Accusing the Government of “positive apathy” over cycling, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman has set out the steps he believes it needs to take to live up to its stated aim of getting more people on bikes. The measures include setting targets for levels cycling and allocating sufficient funds to achieve those targets.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg news, Chris hit out at the Government’s lack of commitment to achieving its stated cycling goals. He said that there was a substantial difference between Britain and New York, whose transport authority had maintained the same level of cycling accidents since 2007 even when participation rose 250 percent.
“In New York there was the political will for change. In the U.K. it’s more like positive apathy,” he said.
Following up that statement, Chris told road.cc: “My issue is with statements and actions not yet matching.”
Chris sees the potential of cycling in the UK as vast, and increased cycling being a major part of solving the country’s obesity crisis and associated health problems.
“There is a huge untapped demand,” he said. “About 60% of people would travel regularly by bike IF the environment looked safe and attractive. That is a massive potential when you have 35,000 deaths a year from obesity related illness and a large chunk of the 5 billion pounds a year it takes to treat that could be used preventing it.”
Yet he sees more words than action coming from the Government. Prime Minister David Cameron said on August 12 last year that cycling would be “at the heart of all our future transport plans”. In its response to the Get Britain Cycling report, the Government said: “We aim to make Britain a cycling nation to rival any of our European neighbours.”
“These are fantastic statements,” said Chris. “However I’m afraid the actions don’t match the words.”
Chris says the Government has refused to set any targets for cycling use, and has committed far more cash to provision for motoring than for cycling.
“There’s a £5.6 billion annual Highways Agencies budget for roads with a continuous revenue stream versus £128 million allocated for cycling and only committed for two years,” he said. He also pointed out that there’s no monitoring of local authority activities, even though they are the agencies that often deliver local routes.
“I think you’ll struggle to find any business that says it can achieve its goals with that kind of strategy/commitment backing it up,” he said. “You’d be laughed out of the bank.
“For any business to succeed, you define your target; where you want to get to. You then define how you are going to achieve that target in great detail and then you measure your progress closely, adjusting your strategy accordingly when you meet unforeseen circumstance. It’s that simple. Hence I said ‘positive apathy’.”
As part of the team that’s steered British cyclists to numerous gold medals at the last few Olympics, Chris is familiar with working toward a goal. He was well-known for the meticulous attention to training and aerodynamics that in 1992 landed him Britain’s first Olympic cycling gold in decades in Barcelona.
He laid out four points he’d like to see the Government implement to demonstrate that there’s more than just words in its enthusiasm for cycling.
He said: “What I’d like to see is:
“A statement from the government saying ‘we want cycling and walking to be our preferred means of transport in the UK. We will legislate, design infrastructure and spend accordingly’.
“A nationally set of defined targets and timescale to define what that will look like.
“A dedicated and consistent part of the budget to achieve this. £10 a head (half that of the Netherlands) would be a start.
“A national monitoring scheme to assess progress.
“Or put even more simply: commitment.”
Over to you, Patrick McLoughlin and Robert Goodwill.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.