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By Luton Rising
By Luton Rising

Funding for walking and cycling infrastructure must increase

4 min read

Investing in active travel will help the Government tackle congestion, improve public health and reduce damage to the environment

If there was an area of spending that could fulfil a whole host of key policy areas, would it not be the next big thing?

From cutting traffic congestion, to improving physical and mental health, addressing social inequality, reducing climate emissions, improving air quality, and bringing life to our town centres – significant growth in levels of cycling and walking would tick all those boxes. Yet only 2% of journeys in the UK are by bike, and very few made entirely on foot.

With 38% of our day-to-day journeys being less than two miles, there is so much scope for many of us to ditch the car in favour of the bike or Shanks’s pony.

Living in my constituency in congested west London, cycling is often quicker than driving and I get some much-needed exercise into the bargain. But too many people feel unsafe cycling on our roads, perhaps the main reason UK cycling levels are so far behind our equivalent European nations.

Confidence comes with a combination of safe spaces for cycling, and training to build confidence. When he was mayor of London, Boris Johnson committed £1bn for a network of segregated cycle routes, now being completed by Sadiq Khan. What’s more, revenue funding also means that every Londoner is now entitled to free cycle training.

Other local authorities across Britain are also starting a transport revolution. Since winning ‘mini-Holland’ status and funding from the London mayor, Waltham Forest is transforming the borough, creating quiet routes along back streets, as well as installing cycle paths on main roads and supporting training and bike hire to encourage residents to cycle more.

Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, Chris Boardman, has led a plan endorsed by all 10 district councils for a 1,800-mile cycling and walking network. Importantly, it was produced with the help of more than 4,000 members of the public.

“Investment in cycling and walking brings benefits of at least £5.50 for every £1 spent”

Some 82 schemes are now either being delivered or under development, from junction improvements to ‘active neighbourhoods’, with £160m from their Transforming Cities Fund to kickstart building the network. These initiatives aren’t just for cyclists; junction and public realm improvements make for safer journeys on foot too.

But these initiatives will only deliver significant modal shift when there is adequate, consistent long-term funding. The UK currently spends around £7 a year per person on cycling and walking – the Dutch invest around £26 per person on cycling alone, and 27% of all trips are by bike.

Greater Manchester wants to spend £50 per head to complete its £1.3bn ambition, and needs the funding to be long term, not stop-start. So while the APPG for Cycling and Walking welcomed the intentions in the prime minister’s transport infrastructure statement to the Commons on 11 February, questions still hang.

The sum of £5bn has been pledged to improve bus and cycling infrastructure, but we still have no clarity on how much is for cycling and over what period. The PM said £350m in answer to my oral question, but later that day a journalist was told it’s £1bn.

Either way, it’s a step in the right direction, but still not the £5bn the Department for Transport (DfT) has calculated is the minimum needed to double cycling to 4% of all trips – hardly ambitious.

Investment in active travel delivers a good return for the taxpayer. DfT figures say investment in cycling and walking brings benefits of at least £5.50 for every £1 spent; a far higher return than for many large road and rail schemes.

Few other activities provide benefits so cost-effectively across the UK and across such a range of policy areas, so what’s stopping us?

Ruth Cadbury is Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, and co-chair of the APPG for Cycling and Walking

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