The government – partially elected on a promise to tackle transport problems – has failed to curb car-use. Instead, it has bowed to the roads lobby and is pumping billions into updating an infrastructure that will soon clog with even more cars.
Instead of taking the brave step of creating a Netherlands-style Ten Year Plan for Transport – creating a truly integrated transport infrastructure – the government has gone back to the discredited ‘predict and provide’ rule where more roads are built, which, in turn, attracts more cars. Within a short space of time, what was once a new, empty road, clogs up with traffic.
Cycling is a small part of the transport ‘solution’, but could be an important part for some users. But precious little is done to really encourage cycling.
Instead, the views of ‘JB’, a contributor to an online transport debate on BBC.co.uk, are commonplace:
"As a nation we have become wedded to our cars. No government in their right mind would want to get us out of them. Friends of the Earth and the cycling lobby are a tiny minority of sad, sandal-wearing beardies whom are at best ignored."
There has been no increase in the level of cycling despite ministers’ adoption of National Cycling Strategy targets set by the Tory Government in 1996. The aim to double the number of cycling trips by 2002 was not met. Current targets are to treble cycling levels by 2010 from two percent of all journeys and less than one per cent of individual travel (measured by person kilometers).
CTC and other cycle advocacy groups believe increased cycling could significantly reduce road congestion but that this will only happen if the government addresses the growth in the amount and speed of traffic.
Roger Geffen, CTC Campaigns Manager said: "The Ten Year Plan promised increases in almost all forms of transport in a bid to keep everyone happy. But you cannot increase use of every traffic mode. If cycling is to play a part in a safer, cleaner, more efficient and community friendly transport system, the Government has got to bite the bullet on
Today’s progress report on the 10 Year Transport Plan was given by Alistair Darling, the secretary of transport. He told MPs there were "no quick fixes or easy solutions" to cut congestion and that improvements would take time. The mentions of cycling in the report weren’t terribly helpful…
NATION OF FATTIES
And getting the nation riding more would not only curb traffic levels, it would lead to a healthier nation, with NHS cost saving benefits. Perhaps the quickest fix to both curb rush hour traffic and create a healthier populace would be to ramp up the efforts to get more kids cycling to school, instead of being driven in ‘parental taxis’ on the infamous ‘school runs’ that create traffic chaos in the morning and afternoons of school days.
The government announced support for Safe Routes for School schemes in last week’s £5.5bn transport splurge, but the money on offer is a drop in the ocean compared to the money spent on creating wider roads.
Over at the education and health departments, there are fears that childhood obesity is a ‘ticking time bomb’.
Obesity in the UK already costs £2bn a year in health costs, and adult-onset diabetes is also on the rise among children, mostly as a result of the lack of exercise.
In the UK, £750 is spent per person on the NHS, but just £1 person on sport. 70 percent of children give up almost all physical activity as soon as they leave school.
Later this week Richard Caborn, the sports minister, and Charles Clarke, the education secretary and former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycle group, will reveal a new national strategy for physical education.
The £459m programme for school sports aims to tackle the deterioration in standards of PE and school sports.
Much of the cash will be spent on funding a network of specialist sports colleges, as announced in January 2002. These are secondary comprehensive schools that will employ school sports co-ordinators to liase with other local schools to raise standards.
Studies by qualifications and curriculum bodies proves that attendance and attentiveness rise when children take regular exercise.
Earlier this year, PM Tony Blair said: "It is important that we give this encouragement to sport not only for its own sake but because, as many people now recognise, it is one of the best anti-crime policies that we could have. It is also as good a health and education policy as virtually any other."
So, when will the government wake up to the fact that cycling can cure many ills, literally and figuritively?
Graphic at top was taken from DfT’s National Travel Survey