This time next week, the early birds among us will already have visited the polling station to place an ‘X’ in the box of choice on the ballot paper. While cycling hasn’t exactly been at the top of the agenda during the campaign, it’s worth looking at what the three major parties (in terms of those with a presence throughout Britain) are promising when it comes to pedal power.
It was noticeable in last weeks’s televised leadership debate that none of the three party leaders mentioned cycling when outlining their environmental policies – perhaps understandably so in David Cameron’s case, who in the Guardian at the weekend said that his most embarrassing moment as an MP involved “car, bike, papers, you know the rest.”
Nevertheless, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats do have cycling policies that merit examination, even if at times these are barely touched upon in the party manifestos.
The Labour Party manifesto makes only one reference to cycling, with a commitment to trebling the bicycle parking provision at railway stations forming part of its overall transport policy.
However, as the party in power over the last 13 years, Labour has presided over the renewed popularity of cycling in Britain, encouraging people to get on their bikes through initiatives such as the Cycle to Work scheme and, in England, the Cycling Town and City initiative.
Talking to the trade website BikeBiz, Sadiq Khan, Minister of State for Transport, claimed “Labour has always been a strong advocate of cycling."
"In 1999, we introduced our ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme – a generous tax break scheme allowing employers to loan cycles and safety equipment to their employees. We have since built on this with the ‘Cycle to Work Guarantee’."
Khan added that the Party also has new plans to back the sector, with cash being dedicated to an 'urban transport fund', further Bikeability training and previously announced cycle facilities at train stations.
Mr Khan continued: “We recognise that the success of our cyclists in Beijing has helped create a new enthusiasm among young people for cycling. To capture this, we are providing significant investment in cycle training, enabling an extra 500,000 children to take part in Bikeability training by 2012.
“We have also put in place £5 million of new investment for improving facilities for cyclists at rail stations, such as more secure bicycle storage space and on-site repair shops.”
Mr Khan concluded with a reference to national cycling organisation CTC’s campaign to get cyclists to consider the various parties’ stance on bicycle related matters by saying, “With Labour it really is possible to ‘Vote Bike’!”
In its manifesto, the Conservative Party – home to arguably Britain’s two highest-profile cycling politicians in the shape of David Cameron and Boris Johnson – says that it will “give the concerns of cyclists greater priority,” and while that isn’t expanded upon in that document, cycling does form part of its wider transport policy.
The party’s parliamentary candidates have a standard response on its position with regard to cycling and the CTC’s Vote Bike Initiative, repeated here:
“Encouraging cycling will be a major priority for a future Conservative Government. I want to change the culture of highways planning to push the concerns of cyclists much higher up the agenda of the professionals who manage our roads.
“To boost the take-up of low carbon travel, a Conservative Government would also change the way transport schemes are appraised. We would reform the current New Approach to Transport Appraisal (NATA) model, which is the Department for Transport’s cost benefit analysis for appraising the value of transport projects, in order that it reflects the benefits of low carbon schemes like cycling. We would also introduce a moratorium on building on any disused rail lines still in public ownership which will keep open the possibility of re-opening them for cycle use in the future.
“Not only will we encourage officials to prioritise cycling but we will also reform the much-criticised Transport Innovation Fund. We will aim to free these funds to create a Transport Carbon Reduction Fund to support sustainable travel. Local authorities will be able to use the funds to encourage the development of new green transport schemes such as cycle routes and corridors. These measures will help improve road safety and promote cycling as a safe alternative means of travel.”
Riding high in the polls after Nick Clegg’s performance in the first leaders’ debate, the Liberal Democrats have been more in the spotlight during this general election campaign than perhaps any other in living memory.
In common with the other parties, the manifesto makes minimal reference to cycling itself, saying only that the party’s aims to “include the promotion of safer cycling and pedestrian routes in all local transport plans.”
However, a party spokesman outlined the party’s cycling policies to BikeBiz, including improved provision for carrying bicycles on public transport and improved parking facilities at transport hubs, a commitment to continuing the Cycle to Work scheme, and making the roads safer for cyclists.
The spokesman told BikeBiz: “Liberal Democrats will require train and coach operators to accommodate bicycles on all new vehicles and improve cycle storage and parking at stations. We will introduce a cycling ‘Gold Standard’ award for all rail and bus stations which meet minimum cycle facility standards, including adequate provision of secure cycle parking and information on local cycle routes."
On the subject of the Cycle to Work scheme, he said: “We agree that cycling can help to combat obesity, man-made climate change and congestion and we have no plans to cut pledges already made by the Government on cycling schemes.”
The spokesman said that making the roads safer for cyclists was a key party policy, saying: “We are committed to including the promotion of safer cycling and walking in all local transport plans and promoting ‘Liveable Cities’ with requirements for decentralised public services like schools and hospitals and safe walking and cycling routes in new developments.
”We will seek to further boost cycling through our commitment to improving road safety, road quality and reducing traffic levels, on-road cycling which will make cycling easier, safer and more accessible to all.
“We recognise that the majority of cycle trips (65 per cent) are commuter trips to work or school with the road network providing the best resource. That is why we will promote cycling competency schemes and encourage better facilities for cyclists and ensure that road traffic law is enforced with equal vigour in relation to cyclists in order to secure the safety of all road users "
He continued: "We will also promote an expansion of the National Cycle Network, particularly off-road routes."
The spokesman concluded by saying: "All these measures together will help to boost cycling which should be beneficial to independent bike retailers.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.