Chris Boardman slams Government “apathy” on cycling & calls for “commitment” to goals

Sets out four-point basis of plan to get Britain cycling

by John Stevenson   January 21, 2014  

Chris Boardman interview

Accusing the Government of “positive apathy” over cycling, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman has set out the steps he believes it needs to take to live up to its stated aim of getting more people on bikes. The measures include setting targets for levels cycling and allocating sufficient funds to achieve those targets.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg news, Chris hit out at the Government’s lack of commitment to achieving its stated cycling goals. He said that there was a substantial difference between Britain and New York, whose transport authority had maintained the same level of cycling accidents since 2007 even when participation rose 250 percent.

“In New York there was the political will for change. In the U.K. it’s more like positive apathy,” he said.

Following up that statement, Chris told road.cc: “My issue is with statements and actions not yet matching.”

Chris sees the potential of cycling in the UK as vast, and increased cycling being a major part of solving the country’s obesity crisis and associated health problems.

“There is a huge untapped demand,” he said. “About 60% of people would travel regularly by bike IF the environment looked safe and attractive. That is a massive potential when you have 35,000 deaths a year from obesity related illness and a large chunk of the 5 billion pounds a year it takes to treat that could be used preventing it.”

Yet he sees more words than action coming from the Government. Prime Minister David Cameron said on August 12 last year that cycling would be “at the heart of all our future transport plans”. In its response to the Get Britain Cycling report, the Government said: “We aim to make Britain a cycling nation to rival any of our European neighbours.”

“These are fantastic statements,” said Chris. “However I’m afraid the actions don’t match the words.”

Chris says the Government has refused to set any targets for cycling use, and has committed far more cash to provision for motoring than for cycling.

“There’s a £5.6 billion annual Highways Agencies budget for roads with a continuous revenue stream versus £128 million allocated for cycling and only committed for two years,” he said. He also pointed out that there’s no monitoring of local authority activities, even though they are the agencies that often deliver local routes.

“I think you’ll struggle to find any business that says it can achieve its goals with that kind of strategy/commitment backing it up,” he said. “You’d be laughed out of the bank.

“For any business to succeed, you define your target; where you want to get to. You then define how you are going to achieve that target in great detail and then you measure your progress closely, adjusting your strategy accordingly when you meet unforeseen circumstance. It’s that simple. Hence I said ‘positive apathy’.”

As part of the team that’s steered British cyclists to numerous gold medals at the last few Olympics, Chris is familiar with working toward a goal. He was well-known for the meticulous attention to training and aerodynamics that in 1992 landed him Britain’s first Olympic cycling gold in decades in Barcelona.

He laid out four points he’d like to see the Government implement to demonstrate that there’s more than just words in its enthusiasm for cycling.

He said: “What I’d like to see is:

“A statement from the government saying ‘we want cycling and walking to be our preferred means of transport in the UK. We will legislate, design infrastructure and spend accordingly’.

“A nationally set of defined targets and timescale to define what that will look like.

“A dedicated and consistent part of the budget to achieve this. £10 a head (half that of the Netherlands) would be a start.

“A national monitoring scheme to assess progress.

“Or put even more simply: commitment.”

Over to you, Patrick McLoughlin and Robert Goodwill.

27 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

CB should be King of the world

That being said, the second last line says it all, if the Gov was committed this would be so much easier, and we as a country weren't so apathetic to voting or politics in general, we may in fact have a voice

posted by jason.timothy.jones [252 posts]
21st January 2014 - 22:57

like this
Like (21)

Well put!

kiwiglider's picture

posted by kiwiglider [22 posts]
21st January 2014 - 22:59

like this
Like (8)

Nailed it once again. More than anyone else, he highlights the total bullshit that flows from Westminster because it is stuffed full of non achievers that would not have the first clue about the graft that goes into his success or anyone else's.
The reality is this Chris, I will vote for you regardless of party affiliation because as soon as we representatives who are achievers in place, we might have hope. Good luck.

