Two top-level events took place in the North of England this week, drawing politicians, policy-makers and transport professionals from across the world, including a senior New York City transport official, to discuss how to make cities safer for cyclists – but while British Cycling were happy to shout about the one they hosted in Manchester, there has not been a peep from the Department for Transport (DfT) about their even more high powered get together in Leeds.
Cycling minister Robert Goodwill, addressing the Transport Select Committee at the House of Commons on Wednesday, did talk about having visited Leeds this week to take a look at infrastructure.
However, he made no reference to the Cycling Networks Fit for Growth conference co-organised by the DfT along with ADEPT and West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, held on Monday and Tuesday and bringing together government officials, transport professionals and decision makers from local authorities across England as well as their counterparts from abroad.
The DfT told road.cc: "The goal [of the conference] was to promote the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘cycle-proof roads’, which he made in his announcement on 12 August, to the key bodies that would enable the government to deliver this policy; and agree answers to key strategic questions."
Some 115 people attended the event, with officials from the DfT identifying stakeholders and invitations personally signed by the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin.
Attendees from abroad included including New York City’s Department of Transportation policy director Jon Orcutt, who also met this week with British Cycling and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and appeared on BBC Breakfast to explain how his city was seeking to improve conditions for cyclists.
With the issue of cycle safety regularly featured in the media during November following a number of fatalities in London and elsewhere, Mr Goodwill and his colleagues at the DfT have been pushed to explain how they can make roads safer for people on bikes.
While the conference was not a public event, it does therefore seem strange that neither Mr Goodwill nor his department took the opportunity to highlight it when responding to calls to action regarding cycle safety in recent weeks. The DfT have told road.cc that there won't be a press release because it was a stakeholder event.
It has however published Mr Goodwill's speech to the conference (full text at the end of this article) in which he said the government wanted to see cycling become mainstream and encourage women in particular to ride, and spoke of barriers to be overcome: "First, we have to move beyond thinking about transport in silos to planning transport networks," he said.
"That means putting cycling provision in, designed by people who actually understand cycling, from the start.
"Second, we need to get much better at making the case for increasing cycling infrastructure to existing car and van drivers."
The minister, who last Friday toured cycle infrastructure in London on his Brompton, figures prominently on the first of three slides that mention the coference and that appeared at the end of a Powerpoint presentation given by the DfT’s Shane Snow at last month’s Love Cycling, Go Dutch Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, organised by the Dutch Embassy.
The presentation, based around the theme of cycle-proofing, highlighted examples of good and bad infrastructure, and also looked at plans to grow cycle route networks among successful bidders for the government’s Cycle City Ambition funding including Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.
Those three pages at the back make rregarding the conference in Leeds on Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 December, give an outline of the issues that were due to be discussed.
The conference was targeted at “directors of transport, environment and planning + LEP [Local Enterprise Partnership] leaders, with Mr Goodwill apparently chairing the Monday afternoon and evening sessions.
Among speakers due to appear that day were Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, on the subject of the “View from a wave 2 city that did not secure City Ambition Grant,” and Sue Percy, CEO of the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation, talking about “the role of the professional bodies in promoting cycle proofing.”
Tuesday’s speakers were scheduled to include Mr Orcutt on the topic of “the economic case for cycling in the US,” Highways Agency regional director Matt Sweating talking about “building cycling schemes into the Agency’s key business,” and Ben Plowden, director of surface transport at Transport for London.
Eight breakout sessions, followed by two-minute pitches, were also planned for “City Ambitions outside London.”
The only media report of the two-day seminar was a brief article in the Yorkshire Evening Post, which reported that it took place in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Leeds.
The newspaper said that Mr Goodwill had been given a tour of the city by members of the cycle and walking campaign group, Living Streets.
The city, which next July hosts the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, secured £18 million of Cycle City Ambition funding which will go towards the building of a £29.2 million segregated ‘super cycleway’ running from east Leeds across the city centre and on to Bradford.
The leader of Leeds City Council, Keith Wakefield, spoke to road.cc in October about those plans at the presentation of the route of next year’s Tour de France in Paris.
British Cycling, meanwhile, hosted a meeting this week to discuss how to grow cycling between transport chiefs from New York City and Manchester, which received £20 million in Cycle City Ambition cash to put towards its Vélocity 2025 project.
Mr Orcutt said afterwards: "Cities around the world are meeting public demand for better places to bicycle by learning, borrowing and adapting each other's successes. That's why exchanges like today's are hugely valuable.”
New York City’s bike-share scheme saw 5 million journeys within its first five months following its launch earlier this year.
Referring to earlier initiatives in Paris and London, CitiBike director Kate Fillin-Yeh said: "CitiBike is so successful today in part because it drew on the best features of Vélib’, Boris Bikes and other systems. Now CitiBike stands as the latest example for others to study.”
“New York City took the decision to prioritise cycling five years ago and the results are plain to see,” commented British Cycling policy advisor, Chris Boardman.
