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.”

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“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 has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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