The government’s statutory Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy published in April 2017 set out the following aims for increase in national cycling activity:

• By 2020, increase activity while reducing the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on England’s roads;
• By 2025, double cycling activity;
• By 2040, make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys or as part of a longer journey.

Hastings cyclists demand safe routes, November 2016

Three months previously the Department for Transport had unveiled a £64m Sustainable Travel Access Fund to support local projects over three years from 2017 to 2020 “to boost walking and cycling”. And East Sussex County Council (ESCC) made a successful bid for £1.2m of this investment into a programme it called “Active Access for Growth”.

An ESCC press release issued in May 2018 declared that “three officers and five delivery partners would be available to help East Sussex residents in our focus areas [which includes Hastings and Bexhill] to explore how walking, cycling or public transport can help you go places. There will be a particular focus on targeting those that are currently inactive, that are struggling to access work opportunities, with the aim to broaden employment and training horizons and support greater access to educational opportunities”.

The programme of cycling activities offered over this period included:

• Active Steps: a 10-week cycling course
• Cycle/Electric Cycle Loan Schemes
• School cycle activities and challenges

February 2020: New money

Earlier this month the council reported that it had been awarded another tranche of £400,000 government money to extend the programme to March 2021. Lead member for its transport and environment Claire Dowling said that the new money would cover, among other initiatives, cycle hire, bike maintenance courses and “mindfulness walking sessions”. 

A few days later, Cycling and Walking Minister Chris Heaton-Harris pledged that further government money is to be made available for “every child in England to be offered cycle training” – an additional 400,000 places each year nationally – boasting that they will learn the “core skills to cycle safely and confidently on the road”.

The prime discouragement to cyclists is the sharing of space with cars and commercial vehicles on traffic-choked urban streets and dangerous rural roads

“Cycling is a fun and enjoyable way for children to get to school, the shops or see their friends’, he intoned. “It is also environmentally friendly and has a positive impact on their mental and physical health”.

But, according to figures issued by the Department for Transport, more than 80% of children in England aged between eight and ten-years-old already own a bike; and, since its launch in 2006, more than three million children are said to have taken part in the national Bikeability training scheme.

Why no increase in activity?

So why, despite all this investment in training and ministerial encouragement, are numbers of active cyclists not increasing? Perhaps the funding is fundamentally misdirected.

Every survey within the last two decades or longer has concluded that the prime discouragement to cyclists is the sharing of space with cars and commercial vehicles on traffic-choked urban streets and dangerous rural roads.  

That is certainly so in East Sussex, according to Ian Sier of Hastings Urban Bikes. “Until safe and usually off-road cycle routes are in place”, he says, “promotion schemes will have little effect on creating a significant increase in the take-up of cycling as a form of active travel”.

“Inadequate” segregation

Boris Johnson’s government announced on 11th February further investment to create just 250 miles of segregated cycle routes nationally. That is “a wholly inadequate response”, in Mr Sier’s view.

And, despite all the initiatives put forward by government, figures put forward by Cycle East Sussex show that overall government spending on active travel, if you include infrastructure projects, has actually been reducing rather than increasing. Funding went down from £2.16 per person in 2016/2017 to just 37p per person in 2020/2021, they have calculated. That level of public expenditure on cycle infrastructure compares to £35 per person spent on cycling in Copenhagen, where the Danish government has been investing in a network of segregated cycle routes since 2004 and, as a result, 62% of all its citizens commute to work, school or university by bicycle.

Read more: Back Pedallers

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