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Boris Johnson: I won't "bully or coerce" people into cycling, or commit to £10 per head per year

While 93 MPs surveyed want on average cycling spend of £26 per person per year, one contender for Tory leadership wouldn't be drawn on a figure...

London Mayor Boris Johnson has this morning refused to commit to £10 per head per year were he to become leader of the Conservative party, shortly after it was revealed two in three MPs want more money spent on cycling.

A survey by sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, revealed that of 93 MPs, on average the desired annual spend on cycling was £26 per person per year. However, this morning Johnson told, at the opening of the first of London's new batch of fully protected cycle routes, the UK is largely a “four wheel car economy” and he wouldn’t "bully or coerce" people into cycling were he to become Prime Minister.

Johnson, who steps down from his Mayoral role in May, and is a strong contender for leader of the Conservative party, also said “senior colleagues” in Parliament were against his cycle superhighway programme, as it hindered their car journeys across London.

When asked by whether he would commit to £10 per head per year as party leader, he said: “I’m certainly a fanatical believer in getting people on bikes if you possibly can, but I don’t want to bully people or coerce them, I certainly don’t want to take away other options.

“We are still a very largely a four wheel, car economy in huge parts of the country and the city but very often that’s not necessary, that’s what I’m saying. Where you can put in good cycle provision, people want to take it up.”

In 2013 Johnson committed to spend £913m over ten years on a cycling programme that would include protected cycle superhighways, safer junctions and three "mini Hollands" to showcase people friendly town centre designs.

Nationally the picture is less certain. Currently annual spend on cycling in England is around £4, much of which is focused on a handful of cities, with Oxfordshire spending just 25p per person per year on cycling. Sustrans points out the government’s spend on transport overall is around £300 per person per year.

Previously David Cameron said he would aim to increase spending on cycling to £10 per head per year in England, which pro-cycling charities, including Sustrans, say would slowly improve cycling rates after chronic underinvestment. However, amid fears cycling will suffer in the forthcoming spending review and this pledge be forgotten, Sustrans has joined calls on the Department of Transport  to make a strong funding commitment to the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which was made law earlier this year.

Johnson said some senior colleagues in Parliament were against London's cycle superhighway programme, which he called “one of the most difficult things” of his mayoralty.

He said: “This [cycle superhighways programme] is probably, in a hotly contested field, one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do. It’s caused an awful lot of aggro, in particularly with senior colleagues in Parliament who like to travel around in cars.”

However, Johnson called London’s cycle superhighways “vital” to encourage people out of their cars, ease congestion and improve health.

"With London's population growing by 10,000 a month, there are only two ways to keep traffic moving - build more roads, which is for the most part physically impossible, or encourage the use of vehicles, such as bikes, which better use the space on the roads we've already got."

Johnson was on the receiving end of some colourful expletives this morning, including a one fingered salute from one irate cyclist, and sweary heckling by another.

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