I don’t ride a bike, why should I support measures to boost
If you are not a regular cyclist, you may ask why you should support proposals to boost investment
in safe cycle routes.
More than three quarters of a million people commute to work by bicycle in Britain every day, but
you may not be one of them. So why should you care?
Building safer cycle routes would not only benefit those who cycle. It would also encourage
hundreds of thousands more people to use their bikes to make short journeys instead of going by
car or by train or bus. This would have benefits for motorists, pedestrians, parents, businesses and
It would lead to less congested streets, less overcrowding on public transport, fewer deaths on the
road, less NHS money wasted on obesity, a boost for the high street, less pollution, and a more
affordable form of transport for those priced out by rising petrol prices and rail fares.
This will only happen if a greater proportion of the existing transport budget is spent on cycling,
Around 2 per cent of journeys in Britain are currently made by bike, leaping to more than 50 per
cent in parts of Central London at rush hour and more than 10 per cent in towns like Bristol, York,
Oxford and Cambridge. Yet less than 1 per cent of the transport budget is spent on cycle provision.
A recent pledge from David Cameron to spend £94 million on cycling over the next three years
amounts to just 0.2 per cent of the Department for Transport’s budget over the same period.
The 18 recommendations made in the Get Britain Cycling report - outlined here - can transform
Britain’s streets and towns for everyone, regardless of whether or not they ride a bike.
Here are some arguments for why non-cyclists would benefit from these recommendations:
The main roads running through our villages, towns and cities are becoming a traffic-choked
nightmare. Roads designed centuries ago for a gentle stream of vehicles are now clogged with
millions of cars. For decades, government policy has simply tried to build more roads and force
more capacity out of our creaking transport system. But as you will know if you have ever sat in an
endless traffic jam or crawled slower than walking pace through a town centre, this approach is
Petrol prices are rocketing, parking spaces are scarce and tailbacks are growing. And yet more
than half of all journeys under five miles are made by car. In fact, more than two thirds of all car
journeys are of five miles or less.
If the roads were designed with safe cycle lanes, and more secure cycle parking was built at key
destinations, more people would be encouraged to use their bicycles for a quick trip to the post
office, for popping to the shop for a pint of milk, for taking their kids to school and, indeed, for
commuting to work. This would take huge numbers of motor vehicles off the roads, freeing them
up for those who still need to use their car.
Furthermore, if junctions were better designed, there would be less conflict between cyclists and
motorists when pulling away from traffic lights and turning corners. If cyclists were given their own
four-second green-light phase – as currently happens at one roundabout in East London - they
would be able to get ahead and clear of other traffic and there would be no risk of collision. If
drivers took care not to stop in the cycle boxes at traffic lights, another source of conflict would
also be removed. If segregated cycle lanes were installed to help cyclists navigate through or
round dangerous crossroads and roundabouts, it would also increase safety and freedom for all
Only a tiny proportion of cyclists misbehave on the roads, but it is still a major source of irritation
for motorists when this small minority of cyclists jump red lights or cycle at night without lights.
The petition backs calls in the Get Britain Cycling report for there to be better training available for
cyclists to ensure they know how to cycle responsibly on the roads.
Research by Westminster Council found that 68 per cent of crashes between drivers and cyclists
are the fault of the motorist, compared to 20 per cent which are the fault of the cyclist, so the
report also calls for cyclist awareness to be a part of the driving test, so that all new and young
drivers learn that giving cyclists extra space and time is crucial in avoiding crashes.
It is also important to note that cyclists are entitled to use the road because they pay council tax
and income tax. The maintenance of the roads is not funded out of the “road tax” paid by
motorists, which is actually called Vehicle Excise Duty and is linked to a vehicle’s emissions.
Even Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has praised cycling as a way of getting around. He last
year described Copenhagen’s cycling culture as “fan-bleeding-tastic” and said: “Now I know that
sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes
share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and
expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared
war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.
“City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.”
For these reasons and more, the AA – the country’s biggest motoring organisation – is backing the
petition and asking its members to sign up.
A train, bus or Tube commuter
The Government is desperately seeking ways to alleviate the pressure on the public transport
system. Rush-hour commuters packed like sardines into buses and trains are beginning to
grumble, while rail fares continue to increase above inflation.
In major cities like London, research shows that new cyclists taking to the road are often
abandoning public transport in favour of their bikes. The new Cycle Superhighway to be built along
Victoria Embankment will carry 1,000 cyclists an hour – the equivalent of four Tube trains running
along the District and Circle lines beneath.
Andrew Gilligan, London’s new cycling commissioner, said: “For a comparatively extremely modest
amount of money, we can unlock significant capacity on the Tube.”
