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National cycling & walking champion to be appointed

23rd November 2018

End of route cycle sign
End of route cycle sign

The government yesterday published its response to the Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy ('CWIS') Safety Review. The Safety Review was a consultation it launched in March this year.

There won't be dancing in the streets of Guildford, outside Cycling UK's headquarters, but the document is mildly encouraging. There is an action plan, with a number of positive proposals in it, including the appointment of a cycling and walking champion.

The response recognises obesity as one of the main risk factors for disability and ill-health in the UK, costing the NHS £6.1 billion a year. It says investment in cycling and walking is a solution to this. Cycling and walking have a number of other health, well-being, and economic benefits.

CWIS health graphic
Benefits of cycling and walking, from the DfT CWIS response

CWIS safety review response: key themes

Cycle route, Harrogate
A cycle route, Harrogate

The government response says certain key themes emerged from the consultation.

The 'key themes' section refers to the 'Hierarchy of Road Users', which it says is a basic principle of transport policy. It places road users in this order:

  • Pedestrians, in particular those with disabilities
  • Cyclists
  • Public transport
  • Motorised transport

The hierarchy is the order in which to consider needs, and doesn't mean giving pedestrians priority in every situation. If it did, it would be failing woefully in the UK. But vulnerable road users should be considered first. According to the DfT, [t]he response to the Call for Evidence underlined that this may not always occur.

The key themes section of the response accepts that [a] motor vehicle is a large, hard and heavy machine, which can be extremely dangerous if poorly driven. A strong theme emerging from the Call for Evidence was the central importance of protecting vulnerable road users from vehicles.

Close passing is also a key theme in the response. It is of central importance to those who ride bikes on the road, and that message appears to have been understood at the DfT.

The lack of enforcement on our roads was also raised by respondents to the Call for Evidence, and this is acknowledged by the response. There is a feeling that ...if a road user breaks the rules then they are currently unlikely to be caught and deterred from reoffending, unless they cause injury to another road user.

CWIS safety review response: no registration or licensing of cyclists

Some respondents wanted registration and licensing of cyclists. Generally, registration schemes are popular with people who never ride a bike, and want to 'punish' those that do. The response dismisses the idea, on the basis that cycling is a beneficial activity which is unlikely to cause serious injury to other road users.

Similarly, the DfT didn't find convincing evidence to support the introduction of compulsory helmets.

CWIS safety review response: the action plan

Measures in the action plan include:

  • updating the Cycle Infrastructure Design guidance; the call for national standards, as opposed to guidance, is rejected
  • strengthening consideration of pedestrians and cyclists in Planning Policy Guidance
  • encouraging local authorities to spend around 15% of their transport infrastructure budget on cycling and walking, up from 12%
  • exploring ways to learn from other countries including the Netherlands and Denmark
  • reviewing pavement parking laws. (It is currently illegal to park on the pavement in London, but not elsewhere in the UK)
  • spending £100,00 on a police back office to review video evidence of road traffic offences submitted by the public
  • considering presumed liability for drivers who injure vulnerable road users
  • piloting cycle training for driving instructors, including safer overtaking
  • appointing a cycling and walking champion to raise the profile of Active Travel

CWIS safety review response: the minister's comments

It is clear from Transport Minister Jesse Norman's foreword that he has understood the case for active travel, and the challenges faced by people who get around under their own steam. There were 14,000 responses to the consultation, and many of them were clearly well-thought-out, and expressed firmly-held opinions forged in the furnace that is Britain's hostile road network.

The Minister's foreword states:

'1.2 But safety has particular importance for vulnerable road users, such as walkers, cyclists and horse riders. All road users have an equal right to use the road, and safety and perception of safety are key factors in determining how far people use these modes of transport. The safer they feel, the more they will use these active modes of travel, The more people use Active Travel, the fitter and healthier they will be, and the more their communities will benefit from lower congestion and better air quality, among a host of other benefits. The logic is clear.
1.3 The impact of Active Travel on congestion is especially important, and widely misunderstood. It is sometimes claimed that installing cycle lanes worsens congestion, for example. In general, however, the truth is the opposite: a properly integrated network of cycle lanes is a far more effecient means to transport people in and around town and city centres than the use of the same road space for road vehicles, and due to the lower load factors involved, is far cheaper to build.'

The consultation was a worthwhile exercise; the sentiments in the Minister's response are right. Now - and I never thought I'd be saying this about a Cycling Minister - we need him to stay in post for longer than 5 minutes. We need action that creates visible and quantifiable improvements to walking and cycling on local roads in towns and cities throughout the UK. Ideally, we would notice those improvements now, or at least during 2019, not in 10, 20, or 50 years' time.

CWIS safety review response: how it was received

The Cycling & Walking Alliance, an alliance which includes Cycling UK, was pleased with some aspects of the government response.

It supports the proposed changes to the Highway Code, but was disappointed with the absence of emphasis on speed reduction. It wants to see default 20mph speed limits in built-up areas, and 40mph for most minor rural roads. It is also asking for a ban on pavement parking, and the adoption of top-quality infrastructure standards.

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