Ex-John Lewis boss Andy Street sees cycling as key to fighting traffic congestion

The Conservative candidate who is frontrunner to become the first mayor of the West Midlands has pledged to increase annual spending on walking and cycling 40-fold should he be elected in May, saying the entire region should benefit from huge investment of the kind currently being seen in Birmingham.

Andy Street, former managing director of the department store chain John Lewis, is a strong favourite with the bookmakers to win the region’s first mayoral election, and has told the Birmingham Mail that one of his priorities will be to tackle traffic congestion.

Besides reinstating closed railway lines including ones from Stourbridge to Walsall line and Walsall to Wolverhampton, he has also pledged a massive increase in money spent on cycling and walking.

He said: “The fact that the West Midlands is being strangled by congestion is well documented. Almost two-thirds of journeys are made by car and, at peak times, 81 per cent of cars have just one person in them.

“Giving people a viable alternative to driving is the key to busting the congestion that is bad for people and bad for business.”

Besides reopening several disused railway lines he also plans to expand the region’s Midland Metro tram network.

“However, investment in cycling and walking also needs a major boost,” he continued.

The first wave of the government’s Cycle City Ambition funding, announced in 2013, saw Birmingham City Council awarded £17 million by the Department for Transport, with additional local match funding of £5.9 million.

The second wave of funding, announced in March 2015 and covering 2015/16 to 2017/18, saw an increase in central government funding to £22.1 million, with match funding of £7.9 million taking the total to £30 million.

During the same period, an additional £8 million will be spent on cycling in the city, £6 million of that from local enterprise partnership funding plus match funding of £2 million.

With 1.1 million people living within the area controlled by the city council, Birmingham will therefore see an average spend on cycling of £8.63 per person over the current four-year period, close to the minimum £10 per head annual spend cycling campaigners have called for.

Street recognised Birmingham’s efforts to grow cycling but said that a similar approach was needed across the whole of the West Midlands, which has a population of 2.8 million with other major centres of population including Coventry and Wolverhampton.

“There is some exceptional work taking place in parts of the region around cycling,” he said.

“For example, Birmingham Cycling Revolution is an excellent project, what we need to do is apply this across the West Midlands.

“The role of Mayor means that, for the first time, we will be able to have a fully co-ordinated approach and somebody who will be able to press for investment in our cycling and walking routes.

He added: “In London, spending per head on sustainable transport is around £20. In the West Midlands it is 25p – that is clearly unacceptable and as Mayor I am committing to achieving a 40-fold increase which would lead to a transformation in our region’s cycling infrastructure.”

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.