When a cycling strategy isn’t and an MP pedals illusion

B&DBC Cycling Strategy (draft) coverI wrote to my MP, Kit Malthouse (Conservative), a couple months back. It took a bit of prodding but I did eventually get a reply. Unfortunately, his grasp of cycle funding is not in line with the reality. Nor is it in line with the recommendations from the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry. He told me,

“I welcome the fact that that while spend per head on cycling in England was only around £2 in 2010, it is now around £6”

He lives in la-la land if he truly believes it is that much!

The reality, is half; Here is what his colleague, the Minister for Transport, stated:

“for spending for which the Government is responsible, in the five years 2011/12 to 2015/16 the Department has increased its spend on cycling in England from £1 per head to £3 per head”

Sadly, a similar disconnect with reality afflicted Sustrans who were tasked with coming up with the Cycling Strategy for my borough of Basingstoke and Deane (B&DBC).

You see, Sustrans and B&DBC appear to think there is only Basingstoke itself in the borough. The tens of thousands of us who choose to live in the country towns, villages and hamlets outside of Basingstoke (and pay council taxes I shouldn’t have to add) were left in the cold except for some lip service hastily added after I questioned them.

Some £23,000 of our council tax money was tossed at this Sustrans led report. It has some good bits, don’t get me wrong. The description of how pathetic the environment is for cycling currently is very well written.

The council is asking for feedback on this Cycling Strategy (closing date Friday 11 December 2015 in case you want your voice heard – see HERE).

The choice of pictures in the document also tell their own tale. Where are the children? The elderly? Says it all, really.

This is my reply to them…

I am very disappointed in the Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council Cycling Strategy (draft dated October 2015 for consultation), mainly because it does not include any area outside of Basingstoke itself, such as my town of Whitchurch Hampshire. I was with one of my town’s councillors, Cllr John Buckley, when he put into your hands the agreed cycling plan for Whitchurch during your open day earlier this year: To have my town council’s plan completely ignored is absolutely unacceptable and undemocratic. There was £23,000+ given to Sustrans to create this borough report and they have failed to complete their remit; B&DBC should claw-back some of that money for breach of contract.

Furthermore, the recommended actions by Sustrans will not result in the so-called ‘ambitious’ target to ‘double the numbers of people cycling in the Borough for trips to work under 5 miles’. Indeed, the stated actions – limited by Sustrans to Basingstoke only anyway!- are wholy unambitious and more in keeping with the status quo than creating a cycling environment like there is in The Netherlands.

The contrast with The Netherlands is startling: 2.1% of the working residents of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council cycled to work as of the 2011 Census, whereas the modal share of cycling in similar sized Zwolle, Netherlands was 46%! The percent walking is similarly shocking in contrast: 8.9% in B&DBC and 19% in Zwolle.

It must be a B&DBC goal to create an environment (infrastructure) that supports cycling just like in The Netherlands, arguable the best in the world for this. Why would you want to aim lower? The timeframe to achieve that goal then varies based on funding. Nevertheless, the goal must be the best possible.

Do you aim to have roads with potholes? No. You aim for the best roads. Do you aim to have broken pavements? No. You aim for the best pavements. The same logic must apply to cycling infrastructure. You must aim for cycle infrastructure such as it is in The Netherlands.

Sustrans set a goal in this Cycling Strategy to double the number cycling to work by 2025, just 9 years from now.

According to the 2011 census, the percentage of working residents cycling to work in B&DBC is 2.1%; in 2025 Sustrans wants 4.2%. That means there will still be a huge percentage of people (over 65%) who would continue to travel by car or motorcycle.

You should note that the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry called for 10% of trips by 2025 to be by bicycle!

In contrast, the town of Zwolle in the province of Overijssel in The Netherlands, which has a population almost the same as B&DBC, the modal share of cycling is 46% (and of walking 19%). The car modal share is 32%.

Clearly, the ambitions of Sustran’s Cycle Strategy for Basingstoke are far too low.

Why must you aim higher? One major reason is people’s health and the cost of treating obesity and pollution issues on NHS – ie our taxes.

Obesity is a massive problem (no pun intended) in the UK; as is pollution. Both have serious implications for health and treating their effects. Two published academic studies found that increasing the share of trips by bike here to the levels seen in Denmark would save the National Health Service (NHS) £17 billion over two decades.

Looking at things the other way around, the Department for Transport stated that “the return on money spent on cycling varied from just above 2:1 to a whopping 35:1”. Studies have shown that retail sales jump by a quarter when bicycle lanes are installed.

