Get Britain Cycling debate sees issues take centre stage at House of Commons

Selection of some of the points raised, plus reaction from the cycling community

by Simon_MacMichael   September 3, 2013  

Space4Cycling protest ride, 2 September (© Londonneur)

Around 100 Members of Parliament last night debated the Get Britain Cycling report in the House of Commons, while outside thousands of cyclists took part in a ride organised by the London Cycling Campaign as part of its Space For Cycling initiative.

The report was compiled following a six-week inquiry hosted earlier this year by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), although last week’s response to it from the government was greeted with disappointment by the cycling community.

Last night’s debate was largely a case of preaching to the converted; most of the MPs who chose to attend are already cyclists themselves, and many have a firm grasp on the issues involved.

The debate considered the motion, put forward by Dr Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the APPCG, “that this House welcomes the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycling Action Plan and sustained funding for cycling.”

Here’s a selection of some of the points made during the debate, as well as reaction from cycling organisations; you can read the full debate on Hansard.

Julian Huppert on why a national cycling target is important:

Currently, only about 2% of trips are made by bike—a tiny fraction, well below the levels found in many countries. A huge range of short trips that could easily be walked or cycled are driven. That is why we set a long-term ambition to try to increase that from 2% to 10% by 2025 and to 25% by 2050. That is entirely do-able and still below what the Dutch, for example, manage to achieve.

Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, said while spending money on improving conditions for urban cyclists was one thing, those in the country should not be neglected:

A lot of money will be spent in the conurbations and in London, but does she agree that it is important that rural areas are not neglected in the great drive to get more people cycling… Cyclists are obviously at a big disadvantage on small rural lanes… We need more rural speed limits and more investment in safer highways in rural areas.

John Stevenson, Conservative MP for Carlisle revealed himself to be in favour of helmet compulsion:

We must ride our bikes sensibly and appropriately. It is vital for cyclists to respect other road users, especially cars and lorries, as well as pedestrians and other cyclists. I also believe that we cyclists should wear a helmet.

Rob Wilson, Conservative, Reading East, said that a unified approach was needed:

The big problem is that the local authority does not join up the cycle networks. It thinks that simply putting white paint on the roads is enough to create safe cycleways, but that is not good enough.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, gave his opinion on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who last week unveiled plans to make it easier for people to drive to the shops, and said Cambridge was anti-car and prioritised “elitist” cyclists:

I do not know whether his animus towards cycling is a result of some deep Freudian consciousness that he is probably the Cabinet member who would benefit the most from cycling’s health-giving and girth-narrowing magic, but his comments are signally unhelpful and they should not go unchallenged if the Government are really serious about cycling.

Towards the end of the debate, Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle set out Labour’s manifesto for cycling:

First, we must end the stop-start approach to supporting cycling, which means that we need long-term funding of the infrastructure needed for dedicated separate safe cycling routes. Ministers recently set out annual budgets for rail and road investment up to 2020-21, but they failed to do so for cycling infrastructure, which means that while there is a £28 billion commitment for roads, we have only a one-off £114 million from central Government for cycling, and that is spread across three years. It is time for a serious rethink of priorities within the roads budget with a proportion reallocated to deliver a long-term funding settlement for cycling infrastructure.

The priority for investment to support cycling must be dedicated separated infrastructure to create safe routes. The focus has too often been on painting a thin section at the side of the road a different colour. Genuinely separated cycle routes are vital not only to improve safety but, as we have heard from many hon. Members, to build confidence and to encourage those who are not used to cycling to make the switch to two wheels. It is also important that a commitment to new infrastructure does not become an excuse not to improve the safety of cyclists on roads where there is no separation. The priority should be redesigning dangerous junctions where almost two thirds of cyclist deaths and serious injuries due to collisions take place. We need a much greater use of traffic light phasing to give cyclists a head start.

Secondly, we need to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, so I propose a cycle safety assessment before new transport schemes are given the green light. In the same way in which Departments have to carry out regulatory impact assessments and equality impact assessments, there should be an obligation to cycle-proof new policies and projects. We need new enforceable design standards and measures to ensure compliance.

Thirdly, we need national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries to be restored, but they should sit alongside a new target to increase levels of cycling. The number of cyclist deaths is tragically at a five-year high. Of course, targets alone are not the only answer, but they help to focus minds and efforts, so Ministers are wrong to reject them. However, it is vital to ensure that targets do not perversely lead to local authorities and others seeing the way to cut deaths and injuries as discouraging cycling. In fact, cycling becomes safer when more cyclists are on the road, so we should learn from the success that has been achieved in European countries that have set clear goals to increase levels of cycling alongside the policies necessary to achieve that.

Fourthly, we should learn from Wales and extend to England its active travel legislation, which sets out clear duties on local authorities to support cycling. Local authorities are central to devising, prioritising and delivering measures to support cycling, so it is important that additional support from central Government is matched by clear obligations. To assist councils, we should provide them with a best-practice toolkit to boost cycling numbers that is based on what we learned from the cycling city and towns programme and evidence from abroad. Councils should be supported to deliver 20 mph zones, which should increasingly become an effective default in most residential areas.

