Get Britain Cycling Inquiry Third Session - 'Build for cycling as a mainstream activity'

The third session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Inquiry heard today from twelve witnesses on the subject of the planning and design requirements to 'Get Britain Cycling'. 

The overriding message from the session was one of a need for much greater ambition and commitment from central government, and of a need to focus on making cycling a safe and comfortable experience for all potential, as well as current, users. 

John Parkin, of London South Bank University, emphasised that for fifty years we have become experts at facilitating the flow of motor vehicles in our towns and cities, and that there is no practical reason why we cannot prioritise the movement of bicycles instead. Dave Horton similarly argued that we need to start valuing cycling more highly than car use in towns and cities, rather than the other way around. The central issue is not a technical one, but one of political will. 

Mark Ames of the ibikelondon blog stated that cycling is currently only the preserve of the quick and the brave; that it is not an option for the vast majority of people. Fear of traffic was the main reason people do not cycle. Likewise, Dave Horton said that our current approach might actually be counterproductive, by reinforcing cycling as a minority pursuit. We need to start building for cycling as a mainstream activity, rather than having a fixed conception of cycling as it is now. Our current strategies are not working.

John Dales of Urban Movement was clear that we are not designing for people who don't currently cycle; he said that we have forgotten about them, and our targets should be much more ambitious. 

London Cycling Campaign's Gerhard Weiss spoke about the need for separation of routes, achieved through cycle tracks on busier routes, and the removal of through-motor traffic on residential and quieter streets. The need for cycling environments suitable for an unaccompanied 12 year old was emphasised by Sustrans' Tony Russell.

'Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?' was a question from Fabian Hamilton MP, when there are basic lessons we can learn from the Netherlands and continental Europe. He pointed out the difference in experience cycling from his constituency in Leeds to Berlin, and the 'red carpet' treatment he felt on arrival in Rotterdam. His wife and son do not cycle, and would never consider doing so under current conditions.

Tony Armstrong of Living Streets was clear that pavement conversions are a cheap and easy way out, a lazy planning option that is not suitable either for cyclists or pedestrians. There were also technical points from Adrian Lord and Phil Jones; for instance, that Dutch-style roundabout geometry and tracks are not available in UK design manuals (although such a design is currently being trialled by the Transport Research Laboratory), or that bicycle-specific traffic lights are not currently DfT-approved. Likewise Mike Wilson of the Highways Agency admitted that traffic engineers were not suitably trained to focus on cycling and walking, and agreed with Adrian Lord that the needs of non-motorised modes were often ignored if they interfered with (motor) traffic flow.

Dave Horton agreed with these points, but emphasised that they are details. The focus has to be on the bigger picture; a step change in our commitment and our ambitions. The details will change.