Government Investment For A British ‘Cycletopia’?
The government has recently released plans for a £94 million cash injection to cities and national parks nationwide to promote cycling. In recent years, cycling has really flourished in the United Kingdom and many cyclists and cycling bodies are celebrating the planned stimulus. As usual though, there a political squabbles left, right and centre, arguing about whether the selected cities are the right choices for investment and whether this cycling development plan is too little too late.
Whatever side of the political fence you sit on, any investment into the improvement of cycling routes and cycling safety in general is a welcome one.
According to the Department for Transport, the following cities will be sharing £77 million to build newer, safer cycle paths and update and improve existing ones:
- Manchester – £20m
- Leeds – £18.1m
- Birmingham – £17m
- Newcastle – £5.7m
- Bristol – £7.8m
- Cambridge – £4.1m
- Oxford – £0.8m
- Norwich – £3.7m
The remainder of the £94 million budget will be spent on improving the cycling facilities in four of the UK’s National Parks:
- Peak District – £5m
- Dartmoor – £4.4m
- South Downs – £3.8m
- New Forest – £3.6m
With the help of local government contributions and private investment, the government is hoping to raise a further £54 million pounds by the end of 2015, bringing the total level of investment to an estimated total of £148 million.
The investment may have been caused by the growing number of cycling related accidents and fatalities on the UK’s roads combined with cycling’s surge in popularity following the successes of the Olympics, Paralympics and Tour de France. According to David Cameron: “This government wants to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up and business, local government, developers, road users and the transport sector all have a role to play in helping to achieve this.”
The government’s main aim is to get more people cycling, hoping to make the UK more like many other European nations. According to a survey from the EU from 2002, the average distance cycled per inhabitant for the UK was 0.2km, far behind the tables leader, the Netherlands, who scored an incredible 2.5km per inhabitant, per day – this left the UK way behind in tenth on the chart, behind the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Italy and Austria.
Interestingly, the same survey concluded that the UK has the highest number of cycling related accidents and fatalities within the major EU member states. More cycle paths and a focus on cycle safety could help lower those figures and make cycling in the UK are far more attractive proposal.
The plans haven’t stopped there though; there has also been talk of a feasibility study to focus on creating a national cycle way that loosely follows the route of the HS2 high speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Perhaps combining the new rail link with public transport might spur more people to get on their bikes? The government seems to think so and many ministers are hoping that the rest of the country will follow London’s example. Sources and statistics vary but cycling in the capital has easily doubled in the last ten years, with one estimate even going as far as to say that the number of regular cyclists has increased by 178% in London since 2000. It’s great news but London is well-equipped for cyclists; many of the country’s other cities, however, are not. According to the Department for Transport, only 2% of journeys were made by bicycle in 2012.
What Does The Money Buy?
According to the BBC’s transport correspondent Richard Westcott, £94m might not even be nearly enough money to revolutionise Britain’s cycling routes. The new cycling superhighways in London that span a combined length of around 40 miles cost £35m. Of course, building new cycling routes completely depends on the pre-existing transport infrastructure; if a city has a good road network, building new cycle lanes may be as simple as painting some lines but if that’s not possible (and many cities just aren’t geared towards cycling) new lanes and safe, cycling friendly junctions are going to cost significantly more. With the money divided up the way it is, we probably can’t expect too much in the way of new and improved cycling conditions.
Whatever your opinion, any amount of money and political interest is a step in the right direction; it might not be the revolution that cyclists dream of but as Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching: a journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step – or a pedal, in this case.
The best way to literally set the wheels of revolution in motion is to get out and go for a ride. If we have more cyclists on the road, the government will be forced to put more new and improved safety measures in place, benefiting all of us.
With the popularity of cycling on the rise, if you’ve been looking to get into cycling or take the activity more serious, there has never been a better time than right now. Sure, it might be a little cold and wet and the moment but go out and go for a ride – you certainly won’t regret it.