posted by arfa [357 posts]
21st January 2014 - 23:00

like this
Like (29)

Can someone please give this man a job please?
Preferably one that takes the burden of responsibility of running the country away from the nasty, privileged, ex public school boys who are currently doing it.

posted by Some Fella [619 posts]
21st January 2014 - 23:24

like this
Like (12)

The biggest improvement the Tory pratts could make to my cycling life would be to repair some of the roads. At present they're more dangerous than any other road users, and that is saying something. Angry
PS we're lucky to have such an informed and committed spokesperson in CB

posted by zedand3 [15 posts]
21st January 2014 - 23:28

like this
Like (11)

zedand3 wrote:
The biggest improvement the Tory pratts could make to my cycling life would be to repair some of the roads. At present they're more dangerous than any other road users, and that is saying something. Angry

It's councils that mend the road. Report hazards via http://www.fillthathole.org.uk

The Tories don't care about roads, or you and me. They just want to be rich (and us poor).

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1778 posts]
21st January 2014 - 23:32

like this
Like (16)

We'll at least that's 35000 less fat twats in cars off the road every year!
Always look on the bright side!

posted by Krd51 [19 posts]
21st January 2014 - 23:52

like this
Like (16)

They always tend to pay lip service when required, I feel it is the lack of a proper unified policy throughout the country and I don't expect it to change any time soon.

posted by embattle [6 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 0:18

like this
Like (10)

His comments are sacrosanct beautifull but like politicians words, are exactly that.

posted by yenrod [88 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 0:56

like this
Like (8)

A cynic might think UK politicians are just nicely educated frontmen for the various Drug, Food, Oil, Finance etc companies.

We'll done to CB a brilliant advocate, he's got my vote.

posted by IanW1968 [94 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 7:50

like this
Like (12)

Sensible targets need to be set along with penalties for missing them. Without penalties, nothing ever gets done... Look at the infrastructure that was put in place for the Olympics, that got done ahead of time because there were serious deadlines with hefty finacial penalties for missing them.

posted by Paul_C [115 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 8:55

like this
Like (5)

The Government, which happens to be the nasty party at the moment, the Tories, DGAF about cyclists. The reason is because cyclists don't pay road tax therefore do not have to pay the Treasury anything to use the roads, where as motorised vehicles do, so cars, vans, trucks and buses keep politicians and bureaucrats in the manner they have become accustomed to. End of.

Airzound

posted by Airzound [69 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 9:58

like this
Like (4)

Airzound wrote:
The Government, which happens to be the nasty party at the moment, the Tories, DGAF about cyclists. The reason is because cyclists don't pay road tax therefore do not have to pay the Treasury anything to use the roads, where as motorised vehicles do, so cars, vans, trucks and buses keep politicians and bureaucrats in the manner they have become accustomed to. End of.

Troll alert! Yawn

posted by onyourbikeinlondon [10 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 10:46

like this
Like (6)

Airzound wrote:
The Government, which happens to be the nasty party at the moment, the Tories, DGAF about cyclists. The reason is because cyclists don't pay road tax therefore do not have to pay the Treasury anything to use the roads, where as motorised vehicles do, so cars, vans, trucks and buses keep politicians and bureaucrats in the manner they have become accustomed to. End of.

Are you trolling?

You're completely misinformed about road tax (abolished in 1937) and road funding (via general taxation).

You're right about the Tories though, but forgot to include all the other parties.

posted by jacknorell [168 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 10:46

like this
Like (6)

Such common sense puts politicians into never getting to the point mode. They will never give answers, only speak speak.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [899 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 11:06

like this
Like (3)

I agree Chris, unfortunately no one in government cares about a commitment to cycling. Politicians will pay lip service to populist sentiments, but continue to act in the best interests of themselves and their lobbying friends.

posted by kitsunegari [16 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 11:06

like this
Like (7)

As usual, a lot of sense being talked by Chris Boardman. Please, someone, give him a job with the power and the budget to make things happen!

