The Department for Transport (DfT) has this morning announced that £40 million is to be spent on improving the safety of cyclists at 78 junctions – including one in Cambridge that has become the subject of controversy, with local cycling campaigners insisting that current plans ignore the safety of bike riders and instead prioritise motor vehicles.
£20 million of the money announced today relates to sums previously announced by the DfT, with the balance coming from local authority match funding.
The junctions concerned - there is a full list here - are located throughout England, with the exception of London, and have been identified with the help of an expert panel with members including representatives British Cycling and the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans.
Transport Minister Norman Baker commented: “Cycling is healthy and reduces congestion so it is welcome news that more and more people are taking to 2 wheels.
“Ensuring this funding is targeted where improvements will make a real difference to cyclists is just one way we are ensuring this trend continues.
“This is part of the £107 million investment we have announced in cycling infrastructure over the last year, over and above the £600 million we have invested through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
“We have launched a THINK! ‘Let’s look out for each other’ campaign and have made it easier for councils to set 20 miles per hour (mph) speed limits and install trixi mirrors at junctions so drivers are better able to see cyclists.”
Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond added: “Keeping people safe on our roads is of paramount importance to me. This money will enable local authorities to put in place well targeted measures to protect cyclists across the country.”
Martin Gibbs, director of policy and legal affairs at British Cycling, welcomed the investment but urged the government to prioritise cycling within its overall transport policy.
“All these schemes were selected from a large number of proposals on the basis that they will make cycling safer which we know is key to getting more people on bikes,” he said.
“The investment will pay real dividends because more people on bikes means a healthier population requiring less help from the NHS.
"Reducing congestion will make our towns and cities better places to live and if we want to continue to produce Tour de France winners and Olympic and Paralympic champions, we need as many people cycling as possible, especially young people.
"So this announcement is good news but to affect a real step change in cycling habits across the country we need a commitment from national government to put cycling at the heart of all transport policy and to make a sustained commitment to invest in it."
However, the controversy in Cambridge highlights that while money may be made available to improve the safety of cyclists, that does not necessarily translate into a scheme being drawn up that puts the issue at the heart of the junction redesign.
The list of the schemes covered by this morning’s announcement includes three locations in Cambridge, being redeveloped at a total cost of £2.035 million.
Plans for one of those, however, Catholic Church Junction, have been criticised by Cambridge Cycling Campaign, whose chairman, Martin Lucas-Smith, accuses Cambridgeshire County Council of having “decided to prioritise car traffic over cycle safety.”
According to an article in the campaign group’s April/May 2013 newsletter, “Though half this scheme, costing £900,000, is intended to be funded from a national cycle budget, it was made absolutely clear at the [council] meeting and the consultation response document that cycle improvements would only be acceptable where they had no impact on traffic and that the overriding factor in deciding what to do was maintaining motor traffic capacity.”
Cambridge Cycling Campaign added: “This nasty junction has failed cyclists for a generation. Now it looks set to continue to fail them for another generation to come. The layout won’t preclude further changes in the future, but having spent nearly a million pounds on it, I don’t see anyone being willing to spend more there for years to come.”
At the council meeting that improved the plans earlier this month, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cycling Tsar, insisted that the changes struck the correct balance, with Cambridge News reporting him as having said: “If we take this that step further in terms of what Cambridge Cycling Campaign is looking at, the impact on road traffic would be significant and my view is that if we did that we would start to get a situation where the junction is even more unsafe.”
Following the announcement of the 78 junctions that are to benefit from funding, it's likely that cycle campaigners elsewhere in the country will be following Cambridge's lead in scrutinising plans closely and challenging local authorities to deliver on what the money is intended for.
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