In a transport questions session in the House of Commons on Thursday 12th January, Dr Julian Huppert, the LibDem MP for Cambridge, asked the roads minister Mike Penning about infrastructure for cyclists. The minister – who is also the minister responsible for road safety – boobed, saying cyclists shouldn’t be on the parts of "national road infrastructure" he was responsible for.
In a letter to Huppert, Penning has now admitted he got it wrong. Penning has a track record of not knowing much about cycling: he has previously claimed that only motorists pay for roads.
In his original question, Huppert asked:
"Cycle infrastructure is sadly lacking across the country and that causes a number of safety problems, such as a recent tragedy at King’s Cross and many others around the country. What steps is the Minister taking to improve the quality and amount of cycle infrastructure on our roads?"
"Most of the roads I am responsible for are part of the national road infrastructure, and I hope there are no cyclists on that part of the infrastructure. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: cycling is vital not only to local commuting and enjoyment but to the health of the nation. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman said."
It was pointed out to Penning that cyclists are allowed on A-roads and in many parts of the country such roads are the only direct routes between places.
In an explanatory letter sent to Huppert, Penning said:
"I am afraid that I misunderstood your question and took it to refer to cyclists on motorways rather than on the strategic road network. On motorways, cyclists continue to be prohibited for road safety reasons; but I am absolutely clear that cyclists should continue to to be able to cycle on trunk roads.
"I agree with you that cycling infrastructure can play an important role in improving safety for cyclists. To be effective, however, cycling infrastructure must be appropriate for the circumstances, well designed, implemented and maintained.
"In general, for roads with high traffic speeds and flows, cyclists should be catered for using off-road cycle tracks rather than being accommodated within the carriageway."
The minister then takes the slip road to Fantasyland:
"The Department provides significant amounts of funding to local authorities which can be used to put in place cycling infrastructure."
Penning is meeting with cycle advocates in parliament tomorrow, a meeting arranged by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Penning has previously cancelled two of these meetings. He has yet to cancel tomorrow’s meeting but requested that a 45 minute meeting was reduced to 30 minutes. An attempt to take the meeting down to 15 minutes was stymied.