A few posts ago I pointed out that the Netherlands spends around 487 million euros per year on cycling infrastructure. That is what is spent in this country of 16 million people. The world's best cycling infrastructure costs: 30 euros per person per year.
It perhaps sounds like a lot - especially in these days of "austerity". British people, and those from the USA, Australia and other countries with little cycling, often claim that a lack of money is the reason why proper cycling infrastructure cannot be built. It's not true, of course. It's just one of many excuses.
By the standards of most government expenditure, this is actually not such a huge amount of money.
Britain's budget, just announced, is full of cuts to services. However, while 4 billion pounds has been cut from the transport budget, that still leaves 22 billion pounds allocated to transport.
There was no increase in the cost of fuel for motor vehicles. Such an increase may come later due to the rising cost of oil, but the British government is trying to minimise its effect on drivers by keeping the price of motor fuel down.
Meanwhile, cycling will be expected to continue on virtually no funding at all. Around 0.3% of the transport budget in the UK is spent on cycling. This continued under-investment is what has lead to the hostile environment for cyclists, and the bad safety record of cycling in the UK.
However, even now, investment in cycling should not be seen as a cost. Cycling has many benefits for society as a whole. If people cycle, this helps the economy by reducing the requirement to import oil and has many health benefits. Encouraging cycling is good economics. It's been shown that even in the UK, investing one pound in cycling brings four pounds of benefits.
offer direct journeys, have a high status and good subjective safety). If it were made easier for people to make a choice other than the private car, more could / would cycle.
Yes, I know people make other excuses, but mostly the concerns are simply about safe conditions for cycling. I've dealt with most of the common excuses before.
Of course, even when we're supposedly short of money, some things are immune to budget cuts. While there is "not enough money" for proper infrastructure, other more "important" things continue to have plenty of funding.
For instance, Britain may be heavily in debt, but the country is still keeping its nuclear deterrent, upgrading of which is expected to cost 65 billion pounds over the next few years.
I also recently learnt that Britain's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 20 billion pounds over the last 9 years. That amount is in addition to the usual defence budget (around 40 billion a year, and not being cut with the budget), and does not include either troops' salaries or care for the wounded. This alone comes to 37 pounds per person per year for that period - a larger amount than the Dutch spend on cycling infrastructure.
I'm not even slightly convinced that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justified. In 2003 I marched in in London together with a million other people and all our voices were ignored. It's part of the reason I grew disillusioned with the UK. The reason given for starting the war in Iraq was bogus, and obviously so from the beginning, the cost in human lives has been enormous, and it seems that violence simply continues to escalate in Afghanistan. So what exactly is the point ?
If money is short, which is the best use of it ? Destroying another country's infrastructure and killing hundreds of thousands of people, storing up hate for the future, or building up ones own infrastructure and saving lives in the process ?
For more cycling, what Britain, and the other countries with little cycling, need is very simple. More decent quality cycle paths.
Update May 2014
Quite apart from all the wasted lives, resources and political good-will, we now know that the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 30 billion pounds. i.e. enough to fund cycling at Dutch levels for at least 25 years. Well managed, that could have been enough to catch up with the Netherlands.
Of course, to talk about cycling as a cost at all is actually short-sighted. The Dutch have repeatedly shown that GOOD cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build. What's more, cycling has been shown again and again to have many positive effects both in society and even for business, all of which lead to cycling having an overall positive effect on the economy.
Britain isn't alone in spending more than it can afford on the military. I made a comparison of several countries a little while back.
Car-Sick Glasgow | Documenting the atrocious conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in Scotland's largest city