Could the timing have been any better? The day after we discovered the government will invest £5 billion in buses and cycling, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking (APPCG) held its first ever showcase event at Westminster.
The investment plan's opacity became evident as the event progressed: how much money for cycling, specifically? And would it produce 200 miles of new cycle routes, or 1,000? How pleased should we be, given that Manchester alone is planning 1,800? And so on.
Nevertheless, about 30 MPs and 80 cycling advocates responded with optimism at Portcullis House, on February 11, to speeches from minister of state for transport Chris Heaton-Harris MP; transport committee chair Huw Merriman MP; shadow minister for transport, Matt Rodda MP; APPCG co-chair Ruth Cadbury MP; and cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester, Chris Boardman.
"This is great," Boardman told Velocity. "We're starting to see a sea-change. Jesse Norman, who was the transport minister, and genuinely interested in cycling, is now chief secretary to the Treasury. Boris is Prime Minister. You've got Andrew Gilligan advising him. You're starting to get a political alignment, realising this is something we want to do. Rather than going: 'should we do it?', they're going: 'how do we do it?', and that's very different."
There was some scepticism: "Doubling the rate of cycling sounds good, but if it's doubling from 2% to 4% of all journeys, it's not a particularly ambitious target," Cadbury said. "We'll keep pushing. We'll be asking questions. We've got the budget coming up, so we won't hear everything today."
"It is vague," Boardman agreed. "But there's more coming. They're bolting it on as they go, rather than waiting for everything to come together."
"It's not as much as we were looking for but it's a lot more than was in the manifesto," said APPCG project manager Adam Coffman. "We know that Andrew Gilligan is really keen to promote cycling and walking. He's got a track record of doing it. He worked with the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London and they really got stuff done. He is really ambitious to see cycling grow. Maybe this is the start of the cycling revolution we've been looking for."
"I'm optimistic," Boardman continued. "We're not there yet, but we're definitely not just 'going in the right direction', we're getting very close now. It's coming. I genuinely believe the people pulling the levers of power want to see us change the way we travel, for kids to be able to walk to school."
Given the difficulty of getting a Brompton past the brutal attentions of Westminster security officials to gain access to the event, there was some irony in Cadbury's appeal: "My particular message to the property industry is: 'please think of visitors' cycle parking' - easy to see, at the entrance to a building, so that when I rock up on my bike for a meeting, it's as obvious and easy to find as car parking."
Meg Hillier MP told Velocity she wanted to see adequate cycle storage in all new developments in her Hackney constituency, and beyond. "We have strong political leadership on cycling," she said. "One of our councillors had a car when she was first elected but she found herself isolated - she was the only councillor with a car, so she got on her bike. That attitude has filtered through. A lot of council officers cycle and they think 'bike' when they're looking at redeveloping any part of Hackney's road infrastructure. It doesn't take any more money - or much more money - if you plan it in from day one. If you're trying to retrofit and you have to redo a whole junction, it can get ridiculously expensive."
"Under this government we're really encouraged that cycling is being taken seriously," Coffman concluded. "It's really important that groups like ours talk to developers and the people doing the designs - we want to hear the industry banging the drum for cycling. If you're sitting around our table there's opportunity to share ideas and network. We'd encourage as many Velocity readers as possible to join our group."
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