It's up to our Ministers and MPs to Get Britain Cycling

Progress continues with the All Party Parliamentary Get Britain Cycling Inquiry today, with the third evidence session hearing from a range of experts (and, um, me) on planning and design for cyclists. Over the coming weeks many wise words will be said about what needs to be done to truly bring about mass cycling in the UK, and they'll be compiled in to a report recommending what should be done next. There is a risk, of course, that the very act of creating a report will be seen in some circles as being sufficient, that the creation of the report itself - rather than acting on it - is testament enough to Government's commitment to all things two-wheeled. The truth is we all know what needs to be done to Get Britain Cycling. Even Ministers themselves are surprisingly well-versed as to the steps that need to be taken. In case of any easily spinable soundbites dressing up scarce little action start to emanate from the Government, I thought it might be worth reminding our MPs and Ministers what they said themselves on the subject just one year ago.

In February 2012 MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert (Lib Dem) secured a date in Westminster Hall to debate The Times' Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. Hundreds of constituents wrote to their MPs urging them to attend. The night before the debate some 2,000 cyclists rode on Parliament in support of the debate. On the day itself over 55 members of Parliament attended - more than sat in the main hall at the same time. It was the largest debate of its kind for many years, and the first time that cycle safety had been debated exclusively in Parliament for a number of decades.

Let us re-examine now what our MPs said;

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) Lib Dem 
“The health benefits of encouraging cycling are also huge… Obesity costs our country around £20billion a year, which is about as much as the entire budget for the Department for Transport. We know that investment in active transport – walking and cycling – pays massive dividends… Cycling is efficient, cheap, reliable, healthy and environmentally friendly - by all accounts, it is a public policy maker’s dream.”

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) Con 
“The main thing that will increase the number of cyclists in our towns and cities is better safely. As a keen cyclist myself, I often find when I cycle in Reading that it is an extremely risky business… ..simply painting some white lines on the road is just not good enough” 

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) Con 
“It may surprise some to know that I cycle in London. Twice I have been hit from behind by motorists.”

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) Con 
“My constituent, Karl Austin, was tragically killed while competing in a time trial in June 2011… ..struck from behind by a heavy goods vehicle.

I want to quote from the letter I received from Keith Austin [Karl Austin’s father]. He is disappointed – to say the least – to find that the CPS “have ensured that the driver is to be sentenced in a Magistrate’s Court, not the Crown Court.” He writes that “it does seem to highlight the unwillingness of… CPS to bring adequate prosecution against drivers who kill cyclists.”

Just a few days ago a report was published in which the head of Scotland Yard’s road death investigation unit, Detective Chief Inspector Oldham, stated that motorists who cause death on the roads should face stiffer penalties.

[Mr Austin writes] “Is killing a man through carelessness on a par with minor offences? Under similar circumstances’ – that is, killing a man – “where no vehicle was involved, would that qualify for a magistrates court?... To lose a child under any circumstances is utterly devastating. But to have that death… ..treated in such a… ..trivialising manner just deepens the wounds further. My wife and I have suffered all this before, in 1986, when our only daughter was killed I a car crash; her killer was charged with ‘driving without due care and attention” and was fined about £200.”

With great grace, however, Mr Austin says that he is not vengeful towards the HGV driver, who himself has to live with the consequences of the incident.

“Whatever sentence he would have faced would be as nothing compared to ours.”

Outside Westminster Abbey

The rolling ride in support of the Cities Fit For Cycling parliamentary debate pauses outside Westminster Abbey. Photo via The Bike Show on Flickr.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) Lab 
“Co-ordination in Government. Unless we can get all the different departments that are interested in in cycling working together on the matter, and unless we get real leadership at the top from the Prime Minister and, crucially, from the Secretary of State for Transport, the Minister will not get the progress that we need.

[Under Labour] we went up a lot of gears only when Andrew Adonis was Transport Secretary. ..he was totally committed to cycling. He banged heads together. ..It was about getting those Ministers together, at Secretary of State Level, to agree to policies, to push them through and to ensure that we confronted – I am afraid that if the Minister has not already discovered this, he will do so – a cultural problem in parts of the Department and in local Government which are, in many cases, dominated by the road lobby.”

Oliver Colville (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) Con 
“A large number of people from my constituency have written to me – around 30. I work very much on the basis that for every one person who writes to me, 20 other people think the same way. If my mathematics are correct, 30 multiplied by 20 comes to 600 people, which is nearly half my parliamentary majority. I am therefore very aware of what the impact of that could be.”

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) Lab 
“We need much greater awareness among drivers – all drivers of all vehicles. We can tackle that through the learner-driver approach, the test, and so on. However, we need a very high-profile campaign to bring home to all vehicle drivers how dangerous it is for them to be driving at speed on any rural roads, and, indeed obviously on urban roads.

We should make an effort, in a joined-up way across Government, to get that cycle policy right for everybody.”

Big Ben
 Protesting cyclists pass Big Ben in Parliament Square. 
Photo via The Bike Show on Flickr

Dr Sarah Woollaston (Totness) Con 
“I represent a rural constituency. I would particularly like to remember the 11 people from my constituency who were killed or seriously injured cycling between 2005 and 2010”

Andrew Smith (Oxford East) Lab 
“The funding measures to improve cycling conditions cost little in comparison with making and maintaining roads. Switching a small proportion of the Highways Agency budget to provide cycle ways, as the campaign for The Times rightly proposes, could transform cycling provision and achieve huge costs savings if factoring in the health, environment and reduced road congestion effects. Local highway authorities should match that with a similar switch of funds to provide for cycling and maintenance of cycle tracks…

..This has been a great debate. Let us ensure that it is not only a worthy venting of concern and aspiration, but a catalyst for action make cycling in this country as good as it can be.” 

MP Andrew Smith hits the nail on the head. There are many words being spoken about cycling in Parliament at the moment, and cyclists are glad of the attention to their well-being. However, it remains to be seen how these words will translate in to action. I, for one, remain optimistic, but I'll be watching our elected representatives very closely and, if necessary, holding them to their word.

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amoeba said...

I'll believe it when it happens. We've been fobbed-off many times before, the report was as far as it got.
I cite this:

ibikelondon said...

I agree, Amoeba, that we have been here before, but I am confident that on this occasion the diversity of contributions to the report (as oppose to just one campaigning group) and the fact that News International are paying means that we are more likely to be heard. It certainly can't hurt trying!

The Ranty Highwayman said...

There must be no more excuses, the change, inspiration and direction must come from the top. Cycling (and walking) makes financial sense - obesity, independent travel, transport poverty, congestion, air quality, mental health, local shops, school run, road safety - all the things which cost us now...

Goodwheel said...

If government can exercise compulsory purchase rights to build roads then why not to build cycle lanes.

Could government not buy up a small section off large urban back gardens etc. join them up with existing parks and other open spaces for the sake of continum to allow cycles to avoid traffic altogether.