Earlier this morning the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission floated the idea that perhaps cyclists ought to be forced to use cycleways, when provided. Andrew Adonis, a former transport secretary, did not also ask whether motorists should be forced to use motorways, when provided.
The National Infrastructure Commission provides the government with impartial, expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges. As Lord Adonis is often described in the media as a "keen cyclist" it was hoped by many cycle campaigners that he would call for high-quality cycleways to be installed nationwide. In 2009, when he was transport secretary – in a Labour administration – he launched the "Cycle to Work" salary sacrifice scheme. And, earlier this year, he tasked Andrew Gilligan, former Cycling Commissioner for London, to replicate his work in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.
Many cyclists have responded to Lord Adonis' comment on Twitter suggesting that if cycleways were good enough there would be no need for compulsion. This has been a consistent message from cycle campaigners. In 1938, CTC secretary G.H. Stancer told an influential parliamentary committee:
"If the paths are by any miracle to be made of such width and quality as to be equal to our present road system, it would not be necessary to pass any laws to compel cyclists to use them; the cyclists would use them.”
Peers, too, have been consistent, with many of them calling for cyclists to be forced to use cycleways.
In 1939, Lord Newton described cyclists as “the chartered libertines of the road” because “they are not taxed, they are not registered, they are not numbered and…they are not even obliged to ride on the tracks which are specially provided for them.”
(In the 1930s, the UK's Ministry of Transport gave local authorities fat grants for building cycleways, 300 miles of them were built, mostly next to the new arterial roads of the day.)
In recent weeks Lord Adonis has been poking sticks in a great number of hornets' nests – his complaints over the pay packages awarded to university vice-chancellors has generated a great deal of heat and light.