Road Cycling

We’ll Build Thousands Of Miles Of Protected Cycleways, Pledges Boris Johnson – Forbes


England is to be threaded with thousands of miles of curb-protected cycleways built to newly-published high standards, promises a U.K. government statement on July 27. Significantly, this “revolutionary” £2 billion plan is fronted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an everyday transportation cyclist.

Johnson said that the plan “aims to kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring.”

When Johnson assumed power in July 2019, he appointed journalist Andrew Gilligan as Number 10 Downing Street’s transport advisor. Gilligan was cycling commissioner when Johnson was Mayor of London, and it was Gilligan, not Johnson, that was most responsible for pushing through London’s curb-protected cycleway program.

The program announced this evening—which includes cycle training for adults, bikes available on NHS prescription, and a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly overhaul of the Highway Code—has Gilligan’s fingerprints all over them

“Schemes,” says the Gilligan-flavored government statement, “which consist mainly of paint, which make pedestrians and cyclists share the same space, or which do not make meaningful change to the status quo on the road, will not be funded.”

This tough wording is similar to language used in an unusually hard-hitting Department for Transport letter sent to English local authorities on May 27, urging them to “show us that you have a swift and meaningful plan to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including strategic corridors.”

With a majority of 80 MPs in the House of Commons, a fixed five-year administration, and an interest in cycling, Johnson can push through measures that other U.K. Prime Ministers have been unable or unminded to do.

“To build a healthier, more active nation,” said Johnson in a statement, “we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels.”

“Now is the time,” stressed Johnson, “to press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel, so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”

In a foreword to Gear Change, Johnson said:

“The joy of cycling is that doing it doesn’t just benefit you. It doesn’t just make you happier. It doesn’t just make you healthier. It helps millions of others too, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bike. It means less pollution and less noise for everyone. It means more trade for street-front businesses. It means fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.”

Cycling on the NHS

Johnson said family doctors—known as General Practitioners, or GPs—will be encouraged to “prescribe” cycling on the NHS in certain areas, with patients able to access bicycles through their local GP surgeries.

The bicycle, said Johnson, was a “giant, universal prescription” and the new cycleways would become “huge, 24-hour gyms, free and open to everyone.”

There will also be a “national e-bike program,” although no details have been released whether this is a loan program or an Italy-style subsidy scheme for purchasing e-bikes.

Gear Change

Some of the strategy unveiled today was soft-launched earlier in the year by transport secretary Grant Shapps who announced that £250 million would be advanced to eager local authorities to pay for “pop-up” cycling and walking infrastructure to cater for physical distancing during lockdown. 

89 local authorities implemented 503 temporary schemes that made more space for pedestrians and cyclists; some of the schemes could be made permanent.

A £2 billion funding commitment announced by Shapps during the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on May 9 was not new funding, rather it was part of the £5 billion in funding announced for cycling and buses in February.

Prior to that, Johnson had told parliament that the near future “should be a new golden age for cycling.”

This “golden age” starts now and, says a government statement, is kicked off by “Gear Change,” a strategy billed as a “bold vision for cycling and walking” and which includes the following:

  • Higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England. This is the long-awaited and much-trailed Cycle Infrastructure Design guidance, which will become known to transport wonks as Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/20.
  • Creation of Active Travel England, a cycling and walking inspectorate. ATE will “help make sure schemes are compliant with the new standards.”
  • ATE will be in charge of a long-term budget for cycling and walking similar to road funding.
  • Appointment of a zero-emission city with only electric motor vehicles and other forms of non-polluting transport allowed in the center. No details have been released on candidate cities.

In addition, cycle training—known as Bikeability—will be made available for children and adults, accessible through schools, local authorities or direct from existing cycle training companies.

Gear Change also promises to install cycle parking at transport hubs, town and city centers and public buildings, and there will be funding to part-pay for on-street bike hangars for people who don’t have space to keep bikes at home. Such hangers—they take the place of car parking spaces—have proven extremely popular and useful in the “Mini Holland” parts of the London Borough of Walthamstow.

The government is also pledging to help local authorities create “low traffic neighborhoods” to reduce rat running, including by consulting on local communities’ right to close side streets to motor vehicles and putting in place more “school streets” to reduce motor traffic close to schools.

Twelve local authority areas will be chosen to benefit from intensive investment in “Mini-Holland” schemes.

The principal authors of the Cycle Infrastructure Design guidance are transport consultants Phil Jones and Adrian Lord. The guidance they had helped to produce is likely to be highly influential.

Active Travel England is a replacement for Cycling England, a quasi non-governmental organization, or “quango,” operated at arm’s length by the Department for Transport between 2005 and 2011. During its last year of existence—it was scheduled for closure during the 2010 “bonfire of the quangos”—Cycling England had an operational annual budget of £60 million.

In the foreword to Cycle Infrastructure Guidance, cycling and walking minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP said that “cycling will play a far bigger part in our transport system from now on.”

He added: “Too much cycling infrastructure is substandard, providing little protection from motorized traffc and giving up at the very places it is most needed. Some is actually worse than nothing, because it entices novice cyclists with the promise of protection, then abandons them at the most important places.”