The same will be true all across the country. Packed buses and crammed train carriages can be
alleviated by encouraging people to make short commutes by bicycles. If the roads are designed in
such a way as to make cycling seem safe and inviting, many hundreds of thousands of people who
are currently put off from cycling would take to their bikes, leaving you with a free seat on the
If more cycle racks were installed at train stations - and if trains had capacity to carry more bikes –
people would also be encouraged to cycle rather than drive to the station and even to take their
bike on board and cycle to work at the other end. This would reduce the need for packed car parks
at train stations and reduce the cost of commuting longer distances by train.
In an age of spiralling rail fares, cycling is also a much more affordable way to travel for those who
risk being priced out of public transport by fare hikes. The petition is backing the Get Britain
Cycling report in its calls for greater investment in cycling as a means of alleviating pressure on the
Britain languishes near the bottom of the child obesity league tables in Europe. The Government’s
own Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said: “Where it is safe and appropriate to do so,
cycling to school can bring important health benefits to children. What’s more, fitter children
concentrate better in school. However, we have to make sure that cycling is safe and is seen to be
“Bikeability [training] is a great way of equipping youngsters with the skills and awareness to cycle
safely, but we need to educate other road users and create an environment in which children and
their parents can cycle with confidence.”
Every parent should encourage their child to be active and take exercise, and cycling to school is a
healthy, cheap and efficient way of doing this. But the roads have to be safe and inviting enough
for a parent to feel comfortable about cycling to school with their children or letting their kids
Your child’s school should also offer comprehensive cycle training as part of the national
curriculum, setting them up for a lifetime of being able to travel in this healthy and affordable
way. There should also be safe routes to local schools to keep children safe on their bikes.
The Get Britain Cycling report, backed by The Times’s petition, calls for all these things.
Trying to get fit and healthy
We are all busy people. Official advice recommends taking 150 minutes – or 2½ hours – of physical
activity per week, but we do not always have the time – or inclination – to get down the gym or go
for a jog after a long day or long week of work.
Building physical activity in as part of your daily routine is by far the most efficient – and the
cheapest – way of getting exercise. If you live within five to 10 miles of your workplace, why not
travel by bike instead of sitting in your car or on a bus or train?
A five-mile journey across London takes a little over half an hour at a leisurely pace, giving you an
hour a day – and five hours a week – of moderate exercise just while commuting to work.
There are other health benefits too. The Government’s Chief Medical Officer said that cycling can
“help to prevent or manage over 20 long-term conditions, including heart disease, strokes, type 2
diabetes, some cancers and mental health problems”.
She added that the health benefits of cycling “far outweigh the risks”.
If the roads were better designed to protect and encourage cyclists - and if both cyclists and
motorists were better trained in sharing the road responsibly - the health benefits for you and for
the country would be enormous.
The NHS spends around £5 billion each year on tackling preventable diseases exacerbated by
inactivity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
Around £16bn is currently being spent on the Crossrail project in London and a further £3bn on
upgrades to the A9 road in Scotland. Spending on both of these individual rail and road projects
far outstrips the total annual spend on cycling in the entire country. And yet, health experts told
the Get Britain Cycling inquiry that investing in cycle provision is by far the most cost-effective
form of transport spend, recouping £4 in health savings for every £1 invested.
Municipal authorities in Copenhagen added up the effect on health, productivity, congestion and
time saved and found that society as a whole makes a profit of around 13 pence for every
kilometre cycled on the roads. By the same criteria, society makes a net loss of 8 pence for every
kilometre driven by car.
Furthermore, the maintenance of the roads is paid for out of general taxation, which is paid by
motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike through their council tax and income tax. The “road tax”
paid by motorists is in fact called Vehicle Excise Duty and is linked to a car’s emissions. This money
does not go back into maintaining the roads, and does not give motorists any greater right than
cyclists to use the roads.
At a time of austerity, the Get Britain Cycling report does not call for extra funding to be created
for investment in cycling. It instead asks that an appropriate proportion of existing transport
budgets and preventative health budgets is reallocated to cycle provision, in order to reap the
economic rewards of promoting cycling.
An employer or business
Sir Richard Branson, Lord Sugar, Barclays Bank, Sainsbury’s, Dragon’s Den dragon Piers Linney, the
Federation of Small Businesses, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, and the Confederation of
British Industry are all backing the Get Britain Cycling report.
As Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Implementation of the Get Britain Cycling
recommendations would bring tangible business and economic benefits by reducing congestion,
absenteeism, NHS costs and by producing a more creative and active workforce.”
Providing cycle racks, lockers and showers for employees encourages physical activity and can lead
to a fitter and more alert workforce. Sponsoring local cycle schemes - in the same way that
Barclays have sponsored hire bikes in London and Citigroup is doing the same in New York City –
gives large companies a stake in the infrastructure that keeps a town moving and keeps its citizens
Signing up to tax-break cycle-to-work schemes will allow employees to buy bicycles and reap the
benefits of cycling as a healthy way to travel. But the recommendations in the Get Britain Cycling
report need to be implemented in order to make the roads safe and inviting enough for your
employees to be happy to cycle to work.
