Government Ignores Cycling

Posted by chdot on December 22, 2006

That’s not (just) the view of hardened cycle campaigners, but bike trade journalist Carlton Reid. He edits BikeBiz (FOR EVERYONE IN THE BICYCLE BUSINESS) and this is his latest front page story (reproduced in full with permission) –

“Report after report plugs cycling, but there’s still no joined-up effort to boost biking in Britain…”

"IN MANY ways we’ve never had it so good. Cycling is getting more and more official mentions in weighty, Government-sponsored reports. The Stern Report on climate change, the Eddington Report on transport and a multitude of reports on obesity have all recently plugged cycling.

But there’s little to show for this on the ground. Motorists take it for granted that tax pounds will be spent on the upkeep of the roads they ruin and pay for the creation of lots of new ones. But cyclists have to make do with a patchy network of often badly thought out urban bike routes that are often neither use nor ornament.Amazingly, despite this, cycle use is on the up and up, especially in cities such as London, where cycling is taken seriously and funded accordingly.

The Government cannot say it wasn’t told that cycling is a (partial) solution to many of today’s ills. From fighting flab to reducing greenhouse gases, more people cycling more often is a key recommendation from a host of official reports. In his recent report for Government, Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government economic service and former World Bank chief economist, said: “There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally.

Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change.” So, is the Government taking on board the Stern Report’s warning? Not really: it has earmarked £11.4bn for the expansion of the road network, yet just £545m for tackling climate change.

Cycling England is funded with just £5m a year. Yet simply telling people about transport choices can have a dramatic impact. Sustrans estimates it would cost £500m to roll-out a national TravelSmart scheme, which would lead to a ten per cent reduction in car trips. James Ryle, director of TravelSmart for Sustrans, said:“To reduce car travel nationally by at least ten per cent for the cost of building 17 miles of motorway is a good return on investment.”

The Government isn’t listening. Partly this is because Ministers don’t like to be seen as ‘anti-car’. Transport ministers are particularly sensitive about being labeled as supporters of walking or cycling: they have a fear of being positioned next to library stills of Monty Python’s John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. And the Conservatives are certainly no better in this respect. In a Commons debate about the Eddington Report, Chris Grayling MP, the Shadow Transport Secretary, giggled at the report’s mention of cycling. “The Eddington says: ‘Walking and cycling options have the potential for very high welfare returns relative to their cost…’ Whoever wrote that deserves some form of prize and clearly has a bright future as a comedy writer.”

Such ridicule is commonplace and it’s reflected in the British mass media. In mid-December the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued the first ever national guidelines about obesity. The NICE press release led on activity recommendations such as more walking and cycling, but the mass media sprinted past the sensible stuff and plumped instead for kiddie stomach-stapling.

Cycling is mentioned many times throughout the NICE release. It isn’t until half way down page two of the release that bariatric surgery got a brief mention. With the mass media preferring shock headlines about a handful of super-fat kids going under the knife, the more proactive message about active lifestyles was almost wholly lost. It’s against this sort of backdrop that it becomes easier for the Government to sideline walking and cycling. And that’s bad for the bicycle business, the planet and people’s health…


Of course he is talking about England and Westminster, but……

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