Make cycling ‘a national priority’, MP tells NLA summit

Thursday 4 August 2016

The momentum and political will is in place to power London’s cycling revolution throughout Sadiq Khan’s time in office. And the creation of more Superhighways, Quietways and mini Hollands must be reframed as not just good for bike riders, but for the city as a whole.

But there is a worrying level of ‘ambivalence’ in Government that needs to be overturned by the figurative leadership on cycling’s benefits for the city, led from the very top – prime minister Theresa May.

Those were some of the key points to emerge from a fascinating Cycling Summit held at the NLA yesterday and kicked off by Ruth Cadbury MP.

A cyclist herself who advocates the term ‘people who ride bikes’ rather than ‘cyclist’, Cadbury co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group that published a report in June, ‘Stuck in first gear – the Government’s Cycling Revolution’. That report called for 10 per cent of all journeys in Britain to be by bike by 2025 and a minimum investment of £10 per person per year, rising to £20 per person. But Cadbury said they had been ‘extremely disappointed in the lack of ambition, measurable outputs, funding and strategy they found. ‘We want a clear direction that cycling is a national priority’, she said. ‘Warm words are not enough’. The UK needs a ‘strong ambition for cycling’:  ‘For us it’s high time we kick-started a true cycling revolution that reaches beyond the Lycra brigade’. Cadbury said it was important that former Prime Minister David Cameron’s stated intention to start a ‘cycling revolution’ in August 2013 be followed through with Theresa May and the new ‘government’ - but that she was ‘not holding her breath’. It was also, she said, ‘difficult to express the level of ambivalence we find in parliament to cycling. We have a long way to go’.

Deputy mayor for transport Val Shawcross said that mayor Sadiq Khan has a ‘very strong mandate to deliver on the cycling agenda’, and desire to progress a ‘modal shift’, motivated by issues like better air quality, reducing congestion and improving health. The Superhighways programme will continue, with the latest being that the mayor wants Superhighway 11 built, and a focus on segregated provision. ‘The mayor’s aim is to make London a byword for cycling’, said Shawcross. The mayor is also working to direct utility companies to manage the infrastructure in the most efficient way, with works phased more carefully, and wants a ‘vision zero’ approach for London on safety. ‘We should not be tolerating so many road deaths’, said Shawcross. ‘We need to go out with an agenda that this is not just for cyclists; this is for all of us’. The ultimate goal, however, was to ‘keep up the momentum’, and ‘move the programme of cycling development from the embattled flagship policy years to mainstream core business’.

The conference also heard from Transport for London principal technical specialist, cycling, Brian Deegan on the ‘transformational’ impact of mini-Hollands, helped by a strategy of trialing changes to give people a taste of life with closed off streets, and Sustrans deputy director Matt Winfield on the benefits for all from the Quietways programme. Other highlights included TfL’s Hannah White showing progress on safety with CLOCS and work with lorry manufacturers. And they also included Transport for London’s head of sponsorship, road space management Nigel Hardy, who said at peak periods cyclists using Vauxhall Bridge was up by 73%, around 7,000 use the Victoria embankment and that more children were using the superhighways too. ‘It truly feels like we have the momentum’, said Hardy. ‘The political will is there too and we’re well set for the next chapter of active travel, here in London.’

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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