Research in New York showed that cycle lanes in Manhattan led to a 35 per cent decrease in
injuries on 8th Avenue, a 58 per cent decrease in injuries on 9th Avenue and a 49 per cent increase
in retail sales on 9th Avenue.
Hundreds of pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles on the roads every year. Incidents where
pedestrians are killed by cyclists are extremely rare, on average one every couple of years.
Reducing the number of cars on the road would not only benefit motorists who hate traffic jams, it
would also make the roads safer for pedestrians, as long as all cycle routes are constructed in a
way that is considerate to the needs of pedestrians, as well as cyclists.
People who cycle on pavements, though rare, are understandably seen as a menace by
pedestrians. When questioned, many of these cyclists said they felt safer riding on the pavement
because the roads were too dangerous.
This does not justify breaking the rules of the road – cyclists who do so should face sanctions from
police – but the roads must be designed to make streets and junctions safer for cyclists and not
force them to choose between cycling on a poorly designed, dangerous stretch of road or cycling
illegally on the pavement.
If the roads were designed with safe and, where possible, segregated cycle lanes, it would keep
cyclists safe from motorists and from pedestrians who step out into the road without looking [in
collisions between pedestrians and cyclists, Westminster Council found that 60 per cent were the
fault of the pedestrian] but it would also protect pedestrians from excessive motor traffic and
from cyclists who ride illegally on the pavement.
A local council official or minister
Local high streets die when they become nothing more than a thoroughfare for motor traffic.
Green space gets chewed up by ever more lanes of cars. Health bills rocket as obesity and
inactivity grows. Fatal accidents increase in areas with high speed limits. Country lanes become
race-tracks for young drivers. Parents no longer let their children play in the street or walk to
school. Whole villages and towns become little more than glorified car parks to cope with extra
capacity, encouraging local residents to leave at the first opportunity to seek somewhere less
oppressive to live.
Transport planning expert Phil Jones said that councils should invest in cycling because: “Places
that are pleasant to visit and live near do so much for the economy.” He added that the effect on
tourism was also noteworthy.
How can a local council make these changes and, more importantly, how can they afford to? Mr
Jones explained: “Local authorities need to identify a junction or stretch of road and set out
objectives for how they want to improve it as a public space. They must collect data on who uses
that junction and when, and include cyclists and pedestrians.
“They then need to commission a number of designs and have an open process of consultation on
those. It does not have to cost millions of pounds. A council can have a vision that it works
towards incrementally, collecting money from developments along the way.”
The Get Britain Cycling report calls on the Government to lead the way. It calls for design
regulations to provide clearer guidance on best-practice for building cycle lanes. It calls for cycle
lanes to be considered as a beneficiary of money spent by developers on the local community. It
calls for more funding for schemes to be built and installed. It calls for all local councils to appoint
a high-level cycling commissioner to analyse and push through change.
The petition asks the Government to act on these recommendations to help local councils
transform their areas for the better.
Around 2 per of traffic on Britain’s roads is made up by people on bikes. In some towns, like
Cambridge, this is as high as 30 per cent. Of all vehicles crossing bridges over the River Thames in
London at rush hour, more than half are bicycles. It is time the Government took cycling seriously.
Cyclists have as much right to use the streets as any other road user. While they also have a
responsibility to cycle in a law-abiding and considerate manner, they also have the right to be
treated with respect by motorists on Britain’s roads. Most cyclists own a car while many motorists
ride bikes – they are not two separate tribes, but are largely the same people, all just trying to get
from A to B in peace and safety.
Motorists who leave only a few inches when overtaking a cyclist or who drive above the speed
limit are endangering people’s lives. Drivers who stop in the cycle boxes at traffic lights are also
endangering lives. Lorry firms who do not fit extra mirrors and sensors to detect and protect
cyclists and pedestrians are responsible for an unacceptable death toll on the roads.
Cyclists who jump red lights because they cannot be bothered to wait are endangering their own
lives, just as those who cycle without lights at night or cycle on busy pavements are taking
Everyone has a duty to use the roads responsibly, but the Government has a duty to ensure that
those roads are safe enough for cyclists and motorists to share. Where possible, cycle lanes should
be built which are segregated from traffic – this will benefit everyone. Every new stretch of road
designed in this country must consider cycle provisions from the very outset.
The petition calls on the Government to make the road safe not only for the 760,000 people who
already commute to work by bike, but for the millions more who would like to do so, but do not
This is the Olympic legacy we were promised. Britain leads the world in competitive cycling, it is
time we did the same for our commuters.
This article has been published in original language by Kaya Burgess on 02.05.2013 at the following web address: