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Chris Boardman: “Next two weeks will set the transport agenda for the next two decades”

Campaigner urges government to include cycling statisticcs in daily briefings to encourage people into the saddle

Chris Boardman has warned that “decisions made in the next two weeks will set the transport agenda for the next two decades” as the government introduces further easing of the lockdown in England, and has urged the government to include cycling statistics in its daily briefings when highlighting changing travel patterns.

Writing in Monday’s edition of The Times, the former world and Olympic champion cyclist, who is now Greater Manchester’s walking and cycling commissioner and policy advisor to British Cycling, has urged the government to include cycling statistics in its daily briefings, saying: “If cycling really counts, it’s time to count cycling.”

Boardman wrote: “While public transport use has dropped by more than 90 per cent since lockdown began, and car journeys by 60 per cent, cycling has risen.

“Last month there were a record 170,000 extra bicycle trips in Greater Manchester in just one day. That’s the equivalent of 1,950 tightly packed double decker buses — or thousands more if social distancing measures were in place.

“It’s a similar picture across the country. Why, then, are cycling statistics excluded from the daily ministerial briefings?”

The government has urged people to cycle or walk where possible while commuting to alleviate pressure on public transport and avoid the inevitable gridlock that would ensue if all car-owners returned to driving.

“Cycling is central to the back-to-work strategy,” Boardman acknowledged, “but ministers risk sending mixed messages if statistics for trains, buses and cars are presented each day, but not bicycles. The data is out there, officials just have to prioritise gathering it.”

In Greater Manchester, the city region where he is helping transform active travel, data including cycling is published, and the results are startling, as shown by this graph.

He welcomed the £250 million emergency fund for active travel which is enabling councils across the country to install temporary cycle lanes, but insisted that “The public needs to see, day in and day out, that the government regards cycling as a viable option.”

Boardman continued: “About 40 per cent of trips are under two miles, so an increase in cycling is entirely practical. It’s also socially just. One in four households have no access to a car. These people would normally rely on public transport to get to work, but that option will only be available to about 10 per cent for the foreseeable future.”

His warning that time is running out echoes one that he made at the end of April, but as the government's plans to ease lockdown start to be implemented, the situation now is particularly finely balanced and there are fears that the opportunity for active travel could be lost.

> “We’ve only got weeks” to change UK’s cities for the better, warns Chris Boardman

The two-week window Boardman highlights began with some students returning to schools yesterday and ends with the planned opening of certain types of non-essential retail businesses in a fortnight’s time.

“The roads will once again fill up with cars, and unless we take immediate action there will be no room for those that have rediscovered this marvellous means of transport,” Boardman warned.

“It’s not easy for councils to make such big changes and even harder when they have just days to do it but if we don’t try to lock-in this newfound love of riding bikes, what does that say about us?”

Last week, the DfT wrote to councils regarding the emergency funding, saying: “We have a window of opportunity to act now to embed walking and cycling as part of new long-term commuting habits and reap the associated health, air quality and congestion benefits.”

> Pop-up cycle lanes: what’s happening near you?

“The first tranche of £45 million will be released as soon as possible so that work can begin at pace on closing roads to through traffic, installing segregated cycle lanes and widening pavements.

“To receive any money under this or future tranches, you will need to show us that you have a swift and meaningful plan to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including strategic corridors,” the DfT said.

The letter warned councils that “Anything that does not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded,” and that “If work has not started within four weeks of receiving your allocation or has not been completed within eight weeks of starting, the Department will reserve the right to claw the funding back.”

The DfT said that of the £250 million emergency travel fund, £225 million is being “provided directly to local transport authorities and London boroughs, while £25 million will help support cycle repair schemes.”

Applications for the first tranche of funding close this Thursday 5 June.

A copy of the letter was posted to Twitter by Mark Treasure, chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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brooksby | 4 years ago

Just to put into perspective/scale the amounts that the Govt 'promised' to put toward cycling...

North Somerset council has just finished widening a 500 metres length of the A369 going into Portishead (a road called Wyndham Way).  Five hundred metres.  It has taken them six months and has cost £1.6million.  For a five hundred metre length of road.

Bungle_52 | 4 years ago

I'm not sure we've even got two weeks. Traffic levels are increasing rapidly and drivers attitudes are quickly reverting back to "must get in front" instead of "must be careful not to hit this cyclist in case I get asked the reason for my journey".

As for cycle lanes. In my opinion cycle lanes are there for people starting to cycle. They don't need to be fast or efficient but they do need to be safe. Experienced cyclists should use the road.

The only glimmer of hope for me is now that more people have experienced cycling during lockdown we may find that we get a few more considerate drivers as is the case in Holland and other cycling countries.

mdavidford | 4 years ago
1 like

So that chart has figures for bus, cycling, and...   road.

What exactly were the buses and cycles travelling on then?

Awavey | 4 years ago
1 like

the problem is with the emphasis on "do stuff quickly or else" councils arent focussing on quality of provision or quality ideas, but the quantity and quickest things they can do, the low hanging fruit, and then self congratulating themselves on a job well done, even if what theyve put in place benefits no-one and in some cases actually makes things harder for cyclists to use these roads because theyve set things up that give less than the recommended minimum cycle lane widths etc, and thats before we get the kickback from motorists finding their usual routes blocked/slower and get the grief for not using this stuff.

none of what Ive seen pop up yet will remotely increase the number of cyclists riding around

dodpeters replied to Awavey | 4 years ago
1 like

After decades of leaving the low hanging fruit to rot on the tree what is wrong with councils doing the easiest stuff first?

Awavey replied to dodpeters | 4 years ago

well Id like to set our sights abit higher for one to start with, lets aim high and we might end up somewhere nearer where we want to be even if we miss what we aimed for, aim low to begin with its only downhill from there.

so adding a few more metres of extra painted cycle lane, putting up a few barriers to stop thru traffic on some already low volume traffic roads, that doesnt strike me as meeting the intention of the statutory guidance at all, But  councils doing that kind of implementation, will report back and say we closed x many roads and extended this amount of cycling provision by x% and because actually no one is really holding them to account on it or checking what they are doing, or even measuring the success or outcomes of what theyve done, how do we know theyve achieved anything.

as Chris Boardman said today, if cycling counts, its time to count cycling, how many councils can after the changes theyve been making, even publish data that shows cycling levels have improved as a direct result ?

eburtthebike | 4 years ago

Right again CB. While the government announce a new "golden age" of cycling, and a small amount of emergency funding to be spent during lockdown, they end lockdown early to distract from the Cummings fiasco.

There was a very limited window to implement cycling infra, temporarily at first, but as soon as traffic levels rise, there will be demands to remove it because it impinges on drivers' right to congest the roads; South Gloucestershire's five day wonder springs immediately to mind. If lockdown had lasted another month, as it probably would if the government had followed their own announced policy for lifting it, then these facilities would be more likely to be made permanent.

Still, it'll all be worth it if Cummings is saved, won't it?

Sriracha replied to eburtthebike | 4 years ago

The very fact that it was billed as "pop-up" and temporary tells us that it was only ever an indulgence to cycling whilst there were no cars anyway, and the promise to car drivers that these things would cede to their returning tide was always implied.

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