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Cycling – change in culture needed to move to the next level

Niall BakerLast week the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) set out their recommendations to the government, which if implemented, could facilitate significant growth in cycling across the UK.  The Get Britain Cycling report has been widely welcomed by cyclists, cycling organisations, transport and public health planners.  APPCG have made 18 recommendations to the government on what they feel is needed to get the people across the country cycling, setting an ambition that at least 10% of all journeys should be made by bike by 2025 – a five-fold increase on today’s figures.

Key measures include increasing spending by central government of at least £10 per head of the population on cycling, reducing speed limits to 20 miles per hour in many urban areas, providing cycle training across all schools and establishing a national Cycle Champion to provide leadership for the whole strategy.  As soon as the report was published an online petition calling on the government to implement the recommendations was launched and within the first 48 hours 30,000 people had signed it.  The outlook appears promising – some commentators are confident that a new cross-departmental organisation will be set up soon, possibly as early as June, called the Office for Active Travel (OAT) with an initial budget of £1bn with the primary aim of delivery cycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects.

One of the key challenges for making the strategy is a success is ensuring people feel safe when taking to the road by bike.  As a recent Transport for London (TfL) report showed, “frequent cyclists are typically white, male, between 25 to 44, and on a higher than average income” – there is far greater potential for growth among young people, females, ethnic minorities and people from more deprived backgrounds.  We’ve conducted qualitative studies recently around the topic of active travel which clearly show one of the greatest barriers to cycling among young people and their parents in particular is a fear that they won’t be safe on the road.  They’re all for cycling, but the thought of taking to the same roads as HGVs or buses fills them with terror.

It is encouraging to see that the APPCG calls for lowering speed limits and rethinking of ways to design roads and communities, but investment needs to be backed up with evidence on what really makes people feel safe when they take to cycling.  This means taking a close look at how people react to different design features and whether marketing messages are hitting the right notes so that people are more inclined to think about the benefits of cycling compared to any perceived negatives.

The APPCG report calls for a “change the culture of how we use our roads, so that people are no longer afraid to cycle or allow their children to do so”.  For culture change to be a success it needs complete buy-in from the people it’s intended to benefit which can only be a success by listening to their needs, wants and concerns, and taking them into full consideration in future scheme design.  Get this right and we’ll hit that 10% target by 2025.

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