Stressing that all future cycle infrastructure plans from local authorities would have to meet the tough new guidance, he advised that “poor cycling infrastructure discourages cycling and wastes public money.”

Advocates applaud

Cycle organizations have welcomed the government’s plans. Xavier Brice, CEO of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, said the announcement “marks a big step forward” and that by “helping more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys, this package of measures will cut pollution, tackle the causes of poor health, and improve the safety of our streets.”

British Cycling’s policy adviser Chris Boardman said: “The Prime Minister promised back in May that Britain was about to enter a golden age for cycling, and the package of measures announced today shows exactly the level of ambition required to transform the country.”

Boardman, who is also Greater Manchester’s walking and cycling commissioner, added:

“Recent trials with temporary bike lanes show that now, more than ever, we need to hear from those saying yes to safer, healthier and cleaner streets, and less from those standing in the way.”

According to a YouGov survey commissioned by the industry-funded “Bike Is Best” campaign, for every person against, 6.5 people are in favor of measures to encourage cycling and walking. 

Gilligan’s Island

Gilligan—London’s “cycling czar” from 2013 to 2016—has had a low profile since joining 10 Downing Street but he has been working hand-in-glove with the civil servants in the Department for Transport’s Active and Accessible Travel team.

The former Telegraph journalist has strong views on cycling, and on the ills of mass motorization. Last year he told Cyclist magazine that the “vast majority of road space is given to the least efficient users of it.” 

He added: “[Cyclists] don’t emit any pollution; they don’t create much congestion if any and they’re not a safety risk.” 

His was the most radically pro-cycling voice inside 10 Downing Street since the entrance of, well, Johnson himself. 

Gilligan told Cyclist: “I don’t believe that the answer to London’s transport problems is a vast slew of new railways or transport links. I think the answer is cycling actually.” 

In 2018 Gilligan wrote a report for the National Infrastructure Commission on the potential for cycling in Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. Running Out of Road recommended the roll-out of many miles of protected cycleways to encourage cycling.

Gilligan is a details man; Johnson is the dreamer. The Prime Minister has long had grandiose plans for new infrastructure, including a fanciful bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and an Estuary airport near London, and his love of bicycling has now resulted in this roll-out of a national plan for cycling.

It’s likely that not all of Johnson’s MPs will welcome his plans to get more people on bicycles by taking space from motorists. For instance, vocal opposition from Conservative MP Crispin Blunt led to the closure of a pop-up cycleway in Reigate, Surrey. The trial should have lasted three weeks, but after an intervention from Blunt it lasted just three days.

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While impressive, Gear Change is not as ambitious as the plan drafted by the official opposition in the run up to last year’s General Election, won in December by Johnson’s Brexit-fixated Conservative Party. The Labour Party had pledged to spend £7 billion on active transport, including bicycling and walking.

According to a 2017 report written for the Department for Transport, a fully curb-protected cycleway costs £1.45 million per kilometer.

Labour’s plans would have constructed 3,100 miles of protected cycleways in English cities. Gear Change does not reveal how many miles of cycleways Johnson and Gilligan are proposing for English local authorities to build but, if the pair want to be taken seriously, the £2 billion floated so far can only really be a starter budget, believe planning experts.

Given that much of the budget is earmarked for schemes other than building curb-protected cycleways it’s likely that less than 1,000 miles of protected cycleways could be afforded by the plan as it stands.

Road rules

Gear Change says the government will strengthen the Highway Code to better protect pedestrians and cyclists. Updates for the revised road rules include recommending the “Dutch reach,” a method of opening car doors by turning and using the hand furthest from the handle, which forces drivers or passengers to look behind for passing cyclists. The method—which is supposed to be taught to Dutch drivers—was scheduled for inclusion in 2018 but the Code has still not been updated.

Motoring organizations have been exercised by the government’s plans to give priority to pedestrians in some circumstances.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “We need to consider just how practical, and indeed safe it is to advise drivers to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a road at a junction when traffic from another direction may be approaching.”

However, AA president Edmund King has welcomed the government’s plans.

“As a third of drivers said they would cycle, walk or run more after lockdown these proposals should be broadly welcomed to improve safety for all road users.”

King added: “Getting road space balance for all forms of travel is essential so that deliveries, emergency services, disabled drivers, shoppers and buses are not hindered from conducting their crucial roles as well as promoting active travel.”

Cycle repair vouchers

Alongside the launch of the strategy, the first batch of bike repair vouchers worth £50 will be released in a pilot scheme to encourage people get back into cycling. These vouchers were first announced on May 9 but due to overwhelming demand for cycle shops’ services during the pandemic, the scheme has been beset with delays.

Vouchers will now be released in batches in order to help manage capacity across participating stores. The first 50,000 will be available just before midnight tonight on a first-come, first-served basis to those who register online.

The scheme—operated for the government by the Energy Savings Trust—will be rolled out more widely later in the year.

Mode shift

Transport Secretary Shapps, currently on holiday in Spain and who will have to quarantine for fourteen days on his return thanks to government guidance issued on July 26, said the Gear Change plan was “revolutionary” and would make England into a “great cycling nation.”

He added: “We’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes for generations to come, and get more people choosing to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine.”

Johnson concluded: “People want radical change, and we politicians shouldn’t be afraid to give it to them.”