Embassy response to DfT 'Cycling Delivery Plan'

The words used in the opening sections of the Department for Transport's Cycling Delivery Plan are far too optimistic given the weak, inconsistent and varied measures that follow.

This is meant to be a '10 year plan for England' to enable a 'real step change in cycling' with 'strong leadership and commitment'. Furthermore, the Prime Minister is meant to have proclaimed on 12th August 2013 his 'intention to kickstart a cycling revolution which would remove the barriers for a new generation of cyclists', as he put it. 'This means a nation where cycling levels rival those in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany', the document says now.

But how can we hope to rival such countries without adopting the strength of measures and funding they opted for?

The plan is meant to set out 'the specific actions that need to be taken in order to achieve government's vision' grouped into four broad themes; vision, leadership and ambition; funding; infrastructure and planning and safety and perceptions of safety.

Vision, Leadership and Ambition

We note that the Delivery Plan's stated ambition is to double the number of journey stages made by bicycle by 2025. According to the 2013 National Travel Survey, 1% of all journey stages are made by bike - so the target in this Plan is, approximately, just 2% of all journey stages being cycled by 2025. 

This is obviously far, far below even the current levels of cycling in those countries - the Netherlands and Denmark - that the Plan states it wants to 'rival'. The lack of ambition is plain.

In addition, there is no stated goal for cycling journeys to school, despite much being made, in the Plan, of over a million children having been trained in Bikeability. There is, equally, no monitoring proposed of the effectiveness of cycle training in increasing child cycling levels. Many schools actively discourage children from cycling to school, despite training, due to the hostility of the road network.

The knowledge sharing hub from LSTF is a closed system which would benefit from a much more open approach enabling campaigners to share their best practice.


In short - if the Department is seeking to reduce the burden of bidding for funds, perhaps providing consistent funding would be a good idea!  In addition, the Plan's 'aspirational' funding target of £10 per head still compares poorly with the Netherlands (one of the countries this Plan wants England to rival for cycling levels) which currently spends around £30 per head, on cycling infrastructure alone.

There is no guidance here on how to provide initial funds that get change going and then to suggest a relationship between funding and cycling levels (like the Edinburgh approach).

Infrastructure and Planning

It seems unlikely that the cycle proofing work on Highways Agency roads can seriously function without a clear standard set of designs for safe junction design. The review of TSRGD is merely an enabler for such work, as the updated LCDS has shown.

LTN 2/08 remains in place, as does (more importantly) TSRGD and the way in which the DfT blocks many designs proven to be safe in the Netherlands. If localism is so vital, why, after years of high profile campaigning do we still not have a single example of: 

  • a fully protected junction;
  • a roundabout with an annular protected lane (as trialled at great expense at TRL); or 
  • simultaneous green for cycles.

Each of these has been shown to have an impact towards greater safety than our current approaches, on the continent. It is monolithic and change-averse approaches inside the DfT that need still to be challenged if we are to rival our continental neighbours.

So the DfT emphasis on localism, and insistence that there is no UK standards set, goes only so far. Localism is, in effect, blocked by national guidance that prevents local authorities adopting designs that, while new in Britain, are proven elsewhere in Europe. 

The DfT must commit to an update of national standards, adapting continental best practice for cycling -particularly designs for main roads and major junctions - if local authorities are to spend money on cycling in a productive way.

At a broader level, the review of the planning system needs to pay particular attention to new developments which even in places like Cambridge often work to depress the cycle rate due to poor planning, design and implementation. Reference should be made to the Making Space For Cycling publication. 

Safety and Perceptions of Safety

This section of the Plan that has the least amount of detail, which is alarming because the plan itself notes the plentiful evidence that safety, and perceptions of safety, are one of the main barriers to cycling in Britain. There is no single clear commitment in this section to design or infrastructure as a solution; there is no understanding of sustainable safety as practised in the Netherlands; and only training is mentioned here as a measure to deal with safety and perceived safety.

Annex A lists cycle training, 'behaviour change projects' that promote cycling as normal, e-bikes, and road justice measures as 'Actions' to address safety and perceptions of safety, completely ignoring, it seems, the essential role of road and street design in creating safe environments that also feel safe. 

Earlier this year, the Embassy gave evidence - both verbal and written - to the Transport Select Committee's inquiry into cycling safety. The DfT response to that inquiry was dismissive, particularly on the urgent need for safer road design - again, pointing to localism, which we suggest is not an adequate response when local authorities are too often constrained by national guidance. 

We would also point out that, unlike the efforts being made in the devolved parts of the UK (especially in London and Wales), England has chosen not to utilise any rigorous approach that might seek to assess the dangers of a particular road, junction or route - for instance, TfL's Cycling Level of Service and Junction Assessment Tools, or the Welsh Active Travel Guidance's Cycle Route Audit Tool.

It would appear likely the English approach will continue to involve addressing junctions on the basis of collision statistics - similar to that seen in the funding announced after the initial Times campaign. However a truly transformative approach needs to learn lessons both from abroad and within the UK - as seen, for instance, in mini-Holland work in London, where designs which may not have notable collision statistics, but which are so subjectively unsafe that they depress cycling rates, are being changed.

Annex B

In this Annex, the DfT invites 'expressions of interest from local authorities who would be interested in setting a long term ambition for walking and cycling in their area'. 

The intention here is to create security of funding for those local authorities that show ambition, and are willing to engage with the DfT. However, we have a number of concerns -

  • there remains the potential for local authorities to continue to waste money on schemes of limited value, due to the lack of clear guidance on how to properly design for cycling at places which present the biggest barriers to cycling uptake.
  • the process by which the expressions of interest are assessed by the DfT for quality is not clear. We would like to know the criteria by which the DfT is making its decisions. 
  • many authorities will simply not be interested, or will not have the staff available to work on funding applications for cycle infrastructure. Cycling in these areas is, effectively, being abandoned.