Julian Huppert MP: What Government can do to get Britain cycling
Chris Boardman, gold medallist and advisor to British cycling said of the cycling revolution “If it can happen in London, it can happen anywhere.” London is making good progress, but in Cambridge, we are leading the UK cycling revolution. About one in three trips for work or education are already done by bike, and we’re trying to push that even higher. This far exceeds what has been achieved in London. This hasn’t just happened, but has needed leadership, commitment, passion, planning and money, and all of those on a sustained long-term basis.
Cambridge has many features for those on two wheels - not just the fact that we are relatively flat and fairly dry. We led the way nationally in having contraflow cycle lanes, and have many dedicated cycle facilities, as well as ever more places to lock a bike up securely, including work on the country’s largest station cycle park, with 3,000 places. We’re rolling out 20 mph zones across the city, and have just announced the first on-road segregated cycle lanes, along the continental model. Things are going well - but there is much much more still to do.
One of the reasons we have been successful in Cambridge is because of the hard work of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, which I am a member of. Every year for many years, before the local council elections, they write to ever candidate with a series of questions about cycling issues, ranging from overall vision to specific schemes. These are then published online. As a result, pro-cycling candidates have been more likely to be elected, and many newly elected councillors find themselves already committed to supporting schemes.
How do we do this nationally? I and fellow members of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group produced a report last year called ‘Get Britain Cycling’. This gave 18 clear recommendations to get people across the country to cycle. I managed to get a debate in Parliament on these recommendations, and secured a unanimous vote welcoming it. It covers recommendations about sustained funding for infrastructure, legal protections, extended bike training, the need for leadership and much more.
If we can get these recommendations implemented, we can improve the whole country, and create places where people want to live, work, shop and do business. We can make people healthier, happier, and wealthier. We can reduce the costs to our NHS.
In Strasbourg doctors have already started prescribing people with cycling for all manner of problems from hypertension to heart problems. People live longer and are healthier if they cycle or walk. The powerful case for substantial investment in cycling extends beyond the roads and into our hospitals, schools and homes.
But safety is key and although cycling is a relatively safe activity, fears about safety are one of the most cited reasons for people not getting on their bikes. We must change that, so cycling becomes inclusive and available for all. I don’t just want to support the confident young white male whizzing down roads in a light £1000 bike kitted out in lycra; we need to liberalise the road so that everyone, young and old, feels comfortable hopping on a bike to make a journey or just for fun. All-ability cycling allows people with disabilities to cycle in adapted vehicles, opening up new opportunities they would never otherwise have had.
We’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go. HGVs still pose a huge problem and I have been working hard to raise awareness about the associated dangers and call for sensors to be made mandatory. We also need to be much more proactive about getting kids cycling and here investment at a young age is key.
But we must not lose momentum, the Tour de France and 2012 Olympics have both left astonishing legacies we must seize the opportunity. What has started already in Cambridge should be replicated in towns and cities across the UK. To this end I and other members of the APPG on Cycling have called for a debate in the House to keep the pressure on the Prime Minister. We need leadership and we need action to make sure we can Get Britain Cycling.
Dr Julian Huppert is the co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, and Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge