Friday 21 January 2011

Dollars and Pounds

I learnt two things this evening.

Firstly, funding for cycling in the UK has been cut. This blog post revealed this little piece of information hidden in a 99 page document full of hot-air about what the government claims to be doing for cyclists. In the past, government funding for cycling in Britain has struggled to get past the 1 pound per person per year level. i.e. 60 million for the whole population. It's now been cut to around 13 million. That's around 20 pence per person per year. It's enough to do... precisely nothing. In a city of 100000 people, it's 20000 pounds. That's not even enough to employ someone to think about doing something.

Cycling Officers at councils in Britain (in my experience hard working, good people who tend to find themselves as lone voices in a council which isn't actually very interested) must be worried about their jobs right now. It's a real shame.

By way of contrast, cycling in the Netherlands is funded at a rate of around 30 euros per person per year, which is about 150 times as much. That's what it costs to do a good job, and actually Britain could afford it as well.

Secondly, I heard from a correspondent that it is possible that cycling will be banned at a university in Canada because they've pedestrianized roads and now the pedestrians are frightened by the cyclists. They're looking at ways to "slow cyclists down", which is of course precisely the opposite of what you need to do to make cycling into a more attractive option.

If you can't get students to cycle, then who will ? They're absolutely the easiest demographic of all to attract to cycling: young adults, well educated, fearless and with not too much spare cash. All the "top cycling cities" in every country are university cities. That goes for Groningen, Copenhagen, Cambridge (UK), Davis (CA). If cyclists are banned, you convert cyclists into drivers.

Both countries have fundamentally the same problems. Neither wants to treat cycling as a serious means of transport and neither wants to spend an adequate amount of money on cycling.

Click through for some examples of what actually helps to bring about a cycling culture.

In the past, more was written about the experience of being a cycling officer in the UK. And this is not the first time that cycling policy has been abandoned in the UK.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the mention.

I agree about the Cycling Officer bit. They are hard working, and completely compromised by the Highways Department.

To be fair to the Government, Infrastructure money has gone into a Sustainable Transport pot worth £560 million. This sounds promising, until you realise that this is spread over around 300 local authorities, all having to bid for varying shares and the interpretation of what 'sustainable transport' is can be as wide and spurious as their take on what makes decent cycle infrastructure. Bus companies are also competing for the money amongst others so local cycle campaign groups are going to have to shout very loud indeed for scraps.

So a bit more is probably being spent per person. But not much. You know what's going to happen anyway as it's all a bit predictable really.

All the best


Anonymous said...

Wow, £13 million really isn't very much. It's less than the €25m the city of Utrecht is intending to spend on their new bridge across the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, and not that much more than the €12m motorway crossing in The Hague (despite the availability of a perfectly safe and comfortable crossing 300m away).

Joe Dunckley said...

The exact same thing that Jim commented on had occurred to me -- a one-off Local Sustainable Transport Fund of £560 million spread over the local councils.

There are 27 shire counties (with 201 districts), 6 metropolitan counties (with 36 boroughs), and 55 unitary authorities. (London Boroughs aren't part of the plan.)

So if it were to be shared equally, that's just over £6 million at the county/city level, or £1.7 million at the district/borough level.

David, I don't suppose you have any handy examples of what a city or district could do with that amount of money if they chose to spend it all on cycling? (Obviously the councils won't, but hypothetically...)

Out of curiosity, I just googled some random numbers, just to attempt to put the fund into some sort of context in my mind:

Annual Sustrans expenditure: £25m

Five miles of motorway extension just opened in Glasgow: £450m

Annual top-tier council expenditures:
Kent = £945m
Bristol = £400m
Dorset = £260m
Manchester = 1,651m

and those are annual expenditures, not one-off grants.

However, this issue suddenly seems a lot less important now that I have discovered that Kent County Council writes its budget reports in Comic Sans.

Merlin said...

Which Canadian university are you referring to? My wife is a professor at a Canadian university, so she might work there someday.

kfg said...

Merlin - McGill. Kind of ironic that it's in Canada's poster city for cycling, innit?

David Hembrow said...