Krd51 wrote:
We'll at least that's 35000 less fat twats in cars off the road every year!
Always look on the bright side!

I realise this is probably just a throw away comment, but it's not a very helpful attitude. We bemoan the fact the some motorists treat cyclists as if they're a different species who don't matter, rather than normal people who choose to get around bike. How is this any different? Surely the whole point CB is making is that there are lots of people out there who'd like to get around by bike, but don't feel able to. I'm sure a lot of those "fat twats" are people who would like to start cycling for the good of their health and standard of living, but need more encouragement and support to start, and need to feel that it's safe for them to do so.

posted by graham_f [73 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 12:11

like this
Like (6)

“A statement from the government saying ‘we want cycling and walking to be our preferred means of transport in the UK. We will legislate, design infrastructure and spend accordingly’.

Government won't make such a statement. If they did it would be an outright lie. Whilst we measure economic sucess in terms of car sales and 'big business' (in this case motor and oil industies) has such influence over poloitcal process it simply will not happen.

posted by Matt eaton [0 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 13:12

like this
Like (2)

'Airzound' might be trolling with those words.

However, he/she may have illustrated a point about the income from taxation on the transport industry. Without VED, fuel duty, VAT on cars, fuel, parts, insurance, servicing and the vast range of ancilliary industries that surround our road network and its motorised users - everything from roadstone quarries to sat-nav sales - the Exchequer would be a lot poorer.

While there may be some benefits of doing without these - NHS costs, the spending on road building, repair and maintenance for starters - but I suspect these don't match the income.

So would they seek to pull it in from elsewhere or would they cut services? Or both?

For any commitment to work the guaranteed spending on cycling would have to be matched by intent. So no more stupid, disjointed or disconnected cycle lanes and pathetically ineffective on-road provision. It would require a complete overhaul of how urban space in particular is allocated. We know it can be done but virtually no-one in a real position of influence really wants it to happen.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1778 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 14:05

like this
Like (4)

The government needs to be reminded how much money/jobs/taxes are brought in by the consuming cyclist population...billions per year!

Tripod16

posted by Tripod16 [107 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 14:07

like this
Like (2)

Simon E wrote:
'Airzound' might be trolling with those words.

However, he/she may have illustrated a point about the income from taxation on the transport industry. Without VED, fuel duty, VAT on cars, fuel, parts, insurance, servicing and the vast range of ancilliary industries that surround our road network and its motorised users - everything from roadstone quarries to sat-nav sales - the Exchequer would be a lot poorer.

While there may be some benefits of doing without these - NHS costs, the spending on road building, repair and maintenance for starters - but I suspect these don't match the income.

So would they seek to pull it in from elsewhere or would they cut services? Or both?

For any commitment to work the guaranteed spending on cycling would have to be matched by intent. So no more stupid, disjointed or disconnected cycle lanes and pathetically ineffective on-road provision. It would require a complete overhaul of how urban space in particular is allocated. We know it can be done but virtually no-one in a real position of influence really wants it to happen.

I have a car and I have a bicycle so surely I spend more money?

What I find strange is why the government is scared of making cycling safer. There must be positives for all?

Getting more people to cycle can have many benefits. I travel to a few cycle races on the weekends with my car so more cyclists mean more business for all?

posted by onyourbikeinlondon [10 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 14:13

like this
Like (3)

+1 onyourbikeinlondon.
It's the 60% who want to cycle that need to get the benefit of spending. It needs to be joined up, safe, convenient and accessible and not a contact sport requiring armour - all points Chris Boardman has made.
Target short journeys (school run anyone?) commutes, trips to shops. Work on attitudes to car (why are you unnecessarily polluting the neighbourhood ?).
None of this means that cars must be excluded but it does mean that the bike needs to be seen as the common sense mode of transport for short journeys at the very least.

