Political leadership and commitment to invest in facilities were highlighted as the key to getting more people in Britain riding bicycles at yesterday’s opening of the Get Britain Cycling parliamentary inquiry. Held in a committee room at the Palace of Westminster, a panel of MPs plus one member of the House of Lords heard evidence from representatives of cycling organisations and the media as well as experts on cycling in the first of six sessions to be held over the coming weeks.
In a summary of the morning’s hearing, Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), underlined the consensus displayed among those who gave evidence about how to bring about a transformation in the status of cycling as a means of getting around.
“We couldn’t have wished for a more illuminating start to our Get Britain Cycling inquiry,” he said of the opening session, which aimed to take a strategic overview of the current situation an initial examination of the way forward.
“It’s clear to me that political leadership and will at the very top is needed to get thousands more people on bikes and it was fantastic to see all of the witnesses in agreement on the issues that really matter.
“The level of ambition and expertise in the room was inspirational and I look forward to continuing the discussions next week.”
That’s when the second session, which focuses on cycle safety, takes place and yesterday the perceived danger of cycling was regularly highlighted as the biggest single barrier to getting more people riding, with investment in infrastructure such as segregated cycle lanes and improved safety at junctions.
It was a theme taken up by several speakers, with Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy Director at CTC, saying that “"A cycle journey is only as good as its weakest link."
“Only when we feel comfortable taking our eight year olds or 80 years olds out on the roads will we know that enough has been done,” added Martin Gibbs, Policy and Legal Affairs Director at British Cycling.
He added that Great Britain’s success on the road and track showed that change was possible. “There is a real Olympic legacy to play for,” he explained. “We have fixed the sport. Let’s take that and punch it through to the mainstream.”
But that, he said, would take investment. “I think infrastructure is very, very important for many reasons. It physically represents an invitation to cycle and says that we expect you to cycle.”
Participants were also keen to underline the benefits of riding a bike, with Geffen saying: “Cycling has a huge range of benefits: for our health, our streets and communities, our environment, our economy and our quality of life.
“However, maximising these benefits requires action from a wide range of local and national organisations,” he added.
"Council departments, schools and colleges, businesses and employers, police forces, public transport operators, retailers and leisure promoters all have important roles to play.
“Ensuring they do so requires a joined-up approach to getting Britain cycling, supported by politicians of all parties, locally and nationally. That way we can secure the funding needed, now and for the long term."
It was those calls for political leadership and investment that provided the main message from the session.
Philip Pank, transport correspondent at The Times, which last year launched its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign and whose parent company, News International, is part-funding the Parliamentary Inquiry, said: “Real change for cycling must come from the very top, it has to come from the Prime Minister down.”
David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are expected to make what has been billed as a major announcement on cycling in the coming weeks, and Philip Darnton, Executive Director of the Bicycle Association, was among those who highlighted that change would only come about with the support of politicians at the very highest level.
“We will not create a cycling culture until we have leadership which makes clear this is a decision for the long term,” he maintained. “We need long-term, very senior political leadership.”
Jason Torrance, Policy Director at the charity Sustrans, commented: "There is a poverty of ambition and a lack of vision from our governments when it comes to getting more people cycling.
"Leadership, investment and significant cultural change are needed to get more people on their bikes and start to build a healthier, cleaner UK.
"To reach the ambitious levels of cycling that will truly transform the UK, we need a combination of investment, infrastructure and policy change."
Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co chair of the APPCG, remarked: “We need better cycling infrastructure, improved safety on our roads for cyclists, measures to make drivers more aware and a change in the law to offer greater protection.
“Our government has shown some commitment to cycling with recent investment but it can do so much more year-on-year. It’s time for real change.”
The subjects of the other five hearings, together with their dates, are:
Safety - 30 January 2013
Planning and design - 6 February
Active lifestyles - 13 February
The local perspective - 27 February
Government - 6 March
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.