Last night I attended the DfT Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy briefing in Manchester. This is part of their consultation process on their "ambition" for walking and cycling in England. See https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/draft-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy
I came away underwhelmed at what they called a "strategy to create a walking and cycling nation". Whilst there was a collection of funds and packages that will support the encouragement of walking and cycling in some places and in some ways, there was no symbolic national gesture that the government really meant to create a "walking and cycling nation".
Those who are supporters of walking and cycling should respond to this consultation and make it very clear that the policy strategy lacks ambition and unless radically changed will make little difference to the promotion and development of walking and cycling in England.
The flaw in the strategy is perhaps best exampled by the "ambition" that is first expressed in the strategy. Para 2.3 starts off with the comment :-
"We want to see a transformative change through our ambition: change which will tackle congestion........." etc
If you ask any cyclist or walker whether congestion on our roads is a barrier to walking and cycling then they will agree that it is not. In fact they would say that it is congestion which is the greatest factor that supports cycling and walking as being more effective at getting around our communities than being part of that congestion in a motor vehicle. They will confirm that congestion is NOT a cycling or walking issue and is only of concern as an inconvenience and disincentive to motor vehicle use.
Hence if the primary ambition that the government has in its cycling and walking strategy is to remove the disincentive to motor vehicle use then it creates a feedback loop that ensures that as cycling and walking becomes more popular then travelling by motor vehicle becomes easier. How can such a strategy ever be successful if its success is measured by how effective it reduces congestion.
With UK having one of the lowest usages of cycles in Europe the ambition to take the next 9 years to double the very low 0.8 billion cycle trips to 1.6 billion is very cautious and reflects a lack of real vision as to how a real commitment to walking and cycling could transform our cities and communities.
In so many cities in Europe levels of 20+% of trips being made by bicycle are common and are driven by governments (both local and national) that recognize that as well as incentives to cycle, disincentives to use motor cars are important and necessary. The fact that the DfT fails to acknowledge this simple truth has meant that the strategy and its targets are totally incompatible with the stated vision of "creating a walking and cycling nation".
It is not sufficient to be pro-active travel, pro-healthy travel, pro-environmentally friendly travel. If the vast benefits in terms of public health, accessibility, mobility are to be gained by society then we must start to discourage the inactive and obesity inducing travel, the travel that pollutes our streets creates the environmental problems that so suppresses walking and cycling. If the strategy fails to do this then it has little chance of meeting even its own mediocre targets.
What is also needed is a clear, conspicuous and symbolic national change that will clearly show that people that are moving by foot or by cycle on the roads are prioritized in both their safety and convenience. This can be done cheaply and cost effectively.
One clear way that this could be done is a change in the national speed limit for restricted roads which currently stands at 30mph. This blanket limit has already been declared "unfit for purpose" by most of our iconic cities in England ans several counties. In fact 15m people in the UK live in places where a 20mph limit has been set for most roads with exceptions only where they can be justified. A 20mph limit has clear advantages for vulnerable road users who walk and cycle and the reversal of the current need to justify 20mph limits for local traffic authorities would transform the cost and effectiveness of implementations at a cost of less than £2 per head of population. Instead of having to justify and sign 20mph limits then the few streets remaining at 30mph would require the traffic regulation order and signage to set them at 30mph. Instead of 30mph being the norm and only slowing down in some places, 20mph would be the norm and we would only go faster where appropriate. This would be in line with successive British Social Attitude Surveys which have shown 70+% of people agreeing that 20mph is the correct limit for residential roads.
We are therefore asking anyone responding to the consultation to include the demand for a national 20mph limit. Our case for this may be seen at our recent Press Release at http://www.20splenty.org/cyclewalk20
Please remind the government the government that it needs greater vision, greater commitment and wider initiatives.
The consultation ends on 23rd May 2016, so please make your contribution to the consultation and tell the government that its strategy is flawed.