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What’s next for UK cycleways?

Government plans for a ‘world-class’ national cycleway stretching the length of the HS2 railway line, which remained hidden for more than two years, were finally revealed in October. The Government-commissioned report detailed a cycleway of unprecedented ambition throughout England, linking communities up on a more than 1,000-mile route, in an enormous Y-configuration from London to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

This national cycleway would link six cities, 40 towns, 200 smaller settlements, 276 mainline rail stations, two areas of outstanding national beauty, 76 air quality management areas (areas set to miss air pollution reduction targets), and numerous places of business. Benefits could range from tourism, to congestion busting, health and air quality improvements, to public realm and high street regeneration. The report’s authors, Royal Haskoning, co-founder of Sustrans, John Grimshaw, and highways engineer, Phil Jones, of PJA, drew up design standards that they hoped would set a high bar for the design of future cycle routes across the country.

However, BikeBiz understands the report was not published for fear it would put pressure on Government to fund the route. Given the return on investment for cycling infrastructure ranges from £5.50 to £35 per £1 spent, and HS2 has an ROI of just £1.47 per £1, the national cycleway could be the single biggest benefit for communities severed by HS2.

HS2 made a legally-binding commitment to Cycling UK it would ‘cycle proof’ crossings along the route, but has since been accused of back-pedalling on those commitments. Adding cycling and walking capacity on bridges and tunnels now comes with a minimal cost. Retrofitting infrastructure afterwards, meanwhile, would be so expensive as to be impossible. Without such links communities will be unable to cycle safely around much of the rail line.

The report outlined 12 ‘pathfinder’ schemes, routes that could have been delivered by next year, that had work started when the report was published. In the meantime, Grimshaw has managed to fundraise, negotiate and deliver the first, the Waddesdon Greenway, a four-kilometre route in Aylesbury from Waddesdon to Wendover, opened in September.

Advocates argue the Government-owned HS2 Ltd should be required by the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver infrastructure for the cycleway, by adding extra width to bridges and tunnels, and wide paths on roadsides. 

HS2 would deliver cycling infrastructure if required to by the Government, which begs the question, why isn’t the DfT requiring HS2 to deliver the cycleway as part of its community benefits? Even if the route isn’t delivered now, at least there will be the option to complete it in future.

What does the budget mean for the cycling sector?
You have to look quite hard to find cycling in this year’s Autumn budget. Campaigners have criticised the Government for once again ignoring calls to invest five per cent of its budget in active travel, and Cycling UK says this budget overlooks cycling in rural areas. The charity’s Duncan Dollimore says money is “disproportionately ploughed into motorways and highways which make up two per cent of our roads network.

“Overall this Budget fails to provide sufficient funding for rural communities and small towns, with the focus on our larger cities and the major road network.” The following aren’t solely cycling funds, but are ways councils can apply for funding for cycling and walking.

So, where is the money? In a nutshell, this is the roadmap to the various squirrelled stashes, from which canny councils may be able to extract cycling-shaped nuggets. The DfT says its Roads Investment Strategy is “bound to include dedicated funding for cycling”, but the details haven’t been published yet. Transforming Cities Fund (£680 million): £240 million for ‘significant transport projects’ in six English metro mayor cities, and £440 million for city regions shortlisted for additional ‘competitive funding’, to be announced.

A £675 million Future High Streets Fund, to improve access to high streets and town centres, which could include cycling and walking infrastructure.

A £90 million ‘Future Mobility Zones’ (part of Transforming Cities), to include trials of “new transport modes, services and digital payments and ticketing” and, possibly, e-bikes.

£150 million for local authorities to improve junctions, as Dollimore put it: “This could be good news, but it highlights the pressing need for the Government to publish its new design standards. This will ensure the funding is not wasted on schemes that disadvantage pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users, and will instead benefit the local community.”

A £420 million pothole and local roads fund – definite benefits for cyclists, who are disproportionately at risk of serious injury and death from poor road surfaces, but Cycling UK says the Government should adopt a “fix it first" policy, rather than patching roads when they’re already badly damaged. In October (pre-budget) the Government also announced a more specific cycle fund, £3 million for Sustrans to work with Highways England, which runs, builds and maintains the UK’s main road network, to improve National Cycle Network crossings and connections. By 2020/21, the Government says 200 schemes, worth £100 million, will be on the ground, 80 of which have been built already.

The problem with putting cycle funds in diverse pots of money, without guidance
or, on the whole, ring-fencing from Government, is local authorities will have to be canny and motivated to deliver cycling. The problem is, those councils who don’t prioritise or are unsympathetic towards cycling will not feel the need to chase funding or to build safe cycling routes.

Local cycling and walking plans an opportunity for the LBS, but only if funded 
In 2017, a Bicycle Association-commissioned report revealed the cycle industry is worth more than the steel industry. We know shops are closing, like pubs, but could Government policy help rejuvenate the local bike shop?

The answer is yes, if there is funding. Local councils are now required by the Government to develop Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), identifying areas for cycling and walking improvements, and devising an active travel network, prioritising areas with the greatest cycling and walking demand.

The requirement was part of the Government’s long-awaited Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, and the Government ambition to make cycling and walking the “natural choice for shorter journeys”. However, campaigners argue because there’s no funding for LCWIPs, cash-strapped councils may see it as more work for no more money.

In June, cycling minister Jesse Norman said LCWIPs plans developed with support from the DfT will be considered for funding – when it’s available. Effective LCWIPs could help the cycle industry, not least the local bike shop. More cycling means more demand for local bike shops, and the industry that supplies those shops. However, LCWIPs need funding to build the network for people to make local trips, and potentially longer leisure trips, by bike.

At the moment, the number one reason people don’t cycle is fear of traffic. A network of safe cycle routes, protected from motor traffic, would remove this major barrier to cycling – and help more people get on their bikes. Without funding, though, it’s just a wish list. 

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