Below are my comments on specific parts of the draft Cycling Strategy document:

p.21: Town centre issues (Basingstoke) rightly concludes how horrible it is at present in many areas, with notable exceptions. Missed is that no cycling facilities exist in the top of town, which is precisely the area where businesses could benefit from increased trade by people cycling. Studies have shown that providing cycle routes in retail areas increases trade.

Unfortunately, the rest of the document does little to substantially address the issues because of its lackluster ambition in creating a cycle network such as there is in The Netherlands.

p.22 The proposed cycle network is Basingstoke centric. The first statement in this section must be that fully protected, joined-up cycle routes are required; In quieter areas, lanes can be painted on roads and signage added. Routes connecting to, and within, Overton, Whitchurch and other towns outside Basingstoke are ignored!

p.25 Themes must use the more appropriate phrase “Road Danger Reduction” to address the primary fear that keeps people from cycling, and put the onus on infrastructure improvement by the government. From that, safety of people riding will follow.

p.25 Promotion and encourament should be de-emphasized: for decades it hasn’t worked as a way to dramatically increase the use of the bicycle. Indeed, creating protected, joined-up cycle routes would need no promotion! Promotion is needed when people would not naturally consider doing (or buying) something. In other words, why is promotion needed when many people already want to cycle but are too afraid to due to poor infrastructure?

p.26 Claiming that spending on more consultants, as the last item in figure 9 does, is not based on evidence showing it is effective at increasing the number of people cycling.

p.26 Encouraging ‘mutual respect’, as noted in figure 10, is “vacuous crap” as some have put it – everyone who currently cycles on the road know full well that multi-tonne pieces of metal are lethal. Pretty much the only disrespect a person cycling can have towards a driver is particular hand waving, likely made in reaction to dangerous driving! Conversely, people driving dangerously disrespect people walking and cycling far too often with close overtakes, left hooks, and of course the far too often heard shouts of ‘you don’t pay road tax’ as if that exists.

p.27 I failed to see the evidence refered to regaring the ‘desire for more people to cycle’ – Other studies have been done, and the evidence from B&DBC would be welcome to firm up the case more strongly. On this page, and pretty much only this page, is there a mention that other places apart from Basingstoke exist in the B&DBC borough. It cannot be said enough: you must include the whole borough as per the remit otherwise this strategy fails to address the thousands of people who live in the towns such as Overton and Whitchurch.

p.28 Safer Cycling: If someone feels they need to ‘sacrifice directness’ (time/distance) then something is wrong with the built environment. People that choose to drive have an advantage in that no physical exertion is required; Would B&DBC accept that drivers must sacrifice directness? Especially if it means a more liveable town? This section comes across as making cycling infrastructure a ‘bolt-on’ to driving priority roads. Instead, the borough must focus on moving people by creating whole environments suitable to walking, cycling and driving.

p.31 Promotion and Encouragement: The first line is not supported by evidence, and indeed is untrue. The Netherlands proves that improving cycling facilities (protected cycle lanes) results in a dramatic increase in the number of people cycling. It is worrying indeed that the B&DBC / Sustrans strategy thinks otherwise. Indeed, the focus on promotion and encouragement has failed for decades to make a meaningful impact.

p.32 Creating an ‘online link’ to the County Council fault reporting system is nice but hardly substansive. Furthermore, a reference is made to using volunteers to resolve maintenance issues: Do we also accept volunteers resolving maintenance issues for roads used by motor vehicles? No – we demand our County Council to do what they are employed (by our taxes) to do and have statutory duties to fulfil. Why is cycling considered something not equal to other road works, that volunteers must be used? The role of volunteers can be as like with reporting potholes, but not to fill them!

p.33 Funding sources at Hampshire County Council must include more than just Public Health Budgets, for example, highways and roads budgets.

p.34 No indication is given for the actual length of time for ‘short’, ‘medium’ and ‘long’ term actions. This must be tightened up or else nothing in this section makes any kind of sense. Many items in the action plan are not defined either, as they stated ‘tba’. What is the point of a strategy if there is little meaningful action? For example, ‘improving cycle access to retail centre’ is marked as ‘tba’. Indeed, the retail centre could immediately be improved by:
a) permitting cycling at Top of Town;
b) providing more and visible sheltered bicycle parking around the retail areas; and,
c) providing fully protected, joined-up cycle routes from the Top of Town to nearby estates.

p.34 Access to new developments for cycling require concrete statements from planning departments to demand developers create proper fully segregated, joined-up cycle routes. They have no incentive to do so.

