Many of you will know that I don’t need to be asked twice to wax lyrical about the benefits of cycling. Cycling isn’t just about getting from A to B. Quite often it’s the quickest way of getting around, not to mention the healthiest, most environmentally friendly and the most predictable. It’s wallet-friendly, for those of us with an eye on rising fuel prices, and it’s space friendly, at a time when parking spaces in town and city centres are both at a premium and becoming increasingly expensive to use. Each car parking space could fit up to 20 bikes, quite apart from the fact that bikes can be stored in much smaller nooks.
But while cycling isn’t unsafe, it isn’t always as safe as we would like. While the number of cyclists killed on our roads is going down, even one death is one too many. There is also a perception that cycling is dangerous, which means that hundreds of people are being put off cycling and missing out on the various benefits it brings.
That’s one of the reasons I announced £15m for the National Cycle Safety Fund yesterday. This money will be spent on tackling some of the worst safety hotspots outside London and I hope, will create a kind of virtuous circle: protecting current cyclists and encouraging more people to get on their bikes and take up cycling. I want to see more and safer cycling.
Justifying the spending of millions of pounds on cycling and cyclists in the current economic climate might be difficult for some to understand. But I point to the hard evidence of the benefits, not just those outlined above, but the benefits to the economy. The transport charity Sustrans recently published data showing that many cyclists chose to cycle a route they could have driven last year, saving 52 million car journeys and 760,363 tonnes of carbon, which would have cost the economy £40m. That’s why I have been consistently arguing for more money for cycling, even though budgets across Whitehall are being squeezed: funding for 7,500 new cycle spaces at railway stations and 38 new and improved cycle routes as part of a £30m package; £35m funding for Bikeability cycle training to teach the next generation of cyclists how to be safe and confident on a bike; and the £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which will fund many schemes relating to cycling. And I’ve done things like giving local authorities in England the power to install Trixi mirrors where they think they are needed without having to fill in acres of paperwork to ask for permission. Trixi mirrors enable lorry and HGV drivers to see the left-hand side of their vehicle, which is usually a dangerous blind spot. We’ve also made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
This is a good start but there’s always more we can do and I will carry on making that case loud and clear within Government.
Norman Baker MP is the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister