Wednesday, 21 March 2012

County council articulates a real cycling strategy 'to support economic growth' by getting people to jobs without the cost of driving. Meanwhile, London will get new bridges for more motor traffic and only a gesture towards cycle safety.

The Times has a piece about today's Budget announcement that London will receive £15million to spend on making junctions in London safer for people cycling. The money will be spent to 'tackle some of London’s most dangerous spots for cyclists, including roundabouts at Waterloo, Elephant & Castle and Lambeth Bridge, and roads in Farringdon, Lambeth and the Oval.'

This is very welcome news. It suggests that the Mayor has been petitioning the Chancellor for cash for cycling. But as Charlie Lloyd at the London Cycling Campaign told the BBC, it's little more than 'a good gesture'.

It's still too early to say how the money will be spent. The London Cycling Campaign and other organisations (pedestrian and motoring organisations) are meeting with Transport for London and reviewing the junctions as we speak. The crucial test will be whether or not cycling can be truly fitted into these places in a way that would allow your average Londoner to think cycling is a sensible option rather than driving or taking the bus.

There's also a question about whether the junction-by-junction approach is a real long term solution or not. Cambridgeshire county council announced this week that it has seen significant growth in cycling (on an already high base). How did achieve that growth in cycling? It focussed on building routes that people felt were safe enough to cycle on. As the county council says: '£9 million was invested between 2008 and 2011 to provide 14 new and improved cycle routes.. It is these routes that have seen the greatest rise'. What's important about the Cambridgeshire press release is that the county has committed to try and continue that level of investment in the future.

Why is Cambridgeshire choosing to invest in cycling? The answer lies in this part of the press release: "Several millions of pounds [could be] invested in cycling in the Ely-Cambridge and Huntingdon-Cambridge corridors. This will help support economic growth in those areas." These corridors are pretty long distances. Huntingdon is 18 miles from Cambridge. What the county council is suggesting, is that it sees cycling as a viable commuter option over distances that most people think has to be travelled by car.

I've grown more and more fed up of the press releases that the motoring lobby has been putting out this week. All week the news from organisations like the AA and the RAC foundation has been about rising fuel prices. Rising petrol prices means people can't get to jobs, can't buy food. That sort of thing. I empathise but only to a point.

You see, what Cambridgeshire county council is suggesting is that people's transport costs can be freed from rising fuel prices if they have other options. Just imagine how much money you'd save if you had a genuine option to cycle from Huntingdon to Cambridge for work, rather than drive.

That sort of thinking hasn't reached London yet. The focus here is on resolving our (valid) safety and road design conflict issues. What we need is a Mayor who realises Londoners can be freed from fuel prices and is prepared to ignore the AA and the RAC and look to the bigger picture rather than a well-funded lobby group.

At the moment, the London Mayor's strategy is to build bridges and tunnels so that more people can travel in cars across the Thames. As the London Cycling Campaign puts it, cycling is still only a 'gesture'. I don't think there's much of a plan for cycling in London yet. At least nothing as clear and articulate as the Cambridgeshire plan. There's a very clear plan for big bridges and more motor traffic. But £15 million for a handful of junctions is only a tiny start. And it's not strategic in any way.