Fifthly, we must ensure that children and young people have every opportunity to cycle and to do so safely. The Government should not have ended long-term funding certainty for the Bikeability scheme, nor axed the requirement for school travel plans. Those decisions can and should be reversed. Sixthly, we need to make it easier for cycling to become part of the journey to work, even when the commute is too far to do by bike alone. Employers can play an important role in providing access to showers, changing facilities and lockers. However, our public transport providers need to step up and do much more too. Instead of the Government’s approach, which has been to propose a weakening of franchise obligations, we should toughen up the requirement to provide station facilities and on-train space for bikes in rail contracts.

Seventhly, we need to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to the death of cyclists and serious injuries. I welcome the recent commitment from Ministers to initiate a review of sentencing guidelines. It is vital that this is a comprehensive review of the justice system and how it protects vulnerable road users, and it should be concluded without delay in this Parliament. We are certainly willing to work with Government to implement sensible changes that may be proposed.

Finally, we need tough new rules and requirements on heavy goods vehicles that are involved in about a fifth of all cycling fatalities, despite the fact that HGVs make up just 6% of road traffic—there is clearly an issue there. We should look at the case for taking HGVs out of our cities at the busiest times, as has happened elsewhere in Europe, including in Paris and Dublin. As a minimum, we should require safety measures on all HGVs, including sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars, as well as better training and awareness. I have previously suggested to Ministers that the £23 million that is expected to be raised annually from the new HGV road-charging scheme could be used to support the road haulage industry to achieve that. I hope that that idea will be taken seriously and considered by Ministers, along with all those clear proposals. Taken together, I believe that that would be a significant improvement in the Government’s current approach, and it is something that all parties could support across the House.

Responses to the debate:

Chris Boardman, former world and Olympic champion and now British Cycling's Policy Adviser:

I've been encouraged with the Prime Minister's support for cycling and the government's statement that it wants to put cycling at the heart of its policies.

However, when we have a Highways Agency budget of £15 billion for five years contrasted with £159 million for cycling spread over two years with no commitment to continuous funding, it's clear that's there's still more work to do so that actions match words.

I am pleased though that we've had this debate in the House of Commons and that cycling is being talked about where it matters.

British Cycling's Policy and Legal Affairs Director, Martin Gibbs:

It was impressive to see such a good turnout of MPs, especially on the evening of the first day back.

The level of consensus is also really encouraging. It's clear that we all understand what needs to be done to transform cycling in this country - we need to consistently and properly fund cycling and embed it into the heart of our transport policies.

I was pleased with the policy proposals put forward by Maria Eagle, especially where she said we need to see a step change in the commitment to cycling from the government and it must be a long term commitment supported by all parties.

Gordon Seabright CTC Chief Executive:

Tonight's well attended debate has shown that MPs of all parties support CTC and our partners in calling for the government to enact ALL the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry. 

The Prime Minister says he wants a 'cycling revolution' - CTC members want to see these words backed up with action, which means sustained cycle funding and giving priority to cycling whenever facilities are being built or maintained.

13 user comments

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This is encouraging stuff!

Particularly Maria Eagle's manifesto. If that were to make it into a Labour manifesto, I might have to vote for them.

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [595 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 8:44


How does 'we should wear helmets' indicate support for compulsion?

posted by Ham-planet [107 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 8:47


The highway code says cyclists should wear helmets, doesn't say we must wear them though. Anyway, to try to avoid necroing a very tired debate, some interesting points from the Honourable Lady on the red bicycle.

Will be taking a closer look at the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos come election time to see whether they're willing to back it up with something a little more concrete and committed.

posted by Argos74 [331 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 8:58


Does anyone know where I can find out whether my MP attended the debate?

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [220 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 10:56


Who cares if they were just warming a bench? will show who spoke.

posted by a.jumper [802 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 11:12


Does anyone know where I can find out whether my MP attended the debate?

I'm fairly sure that, that information is not recorded. the Hansard site linked above does index all MP's actions, but if they just sat there and said nothing then they will not get recorded.

Of course you can write to your MP and ask them.

posted by Standby Gladiator [10 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 11:28


Standby Gladiator wrote:
Does anyone know where I can find out whether my MP attended the debate?

I'm fairly sure that, that information is not recorded. the Hansard site linked above does index all MP's actions, but if they just sat there and said nothing then they will not get recorded.

Of course you can write to your MP and ask them.

Echoed - write to them, they almost always respond promptly (or rather their constituency office reponds on their behalf).

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1126 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 13:11


Vehicular cycling is the way forward, segregated cycling will get people on bikes but the cost and time it will take is decades away.

We need better protection on the roads and better on road facilities imho.

Leodis's picture

posted by Leodis [338 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 14:40


Leodis wrote:
Vehicular cycling is the way forward, segregated cycling will get people on bikes but the cost and time it will take is decades away.

