Jordan Redshaw is on the Conservative Friends of Cycling’s Executive Committee.
It is not controversial to say that since the beginning of the pandemic there have been some things the Government has got right and some areas where it should have done better.
An often overlooked area in which this Government has achieved outstanding success is in its promotion of cycling. There simply have been no previous governments with such a bold vision. Their proposals are described in the “Gear Change” report: an ambitious plan to get Britain cycling that has been received very positively.
To back up these proposals, the Government has committed to spending £2 billion on cycling and walking over the course of a parliament. They have already published much needed higher standards for safer cycling infrastructure (LTN 1/20). They are helping people get back on their old bicycles with 500,000 repair vouchers worth £50 up for grabs and there are plans to introduce a modern day Cycling Proficiency scheme for people of all ages.
However despite strong actions to promote safe cycling, on the doorstep, the Conservative Party is still seen to have a weaker stance on cycling than its opponents. As a party there is a lot for us to gain by promoting cycling and therefore cementing our rightful position as the party helping people cycle more and with safety.
During the recent local election campaign, we saw many Labour led councils take credit for implementing safe cycling infrastructure using the government’s Active Travel Fund. This £250 million fund has allowed local authorities to bid for grants to improve cycling infrastructure in the midst of the pandemic. This was a missed opportunity for many Conservative-led councils who have not taken advantage of the Active Travel Fund and delivered safe cycling infrastructure to their voters.
We need to trust the Government in its promotion of cycling – after all Boris has a successful record here having implemented the gold-standard of segregated cycle lanes, the “Cycle Superhighways” as Mayor of London. London’s cycle hire scheme is still popularly known as the “Boris bike” scheme by Londoners and tourists alike.
The Prime Minister’s strong cycling credentials helped him win a second term in a city usually dominated by Labour. Shaun Bailey was generally perceived to have poor intentions for cycling and ended up finishing ten per cent behind Sadiq Khan in the final round. It is not good enough for Conservatives to give up on London, when we know we can win in London with a positive, pro-cycling manifesto.
After all, we recently saw Andy Street and Ben Houchen achieve similar success with pro-cycling policies. Street wrote here at ConservativeHome about his ambitions to build 500 miles of cycle lanes in the West Midlands, and Houchen invested £18 million for active travel improvements in the Tees Valley. Conservative councillors across the country could learn a lot from this and achieve similar success by also delivering high-quality cycle infrastructure.
A core right-wing value is giving people the liberty to make their own choices in life. Right now the vast majority of road space is monopolised by one mode of transport – cars. We must ensure everyone has the option of a cheap, safe and efficient alternative method of travel. It is a wonderful thing that anyone can get set up with a bicycle for less than £200 and in many urban areas it is the quickest and most reliable way to get from A to B.
Let us not forget that many cyclists also own cars. The AA recently found a third of drivers have said they will cycle, walk or run more after lockdown. Many of these people won’t cycle for political reasons or even for the environment, they simply want the choice to get around cheaply, safely and quickly.
It is vital that communities are properly consulted when introducing safe cycling infrastructure and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). All too often last year, Labour councils introduced temporary cycle lanes and LTNs overnight with minimal or no consultation. There has to be decent consultation with local residents to ensure schemes are implemented in the best possible way by considering everyone’s needs.
However, we must not fall into the trap of listening to the loudest voices in our party – or perpetuated myths on Twitter – as reasons for scrapping or never implementing these schemes. Imperial College London found no evidence that cycle superhighways worsened traffic congestion in London. In Kensington and Chelsea, independent polling found just 30 per cent of those surveyed were against the Kensington High Street cycle lane. This is not an isolated case as surveys have consistently found that the majority of residents support LTNs too – perhaps unsurprisingly, as who wouldn’t favour traffic moving from residential streets to main roads?
Polling in March this year shows just 16 per centof people oppose LTNs, whereas 47 per cent support them in London. Supporting cycle schemes is a vote-winning policy and for Conservatives to remain relevant in cities and amongst future generations we must embrace many Briton’s desires to cycle safely.
During the pandemic one of the reasons we fared badly, as a country, is because of our obesity crisis. According to the OECD, 63 per cent of UK adults are overweight, meaning the UK is the most overweight country in western Europe. The costs of physical inactivity to the UK are estimated to be in excess of £7 billion every year.
There are clear economic benefits both for individuals and wider society in improving the nation’s health. Regular cycling can reduce the risk of dementia, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease and other common serious conditions by at least 30 per cent. Cycling England’s Qualitative Survey on Cycling found in their Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) analysis, for each £1 invested in cycling the value of decreased mortality was £2.59.
This is only taking into account the benefits of reduced mortality, the overall BCR ratio of cycling investment is much higher at 13:1. Whereas motorways often only have BCR’s of 3:1.
Other economic benefits should not be underestimated. Cyclists visit local shops, restaurants and cafes more than users of other modes of transport spending up to 40 per cent more than drivers according to TfL. This higher footfall will help our high streets at a crucial time.
Supporting safe cycling is only going to become more important as we work towards carbon net zero by 2050 – it is not a fad that is going to disappear after the pandemic passes. If we continue to build on the Government’s success at a local level we can ensure this is a golden era for cycling. As a country we will reap huge economic, environmental and health benefits, and as a result the party we will reap the rewards at the ballot box