Jim, Joe: I think the 560 million pounds is another example of trying to baffle the public with "big numbers". It's not actually very much at all. Per capita, it's much less than the 487 million euros per year which the Netherlands spends on cycling alone.

So the answer for Joe, is that there's an example on this side of the North Sea. Well, sort of. If they spent 2-3 times as much as is being allocated for the whole of the budget, and sustained the investment for a few decades, then they could achieve what the Netherlands has.

It sounds like a lot, but it isn't. It's only big compared with the ludicrously small amounts which they're talking about for cycling.

I also note from elsewhere that appears that 11 of the 13 million are supposed to be for child cycle training. That doesn't even come out of the cycling budget in NL, but out of the education budget.

It's always been the same in Britain. Lots of words, but no real investment at all, and then people wonder why the cycling rate is so low.

Impecunious Cyclist said...

I agree that the budget for UK cycling is insufficient to achieve the kind of infrastructure enjoyed in the Netherlands. Realistically, in the current economic climate that would be pretty hard to justify.

To clarify some misunderstandings, the Local Sustainable Transport Fund is open to bids from 'transport authorities' - i.e. principal authorities, that is the 6 metropolitan counties, 27 shire counties and 56 unitary authorities. So whilst there may be a number of districts in a county, all transport decisions are made at the higher level. London is funded separately.

Also, it's worth bearing in mind that principal authorities are required to safeguard children, pay housing benefit and deliver adult social care. All are expensive with little scope for cuts.

My glass is half full and I see some positives. First, the paper shows continuity with much of Cycling England's case for cycling being sustained. Secondly, competition for funding against some clear assessment criteria should weed out many of the 'make work' projects - e.g. Slough Borough has painted miles of green cycle lanes throughout its area, which are only 40 cm wide and practically unusable.

Finally, bids are required to show evidence of community engagement, so there is scope for cyclists to lobby for measures that will make a difference.

I emailed my county's cabinet member responsible for transport on Thursday. I suggested the county's bid should position cycling as a serious alternative to the car for short journeys within communities (i.e. villages and towns) and their plans should take a cohesive and integrated approach to making localities more cycling-friendly.

Starting with Bikeability training for schools, risk assessing routes to the school as a hub and reducing traffic volumes and speeds where necessary, providing cycle stands at public amenities and creating safe cycle routes to public transport hubs.

Half of my county is hilly, so I suggested that prioritising communities in flatter areas for utility cycling first might gain quicker wins. I suggested an approach of building and consolidating on existing provision - i.e. localities with schools that already support Bikeability training.

Encouragingly, I received a positive reply from her on Friday evening. The more we can inform and help the decision makers, the more demanding they will be of their Highways officers, who have are tasked with designing the schemes.

Micheal Blue said...

This is what happens when clueless people make it to posts of power. They may be shrewd business persons, but that doesn't mean they are intelligent. They try to please their main backers (whether they are corporations or the most vocal parts of public), and that's about it. It takes guts, intelligence, and seeing beyond the current budget and the next elections to come up with a good infrastructure plan. How many politicians are like that?
Here in Toronto we have an issue with public transport infrastructure across the board. There is neither good infrastructure for cars, nor for bikes, nor for public transit. Toronto is Jack of all trades, master of none. At least if the city council would chose one area of transportation and properly develop it.

Claire Black Slotton said...

I'm here in Davis, California, home of University of California Davis. We're still cycling like crazy - it's flat (topographically speaking) so it's easy and the university doesn't allow cars on campus. Pedestrians have to be careful, but the campus is large so it only makes sense to cycle to campus and between classes.

I even cycle to work on a delightful network of bike paths.

For Americans, maybe even more than in other countries, it is important that folks get on their bikes - it's a beautiful way to combat obesity, one of the largest health problems in the country.

Impecunious Cyclist said...

I met my county's cycling and walking team leader yesterday evening. He didn't appear threatened to my eyes and told me he is working on a bid for £5m from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

He's optimistic that, with his council's track record of delivering previously, that it stands a good chance of succeeding.

trailsnet said...

Don't forget Boulder, Colorado in your list of university towns that are huge on cycling.