posted by arfa [357 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 14:25

like this
Like (2)

arfa wrote:
+1 onyourbikeinlondon.
It's the 60% who want to cycle that need to get the benefit of spending. It needs to be joined up, safe, convenient and accessible and not a contact sport requiring armour - all points Chris Boardman has made.
Target short journeys (school run anyone?) commutes, trips to shops. Work on attitudes to car (why are you unnecessarily polluting the neighbourhood ?).
None of this means that cars must be excluded but it does mean that the bike needs to be seen as the common sense mode of transport for short journeys at the very least.

Couldn't agree more arfa.

So why in a first world country with intelligent people, money and the ability to make things happen are we struggling to make any change? I mean its 2014 and yet you still have to fear for your life if you fancy a bike ride?

posted by onyourbikeinlondon [10 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 14:37

like this
Like (4)

Motor transport generates an income for the treasury, sure, but all of that and more goes back into maintaining and expanding the road network, picking up the pieces from traffic accidents, or dealing with the health consequences of lack of daily exercise in many people's lives.

The real problem is that cycling isn't seen as a factor in economic growth in the same way that motor vehicles or HS2 are. It's the same reason the government are championing ridiculous technologies like fracking, rather than telling people to insulate their homes and put on a jumper.

posted by Mr Agreeable [111 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 15:56

like this
Like (4)

The 'positive apathy' quote is apt. It's the classic 2nd stage deflection councils and politicians use.

1. You publicly acknowledge the problem and empathise with the solution.
2. You throw a little cash at it at it in a noisy way - forgetting to mention that the funding is pennies compared with the funding of what you consider the prolitically profitable user sector to be. In this case cars and lorries.
3. Under sustained pressure you eventually agree a bigger budget but most of it is siphoned away by marketing groups, quangos and poorly planned projects based on what the marketing and quangos agree might not upset the main user sector. - rather than attempting to change national mindset.

The truth is the government's preferred citizen is a thin smoker and drinker who dies suddenly at 66. This citizen pays the most tax on their addictions, doesn't burden the NHS with their weight related illnesses, and gains little back from what's left of the state pension. In the absence of this model citizen on mass the government will always aim to pacify the biggest voter group . At present it's people who don't want to benefit the NHS and prefer to remain lazy.

The solution is two fold:

1. Blanket 20mph limits in all residential and urban areas. Nothing would save lives, change the sense of entitlement of the UK motorist and encourage more people to risk cycling than this.

2. Women are the key. On mass they cannot be argued with by government and they are the group government fear most. Blokes arguing on forums and sending e-petitions are so much chaff in the air to Westminster.

If I was Chris B I would start by building even stronger ties with Breeze and Mum's Net to force national change on speed limits. I would also ask him on a local level to get involved across the water from his house on the Wirral and make sure Liverpool council build a meaningful N-S cycle commuter route - rather than his current support for the moronic idea of 1,000 Boris bikes for a city with no use for them. The £2.5 million free funding ring-fenced for installing them could be better spent on infrastructure.

MercuryOne

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [931 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 16:46

like this
Like (4)

Chris Boardman is a brilliant spokesman for cycling. He nearly always talks sense, and he is persistent.

However, he can't bring about change on his own. I believe it's up to the rest of us to do all we can to improve conditions for cyclists. The government and local authorities won't do it unless they feel forced to.

Anyone who cares should keep up the pressure on ministers, MPs, and councils - keep pestering them on national and local cycling issues, and in the end we may get some meaningful change.

posted by HarrogateSpa [32 posts]
22nd January 2014 - 17:31

like this
Like (3)

'If I was Chris B I would start by building even stronger ties with Breeze and Mum's Net'

Having anything to do with any of the nutters on Mumsnet is one of the best ways he could lose all credibility in an instant...

posted by andyp [633 posts]
24th January 2014 - 19:45

like this
Like (0)