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"Don't give it air time. Don't answer stupid questions": Chris Boardman shuts down cycling registration 'debate'

"I just focus on the fact that we know, regardless of the headlines, 70 per cent of people want to see more cycling and walking – even if it requires road space giving over"...

Chris Boardman has shut down any residual attention on the idea that cyclists should need registration numbers and licences to use the roads, and stressed "regardless of the headlines" people want to see more cycling and walking.

Speaking to BikeBiz magazine, the National Active Travel Commissioner said the best way to approach talk of licences, registration and number plates is simply to avoid giving the debate any air time — "You don't answer stupid questions," he concluded.

> Is there anywhere cyclists are required to be licensed, and how has it gone in the past?

Boardman's comments come a couple of months withdrawn from the height of the summer heat, kicked up by then-Transport Secretary Grant Shapps' words in the Daily Mail (and subsequent backtracking) suggesting he would like to see stricter rules for cyclists.

Nonetheless, U-turn or not, Shapps' damage was done and prompted a string of frontpage splashes, talk show specials and TV 'debates' digging up culture-warring divisions now centred on the UK's roads and who should get to use them, and how.

> "No plans to introduce registration plates" for cyclists, insists Grant Shapps

Boardman suggests the best way to deal with the noise is simply to shut it out – "I just focus on the fact that we know, regardless of the headlines, 70 per cent of people want to see more cycling and walking – even if it requires road space giving over," he told BikeBiz.

"But a lot of the time the strategy has to be: just don't give it any air time. You don't answer stupid questions and perpetuate the argument about something that's not important. The Department for Transport knows that putting licences on bikes and enforcing these mandatory things doesn't get the outcomes, and so we don't need to speak to that kind of stuff."

Boardman added that he remains optimistic cycling will continue to grow, something he will hopefully oversee in his newly-appointed role at Active Travel England.

"Whether you like cycling or not, it's cheap. It's nine times cheaper than running a car. And that really matters right now. It's super-reliable, it's equitable. [It addresses] all of the big issues that you face," he continued.

> Third of Brits want to cycle more, many to cut their fuel spending

"We know we won't make our carbon targets, our legal targets, unless we drive a lot less. And the only politically palatable way to do that is to give people a viable, attractive alternative.

"Active travel is so incredibly robust. [Where will we be] In five years' time? It's here. We've joked several times over the years that we should get a t-shirt that says: 'Cycling. The least shit option.' Because even if you hate it, you've almost got to back it. So I'm optimistic in that respect. I'm not sure if that's optimistic or pessimistic. I think it's realistic."

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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48 comments

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Organon | 1 year ago
2 likes

Knighthood in the post, Sir Chris.

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eburtthebike replied to Organon | 1 year ago
1 like

Organon wrote:

Knighthood in the post, Sir Chris.

Will he have to hand his sainthood back?

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David9694 | 1 year ago
2 likes
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brooksby replied to David9694 | 1 year ago
4 likes

Hmm...

Quote:

Thousands of people in this locality alone (yes, we have all seen it) watch on as cycle lanes remain empty, standing as a great white elephant, representing the aspirations of governments and local councils.

Now we are in a cost-of-living crisis, isn’t it about time the decision to build cycle lanes was reversed or put on hold and the money diverted to more worthy causes?

surprise

I just think of how much social care could be funded by the costs of just a single motorway junction upgrade...

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David9694 replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
5 likes

And all the revenue costs - the maintenance, the installations of car infra, cleaning-up after yet another smash (drivers have their own police section!) - all the costs that are largely hidden from motorists and/or they choose not to engage with or understand. 

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Tom_77 replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
3 likes

brooksby wrote:

I just think of how much social care could be funded by the costs of just a single motorway junction upgrade...

If you want a figure, the cost of upgrading junction 10 of the M27 is £91.25 million. (£41.25 million from the government and £50 million from the nearby Welborne development).

