Government publishes "Go Dutch" cycling reports but ignores them

Carlton Reid
Government publishes

On Easter Sunday the Department for Transport released two reports alongside the draft for its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. The two reports – one an online tool to work out how to get more people cycling, and the other a report on the value of cycling to individuals and the economy – are literally and figuratively academic because they were written by specialist scholars and they will be used only by other scholars, not the Government. 

As the Treasury has largely drained the DfT of cash for capital projects other than road building and HS2 there is now no chance that there will be any national investment in cycling infrastructure other than the £300m for 2015-2020 already announced, and which is likely to be spread too thin to make much difference. From 2017 all national monies for green- and active-travel will be funnelled through the “Access Fund”, a lacklustre replacement for the almost as equally lacklustre Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The monies for the unambitious Access Fund will be spent by Local Enterprise Partnerships, which tend to be an “old boys’ club” of regional car-centric business men and women. Very few LEPs have shown any enthusiasm for cycling. 

The two new reports were commissioned by the Department for Transport, but despite being of extreme interest they will probably gather dust until an administration comes into power that finally wakes up to the perils posed by a number of time-bombs due to too much motoring, including obesity, congestion and polluted air.

The “National propensity to cycle tool” can be used to predict the demand for cycling in local authority areas. It zeros in on one key intervention: separated cycling infrastructure. But the Government says such infrastructure has to be paid for by local authorities, which are also starved of cash. Roads and rail, on the other hand, are treated as “national” and therefore are part of the capital spending plans in the National Infrastructure Plan.

The National propensity to cycle tool is still a prototype but is exciting academics and cycle campaigners because it specifically measures cycle use in England compared to cycle use in the Netherlands. 

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The summary of the report says that women and older people have “strong preferences” for “cycle infrastructure separated from motor traffic” and that there’s growing evidence that “creating high-quality cycle routes can increase cycling, if built in the right place and as part of a developing network.”

Th report says it is crucial to “build not just the right thing, but to build it in the right place.”

Of interest to the cycle industry the tool can also be used in “identifying locations to set up new cycle shops, or where to locate new cycle/e-cycle hire stations or residential cycle parking.”

The academics who created the tool and did the literature review warn that “building small amounts of infrastructure in isolation, where a wider cycle network remains poor and cycling levels are low, may have relatively little effect.”

Instead, “it is important to follow desire lines and where needed improve the quality of the surrounding cycle network.”

The national and individual benefits of more cycling are rammed home by the academics: “If people in the UK who do not currently have cycling trips had the same propensity to cycle as those who do, then their potential increase in physical activity and corresponding reductions in diseases associated with physical inactivity would be considerable.

“The reductions in car distance and emissions from transport are more substantial than some previous studies in the area have suggested. Even greater benefits might be possible if we simulated the potential to replace car trips with multi-modal rail and cycling journeys."

The lead academics working on the National propensity to cycle tool were public health specialist Dr James Woodcock, transport lecturer Dr Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster, data specialist Dr Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and quantitative geographer Dr Robin Lovelace.

The second report commissioned – and to be roundly ignored – by the Department for Transport is “Value of Cycling”. This measures the economic benefits of cycling, and like the other report published on Easter Sunday also stresses the need for separated cycling infrastructure.

The report’s conclusions include:

  • Cyclists visit local shops more regularly, spending more than users of most other modes of transport
  • Per square metre, cycle parking delivers 5 times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking Public realm improvements, including those that cater for cycling, have been shown to result in increased trade at local businesses
  • Neighbourhoods with cycle-friendly characteristics – low traff-c volumes, walkable, close to off-road cycle paths – have higher property values
  • Children who walk or cycle to school tend to be more attentive and achieve better results Facilitation of cycling to work leads to lower staff turnover. Cycling also reduces absenteeism, boosting productivity
  • A typical “cycling city” could be worth £377m to the NHS in healthcare cost savings.
  • Cargo bikes offer a competitive advantage in city locations and are cheaper than motorised freight for small payloads over short distances. Cost savings range between 39 percent and 64 percent compared to a van-based service.

Value of Cycling was produced by the University of Birmingham and Phil Jones Associates. BikeBiz asked Jones what evidence is required to finally convince the Government to truly invest in cycling? He said: “It's all down to politics - keep making the case to decision makers, measure and show the benefits of investment, celebrate what successes there are.”

Value of cycling adds to earlier research, commissioned by the then government quango Cycling England. The research, by independent economists SQW of Scotland, argued that cycling must be treated with the same rigour as other mainstream modes of transport if its benefits are to be fully understood.
 
The study used a Cycling Planning Model that was supposed to help local planners to better assess the number of additional cyclists required to generate a return on investment. The model showed how a surprisingly small number of additional cyclists will pay for investment in new cycling infrastructure. The model suggested an investment of £10,000 required just one additional regular cyclist. An investment of £100,000 requires 11 additional regular cyclists.

The study drew on previous research published in 2007 by SQW which placed an economic value on the contribution to be made by cycling. It argued that through improvements in health, reductions in congestion and by enhancing the ambient environment, a 50 percent increase in the number of trips by bicycle would generate benefits worth £1.3bn by 2015, so it’s a loss to the UK economy that the administrations since 2007 have sidelined cycling as a “local” issue not worthy of national spending.

And the lack of money for the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy shows that we've a long way to go before we get the sort of game-changing investment in cycling that is transforming some roads in London. Click on the videos above for evidence on this.

 

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