Cycling to the polls: what does each party offer for cyclists?

With the general election just days away and each party campaign in its final stages, it’s hard to know which party to choose. Rob Dempsey dives into the main party manifestos to see what they may offer cyclists.

More and more cyclists are taking to the road but worryingly, they’re still one of the most vulnerable. Before casting your vote, it’s worth knowing where each of the major parties in England stands in relation to cyclists.

There is a general pattern of pledges that might affect cyclists throughout all of the manifestos, both directly and indirectly. Directly where cycling and cyclists are specifically referred to, and indirectly, within the wider context of transport policy.

In the interest of impartiality, the parties are listed in alphabetical order.

The Brexit Party
The Brexit Party purposefully avoids the use of the word ‘manifesto’ and instead has a “Contract with the People.”

The Brexit Party document, manifesto or otherwise, is the only one that does not mention cycling or cyclists. There is also very little said about transport other than a pledge to scrap HS2 and “invest at least £50 billion in local road and rail schemes”. With so little detail, there is not much to summarise in what is the briefest of all the manifestos.

Conservative Party
Perhaps in an attempt to convince the electorate of their commitment to cycling, the Conservative manifesto features an image of Boris Johnson on his bike resplendent in a woolly hat. Cycling is addressed under the wider banner of “A Transport Revolution.”

The initial focus is on pledges to improve public transport by upgrading bus and tram services, launching “the biggest ever pothole-filling programme” and incentivising people to use public transport, which could result in fewer cars on the road and making it safer for cyclists.

The biggest news for cyclists is the Conservatives pledge of £350 million for a Cycling Infrastructure Fund with “mandatory design standards for new routes.” However, this requires greater scrutiny. In principle, designated cycle paths create a safer environment for cyclists, in practice it is unclear how effective these might be.

There is also a commitment to “working with the NHS to promote cycling”, which is a vague concept that again would need greater questioning to assess what it actually means in practice. If the pledge to extend cycling proficiency “to every child” is achieved, then it is a welcome and positive aim.

Green Party of England and Wales
The Green Party also looks at improving public transport. The party’s focus is on improving local rail connections, cancelling the HS2 project and updating the facilities and appearance of bus stations to make public transport more appealing.

There are also proposals to apply a carbon tax on fossil fuels in order to discourage driving.

Turning specifically to cycling, the party has vowed to spend £2.5 billion per year on new cycleways and footpaths. There is also a pledge of “rapidly expanding bike hire schemes”, which is not something that will impact directly on regular cyclists who already own bikes but again could lead to fewer vehicles on the roads.

Labour Party
The Labour manifesto addresses transport within the context of a “Green Transformation Fund”. The party has pledged to invest £250 billion, which will be dedicated to low-carbon energy transport as well as “environmental restoration.”

As with the other parties, ambitions are set out to improve bus and rail services, which Labour argues can be achieved via nationalisation. There are also plans to introduce free bus travel to under-25s, reinstate bus routes and reopen local branch lines. There is a distinction on HS2 with plans to complete the route to Scotland.

There is an ambitious “Vision Zero approach…striving for zero deaths and serious injuries” on the roads. Whilst an honourable aim, is this achievable?

With regard to addressing the needs of cyclists directly, the Labour manifesto perhaps goes into less detail than some of the other parties – other than the Brexit Party.

The only specific reference to cycling is one sentence within the section marked “A Green Industrial Revolution” that reads: “we will increase the funding available for cycling and walking.” There is no further detail as to what this means in practical terms, other than to make “cycleways safer”. Instead the focus appears to be on the environmental impact of transport and industry, rather than the benefits of cycling.

Liberal Democrats
There are three parts to the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which have a direct and indirect impact upon cycling. These are “Improving Transport”, “Fixing Britain’s Railways” and “Reducing the Need for Car Travel.”

In terms of focusing on the needs of cyclists, like the Conservatives, there is a pledge to provide dedicated safe cycling lanes as well as “promoting walking” with 10% of their transport budget being put aside for this.

Whilst the other manifestos deal with public transport and cycling separately, the Liberal Democrat Manifesto marries together improvements to public transport with the specific needs of cyclists by pledging to integrate rail, bus and cycle routes. There is little detail of what this means in practical terms.

What does this all mean?
The manifestos are arguably limited on detail. In some cases, it is difficult to separate one party from the other. All parties support “improving public transport” but you would struggle to find somebody who doesn’t.

Depending on your views you may see the manifestos as a list of empty promises and unachievable aims or you may weigh up the various party pledges before placing your “x”.

Cycling may not be considered top of the agenda but, when considered within the context of the environment, the national infrastructure, the health of the nation and the safety of road users, it is as pressing an issue as many others.

Rob Dempsey is a personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors.

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