p.35 Desiring “some segregation” is not good enough. Also, the proper term is ‘protected’ as in ‘protected cycle routes’. People need proper, protected cycle routes especially at intersections. It is not ‘safer cycling’ rather it is ‘road danger reduction’ — a subtle difference which puts the onus on improving the infrastructure not blaming the victim.

p.35 There is no evidence of advance stop lines reducing danger. Indeed, the blind spots of HGVs almost precisely mirror the advance stop lines and lanes! Instead, proper protected cycling routes, as in the Netherlands are required. The table shows ‘tba’ when noting the work to do with the highways authority; This work has failed already in the case of Blackdam Roundabout, for example!

p.36 Consultation would be better if it included the public! ie a questionnaire to find out who would like to cycle but don’t, where they’d cycle to, and why they don’t right now (eg too scared of motor traffic); another questionnaire should be sent to primary and secondary school head teachers asking about barriers that parents and their children have for cycling to school.

p.36 Lobbying of the County Council will take resources; far more effective would be to encourage the public to write letter to the representatives directly. This section is riddled with the word ‘encourage’ which means nothing and will result in the same: nothing done.

p.37 Promotion and advertising to the tune of £85,000 is more of the same-old-same-old which has not work to increase cycling uptake. The budget for that promotion must come out of education budgets not cycling budget.

p.37 The table header says ‘£1000s’ and refers to £10 per person. Does this really mean you will spend £10,000 per person on cycling? Dream on! Is the ‘per person’ calculated on the population of the borough or just Basingstoke?

p.37 The national government spends about £3 per person per year (abismal). The ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry recommends £10 rising to £20. The campaign group ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ demands double the spend of The Netherlands so that we can catch up to their level of quality infrastructure: The Netherlands spends about £25 per person per year on cycling.

p.37 What is roads budget for B&DBC / Basingstoke? What percentage of that is spent on cycling infrastructure?

p.39 The strategy proposes that tens of thousands of pounds is being spent on consulting rather than ‘doing’! That cannot be right. B&DBC must act, not consult.

p.41 The strategy claims an ‘ambitous’ target to double cycle trips over a 10-year period to 2025, in line with the DfT cycling delivery plan (Oct 2014). Doubling over 10 years from an already low amount is not ‘ambitious’ enough as stated above.

p.41 No consideration has been given to the people who would like to cycle now but are too afraid to because of inadequate infrastructure. Note how the Blackdam Roundabout rebuild was done with the knowledge that it would not be safe for cycling! How was that allowed to happen? How will this strategy prevent that from happening in the future with other road schemes?

p.41 No mention at all is given to the cycling and walking strategy to be published by DfT in Spring 2016.

Appendix – Census 2011 and a projection to 2025
The recent analysis of the 2011 Census by the Office of National Statistics reported that there were 90,122 working residents of B&DBC of whom 1,886 cycled to work. That equates to 2.1% of the working residents – which is less than the 2.9% who cycle to work in the South East as a whole, and less than the 2.8% in England and Wales.

Compare that to the number who are in a car, van or motorcycle: 61,201 or 67.9% of the working residents of B&DBC.

The population of England is projected to grow 10.7% between the census in 2011 and 2025. If the number of people cycling to work were to increase at that same rate then the 1,886 people cycling to work in 2011 would be 2,091 in 2025. Similarly, the working population of B&DBC would increase from 90,122 to 99,909.

To achieve Sustran’s goal would require 4,182 working residents of B&DBC to cycle to work in 2025. That equates to 4.2%.

working population of B&DBC
B&DBC Ward Profile Excel File (XLS, 945 kb)
Census 2011 info for B&DBC wards
ONS population projections
ONS population projections (interactive)
Cycling in Zwolle, The Netherlands
Studies say investment in cycling would save NHS billions
Get Britain Cycling inquiry report
Benefit of building space for cycling far outweighs cost, says DfT
More cycling will benefit all brits says Boardman
– Basingstoke (town) wards: Rooksdown, Popley West, Popley East, Winklebury, Norden, Buckskin, South Ham, Brookvale & Kings Furlong, Eastrop, Grove, Brighton Hill North, Brighton Hill South, Hatch Warren & Beggarwood, Chineham
– B&DBC wards outside Basingstoke town: Basing, Baughurst and Tadley North, Burghclere, Highclere and St Mary Bourne, Bramley and Sherfield, East Woodhay, Kempshott, Kingsclere, Oakley and North Waltham, Overton, Laverstoke and Steventon, Pamber and Silchester, Sherborne St John, Tadley Central, Tadley South, Upton Grey and The Candovers, Whitchurch

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