“If you build it, they will come,” goes the saying* – but despite cycling campaigners’ insistence that safe infrastructure will get more Britons on bikes, the mantra appears lost on transport minister Robert Goodwill. In a letter, he says the government will not consider prioritising segregated cycle lanes until there are more cyclists on Britain’s roads.
Carlton Reid, writing on BikeBiz, describes it as a “chicken-and-egg letter.” It was written to Sevonoaks MP Michael Fallon who had contacted the minister on behalf of his constituent, Stuart Helmer, a lawyer and cycling campaigner who rides his bike each day to and from the town’s railway station.
In his letter – much of it standard text used by the Department for Transport since at least 2012, with minor changes highlighted in this blog post from Cycling Embassy of Great Britain chair Mark Treasure – Mr Goodwill rejected Mr Helmer’s call for segregation to be introduced here similar to that found in countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.
“We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK,” the minister said. “Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium.
“Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable.”
Mr Goodwill explained that the government’s stance is partly due to concerns that some drivers would not give way to cyclists using such facilities.
He said: “There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
“In the UK we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given relatively low levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way.
“That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they feel they might be suitable in a given situation.”
The minister added: “If we begin to see the increase in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely that we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.”
With the perception of danger the single biggest barrier to getting more people cycling, the government’s position will dismay cycle campaigners who view the provision of safe infrastructure as a pre-requisite to increasing levels of cycling.
Last week, the campaign group Cycling Works London highlighted results from a YouGov poll it commissioned in October that showed that nine in ten Londoners, including non-cyclists, backed fully segregated cycle lanes as something that would make them feel safer while riding a bike.
Last year’s Get Britain Cycling report from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group as well as the #ChooseCycling campaign launched by British Cycling in February both called on the government to invest a minimum of £10 per head annually in order to boost the proportion of trips made by bicycle.
But the government’s Cycle Delivery Plan, published last month and referred to by Mr Goodwill in his letter, was criticised by campaigners – CTC branding it “derisory” – for what they saw as its failure to set ambitious targets for cycling, as well as a pledge only to “explore” how to raise investment to that £10 a head level over the coming years.
* Actually a misquotation from the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, but one that has entered every use; the original line, from the scene in this YouTube video, is “If you build it, he will come.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.