We need better protection on the roads and better on road facilities imho.

We need both. On-road measures for now, for cargo and for fast bikes and a start on building segregated spaces for everyone else.

posted by a.jumper [802 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 16:02


yeah, three cheers for vehicular cycling, and the massive success story in persuading 0.5% of British children to cycle to school, compared with over 50% in the Netherlands

and hooray for adolescent obesity and type 2 diabetes


posted by fluffy_mike [91 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 18:33


cavasta wrote:
Does anyone know where I can find out whether my MP attended the debate?

The Times have tried to make a list based on watching the debate and identifying people. Guess it isn't perfect but it's here anyway:

posted by jstreetley [64 posts]
3rd September 2013 - 18:45


cavasta wrote:
Does anyone know where I can find out whether my MP attended the debate?

Thanks for the useful/interesting replies.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [220 posts]
4th September 2013 - 9:54


I don't fully buy the argument that vehicular cycling has been tried and has failed. In Britain and Ireland, it has been tried in the sense that efforts have been made to teach cyclists how to deal with cars. It hasn't really been tried the other way around, teaching operators of cars and larger vehicles how to deal with cyclists. The problem of cyclists often being overtaken in a fashion that is inconsiderate, intimidating and downright dangerous has not been seriously tackled. So vehicular cycling has been tried and failed because we were doing it wrong. This is unsurprising: segregation in Britain and Ireland has also been tried and failed because we were doing it wrong (i.e. making car journeys more convenient by removing bicycles from the carriageway). Upping the modal share of cycling has simply not been a priority, and even if it had been, expertise is lacking (to the point where campaigners are typically better informed than many professionals in relevant departments) and path dependence ("keep motor traffic flowing even if it's just circling round and round and being stacked and queued") is entrenched.

I am not opposed to "space for cycling" in the bricks-and-mortar form of high-quality segregated infrastructure. I am concerned, though, that the concerted push for this infrastructure could obscure the other meaning of "space for cycling" and push it to the margins of the debate: the space on our roads we are entitled to and yet deprived of by tailgating, close overtaking, left hooks etc. We already have helmets as an unnecessary distraction; we should try and avoid the additional distraction created by clashes between "radical vehicularists" and "radical segregationists". Neither position is tenable in its radical form, since considerable demand for both forms of cycling exists.

Why are we so willing to accept that vehicular cycling has failed because the concept is - allegedly - fundamentally flawed and yet so happy to accept that segregation is right in principle and had just been incorrectly implemented?

To balance things out a little in favour of vehicular cycling, I offer Germany as an example of a country where segregation has been tried and failed and where vehicular cycling is starting to be seen as "modern" rather than as the preserve of - to quote Mark Treasure - dinosaurs like John Franklin. "Failure" here is relative: the hazards and inconvenience that result from narrow cyclepaths immediately adjacent to footpaths (a regular feature in many German towns) have become more and more apparent as the popularity of cycling has taken off and these paths have rapidly reached the limits of their capacity and cyclists have started to insist on being given proper road space. The infrastructure has not failed in the sense that it managed to put people off cycling altogether. But it has managed to put many pedestrians off cyclists. Updates to design guidance in recent years reflect a strong shift towards more "vehicular" cycling (or at least towards getting cyclists off paths and onto painted lanes on roads), and this has not been mainly at the instigation of the German cycling lobby; it has been supported by a fairly broad coalition of people and based on a lot of fairly objective analysis. The German Insurance Association (GDV) has an accident research unit (UDV) and this is what they say:
"To improve the safety of cycling and ensure that this improvement is sustained in the future, a wide variety of measures are required. On the one hand, the cycling infrastructure – preferably on the road itself – has to be designed in such a way that it can be used safely. On the other, it is necessary to improve behavior on the roads, compliance with the rules of the road and the consideration shown by and towards cyclists."

To me, that reads like a call for more vehicular cycling.

In my own experience, the roads in Germany are actually quite a civilized place for a cyclist to be. In my last five years of cycling in Germany I have only had one "discussion" with a driver on the subject of dangerous overtaking, and he wasn't even German. It's rare. In my residential neighbourhood, I often see drivers doing 10 mph (in a 20 zone) because they don't want to overtake a child on a bike (happily wobbling along very slowly, in flip-flops, with a violin or maybe a football). My near-misses tend to be on cycle paths or at junctions I have to approach on a cycle path. I recently came across a blogger who had the opportunity to compare German, Dutch, Danish and British drivers and concluded that the German drivers are the best:
I wasn't surprised.

I admire and support the army of bloggers and campaigners who are tirelessly educating local and national planners about how to "Go Dutch" properly. But I wish there were a few more people asking questions about what Northern Europe might be able to teach us about getting vehicular cycling right - and about what we might be able to teach Northern Europe about getting vehicular cycling right.

posted by bambergbike [88 posts]
4th September 2013 - 13:37