Ref - https://www.hants.gov.uk/News/14032022M27J10HEfundingagreement

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joe9090 | 1 year ago
7 likes

"Whether you like cycling or not, it's cheap. It's nine times cheaper than running a car"

Huh? I run an old 12 year old car and several used even older bikes. Pretty sure i spent about 20 euro on one bike last year (new chain) whereas my cheap car still costs me 1400 a year in tax and insurance.  

 

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OnYerBike replied to joe9090 | 1 year ago
2 likes

I would be interested in the source too. But only spending £20 per year on a bike that is ridden regularly is probably on the low side, and £1,400 per year on tax and insurance alone is probably on the high side (I know I've spent more than that and less than that, respectively).  

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eburtthebike | 1 year ago
7 likes

I revere CB, for his commitment, advocacy and knowledge, but I can't help thinking he's a little optimistic here.

"Active travel is so incredibly robust. [Where will we be] In five years' time?"

It's been incredibly robust for the past 40 years, which is about how long I've been campaigning for it, 8x5 years later, we are very little further forward.   The case for active travel is irrefutable, in all areas of policy; health, pollution, congestion, climate change, communities etc, and it always has been, but the media ignore it and the establishment just make polite noises.

Where we should be in five years time is entirely different, it's just that my experience makes me cynical about what will actually happen, especially with the current government of washed up incompetents.

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Bmblbzzz replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
2 likes

I'd say that compared to what was 40 years ago, there are more everyday cyclists now and conditions are generally better. But the number of cyclists hasn't risen as fast as the number of car drivers – or at least, not as fast as the number of cars (since there were always drivers without cars).

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eburtthebike replied to Bmblbzzz | 1 year ago
4 likes

Bmblbzzz wrote:

I'd say that compared to what was 40 years ago, there are more everyday cyclists now and conditions are generally better.

But the change is marginal when it needs to be massive.  At the rate we're going it will take centuries to get to the cycling levels in Holland.

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ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
7 likes

Why does any road space need to be given over? The road is plenty wide enough for me, on my vehicle, that my taxes contribute towards (i.e. it's mine just as much as it is anyone else's). It's the law breaking drivers that are the problem. Even when cyclists are given segregated space, it's taken up by pedestrians, parked cars, road/Street furniture, etc. So let's not pretend that 'giving over road space' is a viable solution.

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the little onion replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
10 likes

Maybe for you, but Dutch style infrastructure is the only way that we are going to get large numbers of current non-cyclists on the road. Cycle lanes aren't really for current cyclists, more for future cyclists 

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to the little onion | 1 year ago
4 likes

Is building a network of dedicated cycles lanes that is comparable to the UK road network a vaguely achievable goal though, considering we can't even get local authorities to put up a row of bollards at risky locations?

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chrisonabike replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
4 likes

I agree with several things here: this would be great, it'd save a ton of money and be more eco than building more infra.  Most UK infra efforts to date have been straight-up cynical rubbish or so compromised that they've been self-defeating on many levels.  Because we've allocated 95%+ of space for motor vehicles we end up fighting over scraps with desperate pedestrians and also the other things you mention.  Also agree we could do much better on policing drivers (I'm coming round to the idea of "all motorists to have dashcams / some kind of black box recorder" as I can see insurance companies adding incentives for this too).

However - are you just saying what you want personally, for you alone?  Maybe you enjoy the thrill of riding with cars?  Because "Improve driving" doesn't address the reason why the majority of people in the UK don't cycle.  You could sit people down with the stats - which show cycling is a very "safe" activity already - but I don't think it would change much.  There are many reasons why but a few are: "but I've aready got a car", "it's not convenient to cycle and it's more convenient to drive" and "I just don't feel safe cycling in lots of traffic, or with much faster and heavier vehicles".

Are you saying you'd hate this sort of thing?

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/what-defines-dutch-cycling-2/

Or this?

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2015/10/cycle-paths-providing-effic...

