN CHANGE FOR LIFE-SAVING STREETS . Here there is a plea to not reinforce bad highway characteristics in “pop-up” schemes

Let’s have a quick look at schemes that have appeared around the country:

Brighton – a mandatory cycle lane with the usual problems of painted cycle lanes.

Note lane running out at refuge

Cambridge During the meeting with the ‘M9’ group of UK mayors,it was reported that both Boris Johnson and the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, emphasised the need to promote cycling and walking after the lockdown is lifted, avoiding the dangers of increased congestion and air pollution from increased car traffic.

Liverpool https://t.co/E4n0hVeVmJ?amp=1This is the moment for every community to rethink; not just the city centre but our local high streets” 100 km. of bike lanes promised


Princess Street

First impressions are of “something definite”, but locals refer to low levels of walking at this location.

OxfordTemporarily reallocating road space (through road closures, traffic light controlled one-way streets, and wider pavements) to allow people to walk and cycle safely into and around Oxford” 11th May. The Mayor tweeted:” Having cycled through town to shop yesterday, I am more aware than ever that we can’t go back to normal after this crisis. In Oxford, future traffic planning must revolve around walking and cycling with supportive public transport. Now is the time to plan for the future.” 08.05

Urmston, Greater Manchester

Not really, no…

Roadspace re-allocation really needs to be a lot more than some cones outside a chip shop!


The good news in this survey  :61% of Londoners plan to walk/cycle more post lockdown. More worryingly, 53% of Londoners plan to drive more post lockdown. On 6th May the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan formally launched the “Streetspace” programme #StreetspaceLDN.  Euston Road and Park Lane were announced as locations for flagship temporary cycle lanes:

“The journey to a greener London will be made by foot and by bike.” Sadiq Khan

Again from the Mayor:
London’s road to recovery cannot be clogged with cars.
Together with councils, we’re already rapidly creating new cycle lanes and space for people walking.
From Hackney to Hounslow, Pimlico to Putney, great to see support from Londoners for #StreetspaceLDN.” 8th May.

However, at the same time drivers are being subsidised by suspension of the charges in the Congetsion Charge and ULEZ zones

This is what the London Cycling Campaign say London Cycling Campaign say London Cycling Campaign say:

A “radical” plan?
Norman (the Mayor’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner RD) has called the emergency “Streetspace Plan” “radical” and “unparalleled in a city London’s size”, so theoretically topping Paris’ 650km of emergency cycle track plans and proposals to close major roads such as Rue de Rivoli to motor traffic.
The plan also pledges TfL will work with boroughs on town centres, shopping streets and “low traffic neighbourhoods”. This will be key. TfL’s congestion charge and ULEZ are currently suspended, and we understand that it could take up to three months (but see the estimate of three weeks above RD) to reinstate these from any point when the Mayor decides to do so.
With motor traffic rates rising daily at the moment, any chance of enabling more people to cycle and walk now hangs in the balance.

There is also the critical question of payment for temporary schemes. While “pop-ups” are a lot cheaper than normal highway schemes, funding is required and Transport for London is in a very poor financial situation. The funding announced for the UK excludes London, and at the time of writing (13th May) nothing has been announced for London by central Government.

London Boroughs

TfL and Lambeth

Extended footway at bus stop, Brixton

TfL and Royal Borough of Greenwich   “widening footpaths in town centres and around Greenwich Park filtering more residential streets to reduce through traffic, creating more School Streets bringing forward plans for the Greenwich to Woolwich cycle route


Campaigners wrote this open letter with some nice illustrations

City of London
Here’s the plan for the Square Mile plan for the Square Mile plan for the Square Mile to be discussed be discussed be discussed on 14th May:


Lancaster Road


Lane defenders installed on A1010 (already programmed scheme)

LB Enfield have an interesting programme to support key workers

Following the national announcement on 9th May, LB Hackney are pushing ahead with a programme of filtered permeability (closing ends of some streets to motor vehicles)

Even City of Westminster are “looking to aim higher” on Air Quality.


Meanwhile in Paris…

I’ll be updating again next week. Let’s hope we move across the crossroads in the right direction!

(A shorter version of the piece above is on You Tube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUgW7nNTGM8&feature=youtu.be  from 46.20 in Brian Deegan’s weekly #Ideaswithbeers Zoom session)

Dr Robert Davis 13th May 2020

1 thought on ““…this should be a new golden age for cycling…”

  1. Linus Rees

    A new golden age for cycling? It was heartening to see so many families out over the past few weeks. People getting a taste for cycling in the city and perhaps develop a life skill and become politically motivated to call for restrictions on motor traffic and better infrastructure for cycling and walking.

    I had high hopes until Johnson’s announcement on Sunday about “get back to work”, avoid public transport, and… drive… and then he quickly added or better still cycle or walk as an afterthought.

    After a 30 minute cycle ride this morning where I crossed the Euston Road twice during the morning peak – and it is a peak – it appears to be a new golden age for driving. I saw – albeit on my very short journey – nothing that benefits cycling. But the following tangible and immediate benefits for motorists were plain to see: no congestion charge, no ULEZ, and in Camden there is, in effect, free parking because parking attendants have been instructed not to carry out any enforcement but instead street officers “will be providing a marshalling service to support and direct those that have been provided with free parking across the borough”. And this is in supposedly cycle-friendly Camden. I have received mixed messages about how Westminster council operates. But there is a lot of parking and idling of engines while stationary.

    A combination of Khan’s lifting of motor vehicle restrictions, relaxing of controls by individual boroughs, and Johnson’s Sunday night remarks in favour of driving has taken the wind out of our sails. Motor traffic is not only moving, it is moving faster and unrestricted. This does not bode well. There are horrendous reports of crowded buses and tube trains. But drivers – who now pay record low prices for fuel – have never had it so good. Socialism for private car drivers, capitalism on steroids for everyone else, and sod climate change and clean air while you are at it. It’s a mad world led by the likes of Trump and Johnson.

    As you have pointed out above. There are plenty of good intentions being put about. And the City of London plans appear to be a genuine step forward and progressive approach. But as far as the boroughs are concerned there are just token interventions. Apparently in Camden Town there is some temporary widening of the pavement going on.

    But this is no step-change. And it doesn’t look very much like a golden age for cycling is heading our way anytime soon. Back to the grind of campaigning and pushing at doors that may not be closed but they are not particularly wide open, either. Keep up the good work. Don’t die anytime soon – we need you!


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