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Transport select committee also calls for more ambitious targets to be set for active travel in England

An influential House of Commons select committee has called on the government to boost funding on cycling and walking, pointing out that current levels of spending equate to just 1.5 per cent of England’s transport budget.

Publishing its report, Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England, the Transport Select Committee said that “the economic, human and environmental costs of inactivity, climate change, air pollution and traffic congestion are huge,” and underlined the role that getting more people travelling by bike or on foot can play to combat them.

The report calls on the government to show leadership on the issue by raising funding and setting “more ambitious targets” for active travel, as well as urging it to reinforce to local authorities that it should be treated as a priority.

The committee’s chair, Lilian Greenwood, the Labour MP for Nottingham South, said: “We know that transport comes with a health warning.

“Road transport is the single biggest contributor to poor air quality and is responsible for some 80 per cent of roadside nitrogen dioxide concentration.

“Around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. However, by the end of 2017, there were over 26 million licensed vehicles in England, an increase of over 35 per cent in the last 20 years.

“We also know that getting active by walking and cycling as part of our daily routine is good for us.

“It’s good for our health and saves on the cost of healthcare. It can reduce congestion, improve air quality, increase productivity and drive footfall in our town centres.”

In a possible allusion to media depictions of some kind of ‘war’ being played out on the country’s roads between cyclists and motorists, Greenwood continued: “There is no battle here – except for hearts and minds.

“In England, the vast majority of journeys over a mile are made in a car or van. Even for distances of one to two miles, more than 60 per cent of journeys were made by motor vehicle and fewer than 2 per cent of journeys are made by bike.

“The government must stand up for active travel,” she added. “It must show real leadership by setting ambitious targets for cycling and especially walking. It must give local authorities the support and funding they need to engage the public and make active travel a priority in their areas. It must do whatever is necessary to persuade more people to get on their bike, or Shanks’ pony.”

The Walking & Cycling Alliance (WACA), founded last year by British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Sustrans, The Bicycle Association and The Ramblers, welcomed the report and endorsed its appeal to the government to prioritise active travel and make more money available.

Speaking on behalf of WACA, Cycling UK’s chief executive Paul Tuohy said: “Investing in safe, convenient and attractive conditions for cycling and walking is a hugely cost-effective way to deliver a wide range of benefits, and we commend MPs from the select committee for their diligence in understanding the urgency of this issue.

“After the government admitted its current policies will only deliver a third of what is needed to meet its 2025 cycling targets, it’s now vital that it seriously commits to improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure, to benefit communities across the country and to meet its own environmental and health ambitions.

“We share the opinion of the previous transport minister that the walking target is too low; we need a new target which is much more ambitious. Interventions aimed at increasing levels of walking are very cost-effective and should complement infrastructure spending.”

He continued: “With an ambitious target of ‘net zero’ carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and with transport contributing to 34% of carbon dioxide emissions, cycling and walking have a pivotal part to play. They will also be integral in helping to prevent a series of long-term illnesses from physical inactivity, including stroke and dementia.

“We are encouraged that the government has commissioned research into what additional resources are needed to meet its cycling and walking targets.

“We now urge them to publish its findings and act on them as soon as possible.”

When it was founded last year, WACA outlined five immediate steps that the government could take to encourage more people to switch to cycling and walking, as follows:

Speed

Lower default speed limits to 20mph for most roads in built up areas and 40mph for the most minor rural roads to make our roads and streets safer for everyone.

Space

Adopt and ensure consistent application of existing ‘best-in-class’ infrastructure design standards to create safe, attractive and inviting places for people of all ages and abilities.

Safety

Revise the Highway Code to improve safety for people walking and cycling, particularly at junctions.

Priority

Prohibit pavement parking to create safer and more accessible streets.

Culture

Provide cycle training for all children during their primary and secondary school years and embed a culture of walking and cycling throughout the school curriculum.

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.