The shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, has called for a proportion of the Government’s roads budget to be “reallocated to deliver a long-term funding settlement for cycling infrastructure”. Speaking in a Parliamentary debate on the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report, she said, “While there is a £28bn commitment for roads, we have only a one-off £114m from central Government for cycling, and that is spread across three years. It is time for a serious rethink of priorities within the roads budget.”
It is interesting that Ms Eagle talks only about diverting funding for roads to boost cycling infrastructure. If the £50bn HS2 rail project were cancelled, for example (no, we’re not obsessed with HS2 – it’s just a good example in this case), and this money diverted to funding cycling schemes, then the Government could buy every person in England a new Raleigh 700C bike (retail price £260), at a total cost of £13.8bn, and still have £36bn in change left over to build dedicated infrastructure for everybody to cycle on. All without touching the roads budget. Just a thought.
Another thought, of course, is whether there is or is not the significant latent demand for cycling infrastructure that the suggestion of much more spending on cycling implies. Here, a recently Parliamentary written answer suggested that nationwide only a tiny fraction of journeys are undertaken by bike, and that this is not expected to change significantly for at least a couple of decades, which suggests that spending lots of money on cycling infrastructure is not a good idea.
On the other hand, however, the recently launched DfT/TfL plan to improve cycling safety in London says that during the rush hour in central London a pretty hefty 25% of all vehicles are bikes. So there quite clearly is strong demand for good cycling infrastructure, but only in certain places. At the moment London is leading the way; if the right money is spent on the right schemes then will other cities follow? Only one way to find out.