“Thanks to big ambitions, political leadership and investment, the city has doubled bike use and plans to triple it within the next four years. There is a lot that cities like Manchester and London can learn from New York – that’s why it is crucial that we listen with open ears about the possibilities for how we can transform Britain into a cycling nation.”
TfGM’s Nick Vaughan added: “Through our Vélocity 2025 plans we aim to boost the number of cyclists in Greater Manchester by 300 per cent over the next 12 years. We’re the home of British Cycling and we want to learn from and repeat the success of cycling cities across the globe so I look forward to learning from New York City’s experience.”
I would like to thank West Yorkshire PTE and ADEPT for their support in organising this event bringing together so many of you with so much expertise from local authorities.
In August the Prime Minister set out his ambition to put Britain on a level-footing with countries known for higher levels of cycling like Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The purpose of this event is to understand what needs to be done to move beyond incremental improvement.
I think that means we need to do at least 2 things.
First, we have to move beyond thinking about transport in silos to planning transport networks.
That means putting cycling provision in, designed by people who actually understand cycling, from the start.
Second, we need to get much better at making the case for increasing cycling infrastructure to existing car and van drivers.
Road traffic in Great Britain has grown by 85% since 1980, from 169 to 313 billion vehicle miles. The majority of the growth has been in car traffic which has risen by 86% in that time, from 134 to 249 billion vehicle miles.
That’s meant our roads have become increasingly congested.
If we do nothing, traffic jams will increase by around 30 percent in the period to 2025.
If left unchecked, the rising cost of this congestion could waste an extra £22 billion worth of time every year in England by 2025 and increase costs to business by over £10 billion a year.
To continue to grow our economy, that means we need to do more to help people choose alternative forms of transport.
We’re here today (2 December 2013) because we all agree cycling will be an essential part of that mix.
There are signs people are already choosing to cycle more. In London cycle journeys grew by 79% between 2001 and 2011. Car journeys fell by 37% over a similar period.
But London is unusual. The overall number of people who travel to work by bike was static between 2001 and 2011.
To go further we need to improve cycle safety and, by doing so, tackle the perception held by many that cycling is simply too dangerous.
Estimates from my department show that, per million miles cycled, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured has fallen by 33% since the 1990s.
But the rate of injury has recently increased again, even while all road accidents are continuing to fall.
In London, cyclists made up 22% of all casualties on the roads in 2012, up from just 10% in 2006.
We are cutting red tape to make it easier for you to put cycle infrastructure in place.
We have made it simpler to put in place 20mph limits and zones.
We have also made it easier to install contra-flow cycling, and signs which say ‘no entry except cycles’.
We want to go further and the new traffic signs regulation will include:
trialling shared use cycle and zebra crossings
use of ‘elephant’s footprint’ markings for signalised junctions
We will also be working with TfL’s to see what can be done to promote their updated London cycling design standards.
And we’ll also be working with TfL on off-street trials to give cyclists better priority at junctions and with Cambridge and Manchester on their trials of cycle filter signals.
But – working together – we need to do more.
The Prime Minister’s said in August local authorities need to ‘up your game’ in the delivery of cycle friendly infrastructure.
The fact is that over the past twenty years or so a great deal of money has been spent on cycling infrastructure.
But frankly a lot of it has been wasted.
Poor quality infrastructure has been put in place which is inadequate to give people confidence to cycle.
With apologies to Talking Heads, all too often we’ve built ‘the cycle path to nowhere’.
In Tower Hamlets there is actually a cycle path on the pavement with parking meters running through the centre.
That’s a slalom, not a cycle route.
In Britain, most cyclists are still young men: two-thirds of women say the roads are too dangerous to cycle on.
If we are to get real shifts in behaviour, we will also have to make cycling something everyone, particularly women, older people and children, can aspire to do as the easiest way of getting about locally.
That means we need a continuous cycle network which will make cycling an easy choice for shorter journeys.
But we also need to get better at explaining to people who are currently sat in traffic that increasing cycling provision doesn’t mean an increase in jams.
Only last week the BBC’s ‘One Show’ was describing it as a battle between drivers and cyclists on Britain’s streets.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The average car trip is just 8.5 miles. That means a large number of car journeys will be far shorter, a distance most people could easily manage by bike.
So we need a simple, consistent message: the more people cycling the fewer jams for everyone else.
Achieving this isn’t impossible.
There are many examples of cities around the world that have seen increasing car ownership and declining rates of cycling, often to levels as low as we find in the UK.
However these places have doubled or quadrupled cycling in the past decade by putting in place high quality cycling infrastructure.
Places like Nantes, New York City, and Seville.
All cities that 10 years ago had cycle rates lower than in most UK towns. We can make similar changes in UK cities.
Next year we will host the Tour de France. On July 5 the Grand Depart will take place for the first time in Yorkshire.
With a Briton as the current holder of the Yellow Jersey.
There will be a lot of attention on cycling over the next few months. Let’s use that opportunity to start a cycling revolution.
Where there are barriers in your way, I want to help remove them.
Where the department can help you do more, we will.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.