United Kingdom 2012: Cycle Use on the Up and Up
LONDON, UK – 2012 was a wash-out, with long periods of wet weather. Bike sales in the UK took a hit. But there were two glimmers of hope among all the doom and gloom: Brits did rather well in the Olympic cycling events and a national newspaper started a campaign to make the roads of Britain safer for cyclists.
Cynics thought the ‘save our cyclists’ campaign from The Times of London would quickly run out of puff. However, the campaign – which started at the beginning of 2012 – carried on throughout the year, and is still on-going despite a new editor taking the helm of arguably Britain’s most influential quality newspaper.
Such has been the impact of the campaign that there have been debates in parliament about the safety of cyclists, and a parliamentary inquiry was set up to examine the issue and make recommendations. The Times supported this inquiry with a cash donation and in February 2013 the Bicycle Association of Great Britain became the co-sponsor.
Cycle use on the up
It’s debatable which will have the longest term impact: the gold medals of Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and ‘Queen’ Victoria Pendleton or the ‘save our cyclists’ campaign. Cycle use in the UK is certainly on the up and up, especially on the sporting side. The Manchester velodrome – the HQ for British Cycling – is probably the country’s most successful sporting venue. Access to the track for starter sessions is booked up months in advance and there has been a huge groundswell of interest – from both boys and girls – in becoming the next sporting hero on two wheels. Success breeds success.
Cycle use on the roads is increasing, too. Nationally, cycling to work is statistically low (2% is the national average) but there are pockets of huge use, local ‘bike booms’. According to recently released 2011 census data, nearly 32% of those who travel to work in Cambridge get there by bicycle. Inner London has seen the biggest rise in bike use, with the number of commuters cycling into work going up by 155% over the past ten years.
It may take some years before the rhetoric from national newspapers results in significantly higher bicycle sales, but it sure can’t hurt. An editorial in The Times said: ”The bike is the future and the task for British cities now must be to adapt to the bike.” This is the sort of view frequently asserted by bicycle campaigners but, for a British broadsheet, it’s revolutionary.
The Times said it will be recommending: ”How more people can be encouraged to get on their bikes. We will speak to designers who can make cities that work as they should, and the Government and local officials with the power to turn their ideas into reality.” The newpaper said it was pushing for: ”Nothing less than building a different kind of urban realm.”
Support from the very top
And the newspaper seemed to have support from the very top. Prime minister David Cameron said The Times’ campaign was ‘excellent’ and: ”We need to do more to make cycling safer,” because of ”the growth we’ve seen in cycling recent years.” Cameron used to cycle to parliament before he became prime minister and voiced his support for The Times’ campaign a number of times in 2012.
He said: ”As a keen cyclist, I congratulate The Times for drawing attention to this issue. We want to encourage cycling as a cheaper, greener, more healthy way of getting from place to place, and making people feel safe cycling on the roads is crucial to that.”
The cross-party parliamentary inquiry has to ”turn words of support from the Prime Minister and transport ministers into action to promote safe cycling,” said The Times.
”I hope we can get the Government to take action,” said Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. ”They have said they will take good ideas seriously.”
MPs and Peers heard evidence from British Cycling, CTC, Sustrans, the Bicycle Association, health experts, government ministers, local councils and academics who study cycle use in the UK.
Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Ian Austin MP said: ”We launched this inquiry to build on the momentum created by the Times’ brilliant campaign which has given cycling safety a higher priority than ever before. It’s great that all the political parties have expressed support for the campaign, but the time has come for the government to commit to real change in the way Britain’s transport system is run to make cycling safer and get more people on their bikes.”
Throughout 2012 The Times kept up the pressure with its campaign. An editorial – one of many – said: ”Motorist awareness, sensors on trucks, cyclist education, increased funding for cycle lanes – all of these things are indeed desirable. Yet The Times has a more ambitious vision that renders them all mere details of a much larger whole… It would be a fundamental change in the popular expectation of how British cities ought to look.”
Radical stuff, and music to the ears of the British bicycle industry.