Making the fiscal case for cycling infrastructure

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Ian Miller
Making the fiscal case for cycling infrastructure

There has been a lot in the news recently about many people, notably eminent economists, urging George Osborne to invest in infrastructure for the benefit of the economy. Various forms of such investment have been suggested but I have yet to hear any suggestion of significant investment in cycling infrastructure.

I think that this is a major opportunity that we are in danger of missing. I am sure that major investment in cycleways is very good investment for government both in terms of the size and speed of pay-back. We really need to assemble a good fiscal case for such investment and do all that we can to publicise it.

The open letter to Nick Clegg was a start, but I have not seen anything else since. The letter also seemed to stress the quality-of-life rather than financial advantages of cycling infrastructure. At a time of budgetary stringency with a predominately Tory government, such arguments stand no real chance of being persuasive. The inevitable response will be that we cannot afford to invest in cycling infrastructure. We need to make the case that we cannot afford not to invest in it.

We need to be able to list all of the benefits to the economy of increased cycling modal share with estimates of their value and the best possible evidence backing it up. These included reduced congestion, reduced sick-leave for cycling employees and reduced cost to the health service. There are probably others as well.

It is also important to recognise the politics of the government we are trying to influence and taylor the arguments accordingly. For example, the government is very keen on getting people on welfare back into work. Such people generally cannot afford a car and may often be prevented from taking a job only a few miles by lack of a sensible transport option. Cycling to work is an option that few would currently consider. If cycling infrastructure can be presented as a means of reducing welfare dependency, it will be far more appealing to the average Tory.

What can we do to move this forward?

David Hembrow

The financial benefits of cycling are enormous and cycling infrastructure has quite frequently been referred to as a "fiscal measure" in the Netherlands.

It was reported three years ago that for each 1% of the working population who cycle to work in the Netherlands, employers save €27 million due to lower sickness costs. If this could hold true in the UK, and the UK could achieve the same cycling modal share as the Netherlands, then the country could be looking at a saving of 2.5 billion pounds per year just due to employers experiencing lower sickness costs.

These savings alone are far more valuable than the total cost of Dutch infrastructure, let alone further cost savings from other budgets.

Quite apart from the welfare possibilities as Ian writes of above, I'd have thought that such a potential saving for private businesses, increasing their competitiveness both within the country and worldwide, could also gain support from "the average Tory".

George Johnston

Ian, I think you are absolutely spot-on here. I agree it's essential to frame suggestions for better cycling infastructure in a way which makes them persuasive to the current government and that the economic benefits of increasing cycling rates are  irrefutable.

Other than showing my support, I must confess I don't have any massively bright ideas about how to move this forward, apart from perhaps persuading The Economist to do an article on the potential economic benefits of investing in cycle infastructure as they seem pretty pro-cycling at the moment and they recently published an article calling for greater government investment in infastructure in general. 


Essentially, to my mind (and I know others'), we need to frame it in some hard numbers: if we spend this on cycling infrastructur, this is the benefit we'll get in various areas ... health, emissions, life expetancy, etc ... (More later when I'm not looking after children!)


which would seem ideal for this sort of a job. There's already a page on research which includes links to a few relevant pages but a separate set of pages on the economic side - 'what's the evidence for X' might be the way forward

The wiki isn't that straightforward to use so if you're struggling with the interface, then a series of public google documents or similar, with links from the wiki, would work equally well. 

AKA TownMouse

Ian Miller


I think that a wiki article or a few of them would be a good way of pooling
information. Whereas I think I have worked out how to edit an existing article,
I cannot see how to create a new one.

I think that there are at least three aspects to this.

  1. A list of potential benefits, estimates of their value and supporting evidence .
  2. A description of what is required, the sort of measures that do work (what the Dutch go), as opposed to what does not.
  3. Planning for getting the message out.

It could be one Wiki page, or a page for each of these.


I think if you're editing a page in 'wiki' format you can just put a link in to the non-existent page (see the front page of the wiki for an example) and then click on the link and it should offer you the option to creat the page. I've emailed our site administrator to see if there's an easier way


AKA TownMouse


The wiki works like any other: to create a new Wiki page, just make a Wiki link to a non-existent page using double square brackets, something like:

  [ [My New Wiki Page] ]

(without spaces between the brackets) and this will make a link in the page you're editing. Click on the link to actually make the missing page.

Ian Miller

I completely failed to create a linkable link using the double square brackets format.

I eventually managed to create a page by typing the URI into my web browser and that trigger the page creation. 

Ian Miller

I have now create a skeleton of a Wiki page at

All and any help in filling this out would be much appreciated.

There is also the question about how we go about making this CEoGB policy.

Golly's picture

Check out the report by LSE supported by Sky and British Cycling:

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