Going up a gear: regional urban cycling 2011

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Is there hope for cycling outside London? Vincent Walsh reports on a Conference held on 30 March 2011 in Sheffield.

Conference poster: Urban Cycling beyond London, 2011

Conference poster: Urban Cycling beyond London, 2011

The Hope Valley Line links my current Mancunian home with my spiritual roots in Sheffield where the station –its cycle parking, fountained forecourt and unity with the city centre – has so much to teach Manchester Piccadilly. This was the sombre start to a conference considering Urban Cycling Beyond London. It was sponsored by Pteg, representing Britain’s Passenger Executives, their strap line, “delivering public transport solutions”. Therefore the audience was dominated by PTEs, rail companies, council officers from as far as Edinburgh and Belfast. Sustrans was well represented and Kevin Mayne led the CTC team. Surprisingly, only two statutories came from Greater Manchester, James McInerney (MCC) and Nick Vaughan (GMPTE). Cycle campaigners had pedalled in from Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield – and Rusholme. Good to see Simon Geller blagging a free ticket, Steve Essex touting for consultancy business and Hugh McClintock enjoying retirement from academia.

The title of the Sustrans-commissioned report set a cautionary tone, “Delivering a step change in cycling in the city regions”. Its sub-headings stressed “good value for money” and “investment…….. could produce a notable change in travel behaviour”.   I learnt “substantial increases in cycling have been achieved…….in Manchester trips into the city centre have doubled in a decade; in Leeds 4% of commuters travel by bike.” Still a long way to go.

Policy Director Peter Lipman outlined Sustrans softly softly approach to (modal) behaviour change, investing £11 in each resident’s Personalized Travel Plan in the Sustainable Travel Towns (STT) of Darlington, Worcester and Peterborough. The Cycling Demonstration Towns (CDTs) had budgets equivalent to £10 pp per annum over the three years of their programme. In both, levels of cycling rose by a quarter (27%). Modal shift from car journeys was less dramatic – 9% in the STT, unmeasured in CDTs.

Philip Denton, Cycling England

Smiling through the tears, Philip Denton bids farewell to Cycling England

Philip Darnton then rose to make his valedictory speech as Chair of Cycling England – abolished on 31 March.He noted Copenhagen has quadrupled its per capita cycling investment to £40. He reminded us leadership and political will are pre-requisites for cycling to become a mainstream activity, noting the LCC is considering dropping Campaign from its title.

Transport Minister Norman Baker sent his apologies and DfT civil servant Jessica Matthews reminding us of opportunities offered by the Public Health White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The £560m LSTF invites bids for revenue and capital spending in small pots up to £5m and bigger bids up to £50m (expressions of interest by 18 April). Of course LTP3 encompasses the serious transport money.

Sheffield Council’s Head of Transport boasted a doubling of cycling in 10 years despite the hills, led by Bike-It Schools and Bike Boost – intensive workplace support by Get Cycling (nee Company of Cyclists). Conveniently, John failed to mention the continued ban on cycle carriage by South Yorkshire SuperTram.

Lessons from London were delivered by Lilli Matson from Transport for London where the strategy is build/ support/promote. The capital’s Congestion Charge has helped a 117% increase in cycling since 2000, the target is 400% by 2026. Outer boroughs such as Havering have enjoyed a ripple effect from the cycling centre. The Bike Hire Scheme has 5000 bikes, 361 stations and 100,000 members. A complimentary initiative is Cycle Super Highways – twelve by 2015.

Merseyside is cycling nirvana. Merseyrail has offered unrestricted access to bikes – since 1996 – with self-regulation and few problems. Are you listening Greater Manchester…..? Given such open access it is not surprising that new secure cycle parking at stations has been under-subscribed.

My workshop explored smarter choices for cycling – schools and workplaces. Concerns were expressed that the end of the school travel grant programme and redundancy of council officers would undermine efforts to promote active healthy school travel. While tax breaks provide carrots for cycle-friendly employers, sticks are also necessary. We lost the congestion charge referendum but Nottingham is still proceeding with taxing workplace car parking from 2012 – to pay for their trams.

The mantra of the day was “work with the willing” – and try harder to engage with women. The mood was (unjustified) optimism combined with – to me – a lack of ambition. I raised the banner of 20’s Plenty but most were sceptical of my silver bullet. With little prospect of significant investment in cycling infrastructure several speakers highlighted soft measures and stressed the need to demonstrate the economic case for cycling via cost/benefit analysis. Apparently, better health and joie de vivre are not enough.

The day ended with a guided tour of Sheffield centre, much of it on routes shared between cyclists and walkers, co-existing amicably in the rush hour without the need for gallons of paint and dozens of signs. No time for a pint at my old watering hole, the Fat Cat, instead I (mis)led Hugh McClintock back to the station, Steel City’s new one way system (almost) defeating me.

Conference presentations can be downloaded at //www.pteg.net/

Vincent Walsh

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