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Hedge-blog: Does the cycling delivery plan deserve its name?

18th October 2014

The DfT published its draft cycling delivery plan at the end of last week, just before a Parliamentary debate on cycling. It is inviting views on the draft plan, before finalising it. These are my thoughts on the document.

A 10 year plan

The draft document claims to be a 10 year plan for England. If that were the case, I would expect to see details of what is to be done in each of the ten years, in terms of changing laws, awareness and advertising campaigns, building infrastructure, training (for all road users), and policing; plus what is to be spent in each year. That information is entirely lacking.

The only concrete element is a plan to invite local authorities to work in partnership with the DfT, which sounds sensible, but I would have thought that would be happening anyway and already.

My view is that the draft plan lacks almost all the necessary details of actions to be taken and money to be spent, to make the ambitions and aspirations expressed in the plan a reality. Surely they must be added to the document, so that the final version genuinely is a 10 year plan. That will mean the DfT doing much more work than they have done so far. The current plan looks as though it could have been produced in an afternoon.

Funding

The draft plan does not commit any money to cycling.

The funding section claims that cycling funding in England is currently about £5 per person, whereas CTC and British Cycling say it is about £2 per person. It would be interesting to know why there is such a big difference between the two numbers.

Safety and perceptions of safety

One of the themes within the draft plan is safety and perceptions of safety. It states that 48% of cyclists and 67% of non-cyclists think the roads are too dangerous for cycling. Those are huge percentages, and you don't have to look any further for the key barrier to cycling.

Whilst it is positive that the DfT acknowledges this as a problem, I don't think it is approaching the issue in the right way. The draft plan states:

'The Department for Transport is therefore developing a programme of work to address cycle safety issues with a view to both reducing the rate of those killed or seriously injured on the roads, and to publicly address the perception that cycling is not safe.'

In my view, that sentence states the problem incorrectly, in a significant way. It is saying that when I cycle, either I am killed or seriously injured, or I perceive myself to be in danger but I'm not really - it's just my perception. But those are not the only options. The third option is that I am in real danger, but it doesn't result in death or injury on a particular occasion. That is the situation most of the time on Britain's roads at the moment.

The distinction is important, because if you think you're just trying to address a perception of danger, you might think the solution is to persuade people that everything's fine really. But when you know you're dealing with actual danger, you have to change the conditions on the roads.

I've heard the line about 'perception of danger' time and again from government. It's insidious, because it's a form of victim-blaming. It is essentially saying to all those people put off cycling, 'it's your fault, because you're put off by imaginary dangers', whereas in fact it's the majority of the population, it's not their own fault, and the dangers are real. The government is trying to dodge its responsibility to provide safe conditions for active travel. 

I believe that the biggest danger is from fast, close passes, and that's what puts so many people off cycling.

I've suggested on this blog that we could adopt signs asking drivers to leave more space when passing cyclists, similar to those used in France. I also suggested it to Robert Goodwill, the minister with responsibility for cycling at the DfT. He replied to me, dismissing the idea.

In his letter, Mr Goodwill pointed out that rule 163 of the Highway Code exists, and that people have to learn the Highway Code to pass their driving test. He wrote, 'It is not the purpose of traffic signs to convey every rule of the Code, therefore our view is that a new sign is not required.'

I find this response frustrating. The cycling minister ought to recognise this genuine problem, and act to improve conditions for cyclists. The fact that he refuses to do so amounts to a dereliction of duty.

Anyone who has cycled on Britain's roads even for a short time will know that most drivers do not comply with rule 163 when overtaking. It is routinely disregarded. Some overtakes do resemble the photo accompanying rule 163, but most do not. 

I would like to understand Mr Goodwill and the DfT's position more exactly. Do they claim that most overtakes are in accordance with rule 163? (Noone can honestly make that claim). Or is their position that it does not matter whether rule 163 is respected or not - it is sufficient that the rule exists, and the existence of the rule renders a new sign unnecessary?

Summary

Back to the plan, though. It's a plan that's barely worthy of that description, as it contains no detail of actions to be taken, nor money to be spent. It's a plan which at least acknowledges that people are being put off cycling by traffic, but it fails to analyse the problem correctly, and so the solutions won't be right. 

It's not encouraging. But this is only a draft plan. The DfT welcomes your views, so why not write and give them? Maybe the final plan will be better.

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