Following on from last week’s parliamentary debate on cycling, Transport Ministers Norman Baker and Mike Penning have written to council leaders throughout England and Wales outlining the steps the government is taking to promote cycling and urging them to implement measures at a local level to build on the momentum created by The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cycling campaign.
The letter, not sent to councils in Scotland or Northern Ireland where the issues fall within the competence of devolved governments, comes at the end of a landmark month for cycle campaigners in the UK after the newspaper launched its campaign four weeks ago tomorrow, with the initiative placing cycling, and the safety of bike riders in particular, firmly on the political agenda at national level.
However, the letter from the two ministers, both of whom were present at last Thursday’s Westminster Hall backbench debate, does not address calls from a number of MPs present who urged the government to reconstitute Cycling England, abolished last year as a result of the autumn 2010 comprehensive spending review.
Government cuts of course have also resulted in councils facing reduced budgets, and Councillor Peter Box, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Economy and Transport Board, told The Times that it may be difficult for local authorities to find money to implement measures called for by Mr Baker and Mr Penning, such as redesigning junctions.
Councillor Box insisted that local authorities did want to encourage cycling and improve conditions for riders. “However,” he continued, “However, they have been maintaining a chronically underfunded road system for many years which, coupled with the recent severe funding cuts from central government, means resources for a vast overhaul of junction layouts and speed limit alterations are extremely stretched at the moment.”
The letter, the full text of which is reproduced below, also invites council leaders to attend a meeting in London on 13 March that the Department for Transport is holding together with the Greater London Assembly and Transport for London.
At that meeting, attendees will “learn more about London’s cycling achievements first hand,” although cycle campaigners will hope that it will also address the problems associated with cycling in the capital that helped inspire the Cities Fit For Cycling initiative in the first place.
The Times added that Labour’s Transport Team, which has committed £100 million to be spent annually on cycling should the party come to power following the next general election, will be holding its own summit in Westminster tomorrow on the subject of cycle safety.
From Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State Norman Baker MP and Mike Penning MP
Dear Leader/Chief Executive
28 February 2012
We are writing to let you know the action the Coalition Government is taking both to promote cycling and to improve safety for cyclists, and to ask for your help at the local level to further these aims.
Cycling has risen up the political agenda in recent weeks, not least due to the excellent campaign run by The Times, and we are keen to seize the moment to make good progress on a number of fronts
What we are doing
• The Department provides funding both through the Local Transport Plan and the £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) to support local authorities in their efforts to use transport to create growth and cut carbon at the local level. We are pleased to see that 38 out of 39 successful schemes which received funding in Tranche 1 of the LSTF include cycling.
• We have guaranteed funding for Bikeability training for the whole of this Parliament and almost all of the £11 million for Bikeability grants for children in 2012/13 has now been allocated. We are looking at what more might be done to offer training for adults too.
• The Department has made the driving test more realistic and less predictable, and is considering how to improve training for drivers after they pass their test to help them develop their driving skills and knowledge. Every driving theory test includes six questions relating to cyclists or other vulnerable road users. We are also keen to look at how we can incorporate a greater degree of cyclist awareness in the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence for HGV drivers.
• The Department’s strategic road safety framework suggests that local authorities should consider 20mph limits on streets where business on foot is important and on lesser residential roads in cities, towns and villages. We have relaxed regulations to enable 20mph zones and limits to be introduced more efficiently and with less bureaucracy.
• We have also made it easier for you to install Trixi mirrors at junctions to make cyclists more visible to drivers of large vehicles such as buses and HGVs, which are involved in many of the tragic cyclist fatalities. In London, where these were piloted, there have been no fatalities at any junctions where such mirrors have been installed. The Department is also leading discussions on HGV standards at the European level to help reduce accidents caused by poor visibility.
• We have established a Cycling Forum which brings together government, cycling groups and local authority representatives to discuss the full range of cycling issues, and this group has already agreed to focus in some detail on safety and road sharing, and the health benefits that can accrue from cycling.
What you can do
• Provision of infrastructure for cyclists is already one of your responsibilities. Local Transport Note 2108: Cycle Infrastructure Design provides comprehensive good practice advice on a range of practical infrastructure measures to help cyclists. We would especially encourage you to review your provision for cyclists at junctions as poorly designed facilities here can cause particular safety problems.
• Furthermore, when developing and implementing road and cycle infrastructure, including that funded through the LSTF, we urge you to work with national and local cycling stakeholders and make use of existing guidance and best practice.
• You may wish to consider more sponsorship of cycle infrastructure, along the lines of the Barclays hire bikes and cycle superhighways in London, which might permit the development of routes and facilities otherwise’ unachievable.
• Bikeability is not just for children and we are very supportive of those local authorities which also provide free or subsidised adult training. We would also encourage you to consider what more you could do to improve road sharing, and welcome initiatives ‘such as ‘Exchanging Places’ events and specific cycle training which improve mutual understanding between cyclists and drivers of HGVs.
• Given the freedom now offered, we invite you to consider greater use of 20mph zones and limits where this will help manage speeds for the safety of all road users. Trixi mirrors can also be placed at traffic signal controls to help improve the visibility of cyclists to goods vehicle drivers.
• Finally, strong leadership is paramount. A strong message, and the personnel and financial resources to support this, from local authorities can be the key to getting the wheels in motion. Whilst the decision whether or not to establish a cycling commissioner is of course one for local authorities, we would certainly encourage you to consider this, or other senior level responsibility for championing cycling.
One good example, of local authority practice can be found in Leicester, represented on the Cycling Stakeholder Forum, where the Mayor made a number of cycling specific pledges when he took office, and has already made progress with LSTF funding to refurbish a Town Hall Bike Park and open a new cycle maintenance centre. The city has seen a 130% increase in cycling over the last five yearswith an estimated 10,500 cyclists across the city every day.
Whilst writing, can we also remind you of the invitation to learn more about London’s cycling achievements first hand at an event we are holding jointly with the GLA and TfL on March 13. We would encourage you to attend, or to send your Transport Portfolio Holder, Chief Executive or Transport Director. We enclose an invitation in case you have not already seen it.
We would urge you to consider carefully how the points raised by The Times’s campaign can be taken forward in your local communities, and would be pleased to hear of your work, and particularly any new initiatives, in this important area. We. are always keen to learn of good practice, and to playa role in developing and disseminating it where possible.
Norman Baker, MP, Minister for Cycling
Mike Penning, MP, Minister for Road Safety
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.