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UK cycling: Cycle City Ambition grants 

On 12th August 2013, David Cameron announced the allocation of cycle funding to eight cities (£77 million) and four National Parks (£17m) - a total of £94m in Department for Transport funding over a period of two years. The name of the scheme is Cycle City Ambition, a slightly odd phrase, that makes you wonder if the words are in the correct order.

Cycle City Ambition: the winning bids

Cycle city ambition grants mapThe winning cities were:

Greater Manchester (£20m)

Leeds/West Yorkshire (£18.1m)

Birmingham (£17m)

Bristol/West of England (£7.8m)

Newcastle (£5.7m)

Cambridge (£4.1m)

Norwich (£3.7m)

Oxford (£875,000)

The National Parks were:

Peak District (£5m)

Dartmoor (£4.4m)

South Downs (£3.8m)

New Forest (£3.6m) 

Local authorities will add more money from their own resources, to increase the total for some of the projects.

There is also a possibility of a cycle route running alongside HS2. A feasibility study was announced. The DfT press release said, 'The study and its conclusions would be separate from ongoing work on HS2. This will give plans for cycle paths the flexibility to work to their own timetable. It will not be part of the HS2 Bill processes with no land-take or cost impacts.'

This sounds to us like trying to dress up something that is overwhelmingly negative (ie no timetable, no statute, no land, and no money) as something positive (what lovely flexibility we have). If it ever was built, though, it would a great thing.

Cycle City Ambition: Criticisms

Critics pointed out that of the £94m, £42m was a re-announcement of funding that had already been announced in January 2013. They also said that soon after taking office, the coalition government disbanded Cycle England, and stopped the Cycle Demonstration Towns project, so that annual cycling funding of £60m was lost. 

There is also concern amongst cyclists as to whether the money will be spent wisely. Too often in the UK, we see cycle routes which are unusable, due to constant switching between road and pavement, giving way to traffic from side roads, and a failure to make a joined-up network rather than a series of short, isolated cycle lanes. The Cycle City Ambition grants allow the local authorities to spend the money, rather than the DfT, so it will be up to them to produce decent cycle infrastructure. It is, though, specified that the Cycle Infrastructure Design Guidance and the Manual for Streets should be followed.

Cycle City Ambition: the positive side

On the positive side, it is good that the Prime Minister wanted to make the announcement, giving cycling his backing. The Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin, said that he understood that this was just a start. 

Further, the DfT's guidance on applying for Cycle City Ambition grants, from February 2013, was a valuable document (despite apparently not having been proof-read, and employing the verb 'to mainstream'). It acknowledged the part cycling can play in saving money on journeys, combatting poor health due to sedentary lifestyles, and reducing congestion and improving quality of life in cities. It said the aim was to provide cycle funding of £10 per person (including local contributions, only for the two years of the grants, and only for the successful cities), and to support transformational change in the amount of cycling.

Cycle City Ambition: briefing

The Cycle City Ambition briefing which was released in August 2013, when the grants were made, acknowledges that the percentage of journeys made by bike nationally has been stuck at 2% for many years. (There are, though, isolated areas where there is much more cycling). According to the briefing, the goal of the Cycle City Ambition grants is to 'bring about a step change in levels of cycling right across the country.'

The grants have been made to cities and National Parks which submitted long-term plans to increase cycling, and the increase in cycling will support economic growth, reduce carbon emissions, and improve health and well-being. Each city is responsible for its own plan, which is tailored to local conditions, but there are common themes. These include integrated cycling networks (defined, broadly, as cycle routes which take people where they want to go - which sounds obvious, but will be a depature for UK cyle routes, if it happens), and safer cycling facilities.

The briefing has a section entitled 'cycle-proofing roads', which refers to measures designed to combat the perception that it's too dangerous to cycle on roads in the UK. (This is the perception of 48% of cyclists, and 65% of non-cyclists, according to the British Social Attitudes survey 2012). The measures are to include road improvements, and introducing a culture of sharing roads.

Cycle City Ambition: Leeds/West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire successfully bid for some of the money, winning £18.2m. There will be a further £11.2m from local authorities. The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that it will be used to build a segregated cycling Super Highway from east Leeds, through Leeds city centre, then west to Bradford city centre. The route will be from Swarcliffe in the east, following the A64 into Leeds, then continuing west along the route of the A647 to Staningley, and going into Bradford via Thornbury. There will also be a cycle loop in Leeds city centre. It is hoped that it will be completed by March 2015.

Other improvements will include an upgrade to the Leeds & Liverpool canal towpath, and secure bike parking facilities. The aim is to triple the number of journeys by bike.

Cycle City Ambition: update October 2013

On 28th October 2013, British Cycling reported on its meeting with the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. There is a problem with current guidance and regulations governing road building, which will compromise the ability of the Cycle Cities to build coherent and attractive cycle infrastructure, unless it is changed quickly. 

Mr McLoughlin promised that his department would be as helpful as possible in resolving the issues. The guidance will need to be updated, and the regulations changed, but the timetable for doing so is not yet clear. Chris Boardman, British Cycling's Policy Advisor, is unwilling to wait six months for new regulations. Read our report on British Cycling's meeting with the DfT about cycle-proofing roads...

Cycle City Ambition: Cambridge

Cambridge City Council has revealed plans to spend part of its £4.1m share of the Cycle City Ambition fund. There will be new wider and safer cycle lanes on Hills Road (A1307 south east) and Huntingdon Road (A1307 north west), which are major arterial routes used for commuting.

There are currently around 4000 cycle journeys a day on Hills Rd, and 2800 on Huntingdon Rd. 55% of accidents on Hills Rd, since 2008, involved cyclists, and 65% on Huntingdon Rd. The council wants to make it safer to cycle on these routes, and encourage people to commute by bike to work, college, and school. 

There is going to be a consultation between 4th March and 7th April 2014 on the scheme. There will be a new cycle lane on both sides of Hills Rd, and a cycle lane on the city bound side of Huntingdon Rd. The council wants opinions on the different options, which are cycle lanes segregated by a kerb, lanes raised above the height of the road, but below the height of the pavement, or a combination. Either way, the cycle lanes will continue behind bus stops, so that stationary buses are not an obstacle to cyclists. 

The detailed plans for Hills Rd show cycle lanes either side of the road, which will cost around £1.2m. The detailed plans for Huntingdon Rd show that the cycle lane will be 2.1m wide and cost around £625,000. It is to be on one side of the road only, and presumably (though this is not stated clearly) will be one-way, not for cyclists going both ways.

Opinions can be given at the consultation events, or by email (transportdelivery@cambridgeshire.gov.uk).

Councillor Ian Bates said, 'We have to be ambitious in our ideas to improve road use in the city and provide sustainable transport for a population set to increase by 28 per cent by 2031. We need local residents and commuters to have their say on these ideas, we want to improve transport for all in Cambridge and the best way to do this is to ask local people. Nothing has been decided yet - and will not be until everyone has had a chance to see the ideas in full and given their views.'

Councillor Hipkin said, 'I too welcome the scheme and hope that it will be supported despite being only a modest first step toward the cycling revolution that Cambridge badly needs.'