Friday 15 October 2010

Goodbye ‘Cycling England’ – and the CfIT

Ah, it seems like only yesterday that the London Cycling Campaign’s chief executive Koy Thomson was fizzing with enthusiasm at the prospect of Britain’s first ‘cycling prime minister’. But then Koy was always someone who believed that behind-the-scenes campaigning was what worked best – ‘making friends within the system’. And hasn't that strategy worked well, making London the paradise that it is for cyclists. And hasn't our cycling prime minister David Cameron also made a difference. Yes, he appointed a petrolhead buffoon as his Transport Minister, a man who when appointed breezily remarked:

“I've never actually cycled in London. I'd have to take a deep breath. I think you need to know what you are doing to cycle in London.”

Which is the view of most Londoners too – but then none of them is responsible for the nation’s policy on cycling.

Next, speed camera funding was axed, even though, as any Daily Mail reader kno, they generate lots of lovely dosh from those zillions of lawless drivers out there. A fiscal contradiction there, shurely… And now Cycling England has been axed.

Cycling England was created by the Department for Transport in 2005 to promote the growth of cycling. The body introduced the Bikeability programme, and the bike-friendly Cycling Town and Cycling City awards.

The board of Cycling England was made up of leading figures in the cycling industry and cycling campaign bodies, town planning, pubic health, environment and sustainable transport.

That was a central weakness of Cycling England. It represented the cycling establishment – an establishment which has been signally failing cycling for decades by promoting vehicular cycling instead of the ONLY strategy with a proven record of success – the Dutch and Danish models, involving safe, convenient, direct segregated cycling. Sadly, British campaign organisations are rarely short of excuses as to why the Dutch model would never work here.

In the absence of a coherent philosophy we get statements like this:

"Cycling England has been a crucial conduit for funding which has touched the lives of millions of people by making it possible for people to cycle for everyday journeys," stated Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans chief executive. 

You’d never know from guff like this that cycling was nationally in decline, and has been for decades.

The body also provides a unified voice for cycling at national level, one that is now set to be silenced at a time when it is perhaps more needed than ever before to prevent the work taken to increase levels of cycling in England in recent years being undone.

But that ‘work taken to increase levels of cycling’ DIDN’T – unless, of course, you prefer to talk about percentages on cherry-picked commuter routes, rather than modal share.

Of course what is being substituted for Cycling England is even more ludicrous:

"We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities."

As one commenter points out:

Do they? Obviously Norman Baker MP has not been to Hereford on his bike where we are still waiting for a river crossing over the Wye which had lottery funding two years ago and has not yet got off the drawing board. Our local authority has been telling its council tax payers what they know is best for them for many years and what a popular bunch of councillors they are! A lot of money spent behind the scenes and nothing to show for it on the ground.

If you want to email your MP and complain, Tim Lennon has some suggestions.

What has attracted virtually no attention at all is the government’s abolition of the Commission for Integrated Transport. You can see why this body would annoy the car-centric Conservative Party.

The Commission suggests raising an extra £1.5bn a year from taxes in the form of higher fuel duty, air passenger duty and a system of charging for foreign lorries to use Britain’s roads. It justifies higher motoring taxes by asserting that the marginal cost of car use is “generally lower than the cost which that use imposes on society”.

That’s a perspective you’ll never get in Britain’s car-centric media.

Naturally the petrolhead community is jubilant.