Sadly it seems that we just can't go there directly.  So "giving over road space" e.g. taking some space back from motor traffic - as long as it's better than the usual feeble UK efforts * - may be the best we can do initially.  That at least should increase the number of people who cycle some trips.  Some form of separated cycle infrastructure is about the only palatable (crush all the cars!) intervention actually shown to do this.

* Such as "advisory cycle lanes" (utter waste of paint), cycle lanes which don't go anywhere useful or form a network, cycle lanes which give up at junctions,  cycle lanes which regularly disappear along their length, non-protected cycle lanes, cycle lanes with "protection" that just makes them more dangerous, cycle lanes a metre wide or less, cycle lanes which turn into bus lanes (which then appear or disappear depending on time of day and may even incorporate marked car parking) ...

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

It is my opinion and of course other people have different views and opt to cycle on dedicated cycles tracks, or even the velodrome or stationary bike. But no, I can't stand cycling with cars because many pass way too close or overtake only to be slowed down, while I would have been able to keep going.

But why do you subscribe to the view that we can't get there directly? Has there been any attempt to get drivers to treat cyclists in the same way as every other vehicle? The recent highway code changes have 'othered' us more than ever.

We are vehicles and we pay just as much towards the roads as any other vehicle owner/user. We should take them back. (Okay maybe let them keep the motorways)

Also, you said "we've allocated 95%+ of space for motor vehicles". Says who? I'm only aware of one type of road that is allocated to motor vehicles - and that's motorways. The roads are ours. Stop talking like they're for motor vehicles, they're not.

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chrisonabike replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
2 likes

ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

But no, I can't stand cycling with cars because many pass way too close or overtake only to be slowed down, while I would have been able to keep going.

Totally agree here - and another reason (for me) why simply saying "we already have the infra - roads!" is imperfect.  Like most cyclists I like to keep going - at a slower speed than cars yes, but keep momentum.  The "race to the next traffic light / busy junction" that happens (because lots of cars, who need traffic lights, unlike cyclists) is unsuited to most cyclists.  (I guess maybe some short-distance sprinters appreciate the training?)

ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

But why do you subscribe to the view that we can't get there directly?

I'd like to believe otherwise.  As Chris Boardman says - we know what works - we can see it in several other countries at different levels.  We know it does work if done properly.  However even the best efforts in the UK are affected by "not invented here" and utter ignorance of what actually works for cyclists.  And every scheme requires first fighting your way out of the same vicious circle *.

There seems to be some agreement that the first step forward is a rough-and-ready network for cycling.  Getting enough cash to do this at the (eventual) target level is unlikely.  When they did it in Seville they deliberately limited the area (and by necessity the quality) just so they had something completed in part of the city which would work.  They've been able to build on that subsequently.

So having places in your country as exemplars seems important - because people simply don't believe it works here otherwise (see all the excuses e.g. "but we're not Dutch / Danish, but we have weather in the UK, but people are lazy and have cars in the UK, but we have hills"...).  Also getting a modest but significant modal share is important.  I don't mean going from 2% to 3%, more like going up to e.g. 8-10% of trips.  The point is you don't need everyone cycling to have more social / political leverage.  You can still get much better understanding if everyone knows a friend / has a family member who cycles.

ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

Has there been any attempt to get drivers to treat cyclists in the same way as every other vehicle?

Not sure about top down, but there was vehicular cycling.  An attempt by cyclists to reclaim "we're also driving a vehicle" status.  Although some of the tools put forward are still sadly relevant for cycling in the UK (take the lane, develop a quick sprint, think like a driver) I think of this as a kind of Stockholm syndrome - the oppressed identifying with the aggressor.  It was favoured by a particular group of robust individualists - quite frankly a certain niche group of (almost all) men.  Its chief proponent was unashamedly elitist and certainly not in favour of most people cycling.

ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

The recent highway code changes have 'othered' us more than ever. We are vehicles and we pay just as much towards the roads as any other vehicle owner/user. We should take them back. (Okay maybe let them keep the motorways)

I don't see that as the intent of the Highway Code changes obviously and since many people still aren't aware of them I doubt this is generally the case.  It certainly allowed some pundits to blow their dog whistles harder and their gave their supporters some new justifications.  But they are the types who do this anyway.

