Last month the government published its long-term Cycling and Walking Investment plan (‘CWIS’) to encourage more people to make short journeys on a bike or on foot.
The funding package covers a number of initiatives, including cycling proficiency training for a further 1.3 million children, expanding cycles routes to connect more communities with employment and retail sites in nearby cities and improved road safety measures alongside regional investments promoting cycling and walking schemes, plus improved cycle facilities at rail stations.
Sustrans, with a number of other leading transport groups and health organisations, campaigned for the CWIS to ensure that active travel is considered a priority area for investment.
Policy Director at Sustrans, Jason Torrance, told Pedelecs: “With the launch of the first ever UK Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, we have reached a significant milestone along the path of making cycling and walking the natural choice for short journeys. The challenge now is to deliver the change locally and nationally. We can only realise the potential of cycling and walking by improving infrastructure and the built environment.”
Transport Minister, Andrew Jones, said: “We have already tripled spending on cycling since 2010 and we are now publishing a long-term investment plan because we are absolutely committed to increasing levels of cycling and walking.”
At a time when UK electric bikes are poised to play a key part in both growing the cycling industry as a whole and providing an inclusive solution to enable more people to participate in active travel, e-bike specialist, Electrifying Cycles, believes the Government needs to be ambitious and take inspiration from the infrastructure that has long encouraged a cycling culture elsewhere in Europe.
David Wood, who runs Electrifying Cycles in Cromer, told Pedelecs: “In comparison to our European neighbours, cycling is still grossly underfunded. For the most part, our approach to infrastructure so far is probably best summed up by painting a line on a road and calling it a cycle lane, or, worse, putting buses and bicycles together, which is hardly an ideal mix. Conversely in countries like the Netherlands they have proper, separated cycle lanes, where there is a physical separation of traffic, not just a visual one; even heated bicycle paths that remain ice-free in winter have been trialled. Bicycle parking facilities are commonplace and traffic management favours bicycles.
“While I welcome the CWIS investment, we do have a long way to go to catch up – if we want to reduce pollution and the deaths as a result we need to commit to serious, ongoing investment in road designs that reduce conflict between cars and bikes, as well as encouraging transport which does not produce air pollution. Ultimately, heavy investment is needed in protected, segregated cycle lanes up and down the country and not just in our major cities.”
The European Cyclists’ Federation recently stated that grants subsidizing electric bike purchases are a ‘very cost-effective way to achieve the decarbonisation of the transport system,’ suggesting a 10% purchase subsidy in countries like the UK, still considered to be in the ‘take off’ phase.
David Wood agrees that e-bike subsidies would provide an additional, useful incentive for some, saying that “hire schemes and e-bike trials alone will be insufficient in persuading greater numbers to move from their cars to bikes.”
He is also keen to highlight the financial and health benefits of commuting by electric bike. He believes the political approach to climate change and sustainable transport should be one of opportunity: “As an example, if there were more Park and Cycle facilities on the outskirts of our cities, this would facilitate ‘last mile’ journey connections that would reduce air pollution in our cities. It would also result in a fitter, healthier workforce, with a reduction in employee sickness and less road congestion, ultimately resulting in higher productivity for UK businesses.”
Electrifying Cycles first opened their doors in 2010 and while sales have steadily increased each year, recent trading results have yielded a 50% increase of electric bike sales compared to their previous year.
Such a significant increase sits with the upward trend noted by the Bicycle Association, who estimate there are now 150,000 electric bikes on our roads as more people turn to assisted cycling for their daily journeys. Wood says he has noticed a trend of people investing more once they realise how useful their first purchase is, such that: “There is an increasing realisation from customers of the benefits of spending more money on their second or third e-bike”.
Sustrans note Government figures state they are investing “£6 for walking and cycling per person in England in 2016/17”.
When asked about Sustrans’ view on the idea of purchase subsidies to encourage take up of electric bikes, Torrance says: “Government subsidies on new e-bike purchases could encourage many more people to cycle and could replicate the success with the subsidies on new electric car purchases that has boosted the UK’s rapidly growing electric vehicle market. Increasing electric bike use has the potential to substantially increase the amount of people cycling, especially for short commuter journeys.”
Household research on attitudes to cycling on behalf of Sustrans in 2015 showed that the UK welcomes investment in cycling. While the majority wanted to see more people cycling, 75% wanted investment in safer cycling, with people citing £26/person as the average amount people wanted the government to invest. The message from the respondents to that survey showed a clear desire for more cycling, held back by concerns about safe places to ride; over 80% of all respondents wanted traffic-free cycle routes.
The Partnership for Active Travel, Transport and Health (PATTH) says that reducing physical inactivity by 1% a year over a five year period would save the UK economy just under £1.2bn.
Over in the Netherlands, cycling makes up 27% of all trips, where spending on cycling is approximately £24 per person (per year). Back in 2013, Reindert Augustijn, a Dutch transport director, said: “In the Netherlands, we used to invest in cycling to reduce the number of accidents, but now we do it for economic and health reasons.”