Raising bike use to 1948 levels would be true 2012 legacy, Boardman tells Get Britain Cycling Inquiry

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Chris Boardman has said that “a true Olympic legacy” from London 2012 would be to get bicycle use in Britain back up from current levels of 2 per cent to the level of 15 per cent seen the previous time the capital was host city of the Olympic Games, back in 1948.

Boardman, former world and Olympic champion and in his former role as head of R&D at British Cycling one of the architects of Great Britain’s success last summer, was giving evidence at today’s session of the Get Britain Cycling Parliamentary Inquiry, which he described as a “watershed moment,” but cautioned, “we’ve got a finite amount of time to capitalise on the interest.”

He also warned that heightened interest in cycling and more people wanting to ride bikes “can only get us so far. We need to address the environment on the streets to see a real culture change; cycling should be an easy choice for people.”

Prior to addressing the inquiry, he had illustrated that very point by showing the short film he made for British Cycling, ‘Who Are Cycle Lanes For?’ which shows that even when planners seek to make provision for cyclists, too often the results are unsatisfactory and can create additional hazards for cyclists to negotiate.

A short journey from British Cycling on Vimeo.

Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, said: "We agree wholeheartedly with Chris Boardman’s call for an end to roads that are hostile to cycling, and for cycle provision to be a priority from the outset when designing and upgrading streets, with a view to making them safe and inviting for everyone to cycle.”

Giving a summary of today’s fourth session of the inquiry, Stafford MP Ian Austin, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), which is hosting the inquiry, said: “It was the success of British Cycling’s athletes at London 2012 that prompted the Get Britain Cycling inquiry - to see how we can translate that success into becoming a true cycling nation.

“While the Games undeniably inspired more people to get on bikes, the fact is that we’re not going to get there without a concerted and co-ordinated effort strategy from central and local government.”

Much of the focus of today’s session focused on the health benefits of cycling, and while the National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence (NICE), represented today, has issued guidance urging GPs to prescribe physical evidence such as cycling to those patients who could benefit from it, the inquiry learnt that the Department of Health does not currently have a designated cycling champion.

The economic benefits that a focus on cycling could bring to the NHS were however highlighted by health and transport expert, Dr Adrian Davis, who said: “For every £1 pound spent on cycling initiatives they can generally return up to £4 in saved costs to the NHS and value to the economy. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by 20 to one.”

The inquiry was also told about initiatives designed to encourage cycling to school or work. Speaking about Bikeability training, Peter Salmon from The Mountbatten School in Hampshire, commented: “It is important that cycle training is inclusive so that people of all abilities can become safer road users.”

Meanwhile, Mark Brown of the Cycle to Work Alliance pointed out that despite the Cycle to Work scheme being a government initiative, not all departments had yet signed up to it. He also underlined facilities the role employers could play, saying: “Showers, changing rooms and places to lock up bikes at work would be an effective measure to get Britain cycling.”

Philip Insall, health director at the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, told the inquiry: “It is time the government recognised that getting more people cycling and walking represents real savings for the national purse.

“Physical inactivity is now responsible for as many deaths as smoking –Government and local authorities must do everything in their power to make it easy and safe for people to walk and cycle as part of their daily routines.

“Increasing walking and cycling levels will dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of the UK population and save the NHS billions – it’s an issue we simply cannot continue to ignore.”

He also urged Whitehall departments to co-operate more closely. “We need to see walking and cycling included into departmental objectives across government. There is existing guidance out there – if NICE guidance was implemented tomorrow we would have a cycle friendly environment.”

Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the APPCG, commented:
“It was encouraging that we had a variety of government department representatives talking about the health benefits of cycling and how we can actively promote them.

“This is just the sort of joined up approach we need to encourage people to see cycling not only as a viable means of transport but also as a way to getting and staying fit. 

“With a third of our children and two thirds of adults overweight or obese we need to find a way to promote healthier lifestyles and cycling offers that opportunity. And if we encourage youngsters to learn how to cycle safely those skills should encourage them to continue through into their adult lives.”

The penultimate session of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, which will address the changes that have to be made at a local level, will be held on 27 February.