And yes - I'm aware that I'm effectively paying other people to endanger me and make my cycling less pleasant while taking on the burden of polluting less.  I still enjoy cycling though.  For selfish reasons I hope that many more people can be encouraged to cycle; but I'm probably a die-hard cyclist now.

* "but there aren't many cyclists, so we can't spend much money / provide too much space / build a network first" which starts with "we'll just do a little bit in one place, to see if it works" so is doomed from the get-go.  Then along the way this inevitably also gets further compromised.  The scheme generally only happens if it has minimal effect on capacity for drivers.  And sure enough, thousands don't stop driving to instead cycle in a narrow lane which doesn't go where they want.  So there's shaking of heads and a "maybe it doesn't work here / it's not what people want to do"...

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

In my view, things like 'vehicular cycling' and the recent highway code changes are like advising women how to put up with rape and sexual assault, or how to make themselves safer. The wrong audience is being targeted. We should be targeting drivers to get them to consider cyclists as fellow road users and not an obstacle to overtake (which is what you do when you give advice about how to overtake a cyclist safely; the overtake is inherently set out as the objective to be achieved).

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wtjs | 1 year ago
1 like

More good work by CB, but I feel he doesn't fully appreciate the uphill struggle most of us are obliged to make against the Fifth Column of Anti-Cyclist activists, the Police

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janusz0 replied to wtjs | 1 year ago
9 likes

wtjs wrote:

  he doesn't fully appreciate the uphill struggle

Do you know about his mum?

Who'd've thought I'd find a use for this rag!: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8321720/driver-jailed-30-weeks-killing-oly...

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wtjs replied to janusz0 | 1 year ago
1 like

Do you know about his mum?
Yes, but it's a good point!

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HarrogateSpa | 1 year ago
13 likes

Avoid giving the debate any airtime is a good strategy, but not one road.cc has yet adopted!

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lesterama replied to HarrogateSpa | 1 year ago
5 likes

Sometimes you just have to talk about the gammon in the room

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Wartek replied to lesterama | 1 year ago
0 likes

so Mr Boaring man just ignore what a lot of people think ? Put your hands over your ears blah blah blah I can't hear what your saying so it doesn't matter . How childish there are real concerns as cycling is still hazardous and unfortunately there are a lot of bad cyclists ignoring the basics of the Highway Code and there DOES need to be some way to make cyclists accountable if electric scooters can have number plates why not cyclists ? Look at some other countries who use ID  Plates . It should be a requirement for every new bicycle made 

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David9694 replied to Wartek | 1 year ago
12 likes

On the spirit of Chris Boardman, please leave this site, Mr One Post. 

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brooksby replied to David9694 | 1 year ago
6 likes

David9694 wrote:

On the spirit of Chris Boardman, please leave this site, Mr One Post. 

Is that a sort of cycling exorcism?  3

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Rome73 replied to Wartek | 1 year ago
6 likes

Oh go on then . . . . I'll rise to the bait. Which other countries use 'ID Plates'? 

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newtonuk replied to Wartek | 1 year ago
5 likes

Since when do electric scooters have number plates?

"When you register with the DVLA you will be given a registration number in the same way as registering a car. However, unlike a car there is currently no legal requirement to display a number plate".

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giff77 replied to Wartek | 1 year ago
8 likes

There are a lot of bad motorists out there as well. Ones who are registered, licensed and insured. Yet regardless of these measures they still manage to kill and maim large numbers of people due to their shoddy road craft be it deliberate or negligent. Many of these drivers when caught receive a simple slap on their wrists as their peers and our magistrates cannot fathom how  someone can allow their road skills to deteriorate to such a level as to harm another human being. 

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Wingguy replied to Wartek | 1 year ago
5 likes

Wartek wrote:

Look at some other countries who use ID  Plates . 

Which countries, and what about them?

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