Letter to PM from bike trade asks for leadership on sustainable transport

The BikeIsBest industry campaign has today penned an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging for a follow through on political will that promises to deliver better conditions for sustainable transport forms.

In the face of significant headwinds, both from motoring groups and in some cases local politicians, the letter urges for the fast-tracking of Active Travel England‘s creation to oversee the roll out of dedicated sustainable transport infrastructure that is in line with the newly-created design standards.

Many in the bike industry are afraid of missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring about meaningful change whilst the norm is disrupted and immediately on the back of a period where cycle use was running at a high. As shown in data analysed by CI.N this week, motoring traffic is back at pre-pandemic levels, while cycling rates have fallen steadily south.

The open letter reads:

Safeguarding the golden age of cycling

Thank you for the ambition you have shown to start what we hope will be a significant shift to enable cycling and walking in this country.

We, the undersigned, represent #BikeIsBest, a campaign that has united over 50 leading cycle brands organisations into one powerful voice with a single mission – to get more people cycling more often. We
warmly welcome your ambition for a “Golden age of cycling’, and the leadership shown in your Gear
Change vision statement for achieving this, along with new Cycling Infrastructure Design guidance and
proposals to revise the Highway Code.

We particularly welcome your acknowledgement in your Foreword to the ‘Gear Change’ vision document that “People want the radical change we are committing to in this strategy, and we politicians shouldn’t be afraid to give it to them. An independent survey commissioned by #BikeIsBest and conducted by YouGov strongly supports this statement, It showed that there are 6.5 people in support of measures in their local area to encourage cycling and walking for every 1 person against.

Yet despite this, there are worrying signs that access to the kind of high quality cycling infrastructure that will enable mode shift could come down to a postcode lottery. Even where local authorities have received all the funding they asked for, delivery of schemes by some councils have been shelved because of local pressure from a vocal minority. This is a worrying trend that transcends geography or party politics.

This vocal minority is thwarting progress and we believe it is essential to bring data and reason to local
debate and to provide a platform to create the political will for local changes. In your work as Mayor of
London, your political will and work for cycling has left a positive legacy. We now need your direct
encouragement for local political leaders to have the same confidence to deliver in their communities.
Alongside our evidence of public support for cycling and walking investment, the #BikeIsBest campaign also launched a petition for the public to show they “support infrastructure that will help everyone cycle and walk more.” To date, this petition has been signed by over 21,000 individuals in the UK.

It is clear that there is widespread support for cycling but still progress is slow and in some cases has
stopped before it has even started. The huge unmet demand from people who want to cycle but dont feel safe enough to do so needs to be urgently addressed.

After decades of cycling being under-prioritised and under-resourced, it is not surprising that some local
authorities lack the expertise and resource to successfully communicate and deliver the kind of changes
needed on our streets. This has in some cases led to poor quality community engagement, providing a
platform for misinformation which jeopardises positive measures for active travel. This has been especially prevalent in the case of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. The lack of strength in depth in this area has also led to some schemes not being fit for their intended purpose, unlikely to help drive the level of mode shift required to meet your stated ambition or the government’s own cycling targets.
To achieve success in planning for active travel, we believe that local authorities need to have access to
experts to help design future proof schemes and pool knowledge to help better engage with the community.

Put simply, councils need to be better equipped to deal with bikelash and shaping the national narrative has a significant part to play here. We also need a national narrative that supports the urgency of a green recovery; this is something that is in your gift as a Prime Minister supportive of cycling.
It is therefore vital that Active Travel England is set up as soon as possible. We note that the DfT has quickly launched a new Acceleration Unit to speed up the delivery of transport projects and programmes. We hope that Active Travel England, who will oversee cycling and walking, can be set up with similar vigour.

Active Travel England has an important role to play and the support is needed right now. Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) have been a step-change in how local authorities can develop
ambitious cycling and walking networks. However, further support is needed to help deliver on these plans and strengthen them where required, increasing knowledge, skills and political support. As well as upholding the new Cycling Infrastructure Design guidance, there is an urgent need to build local authorities’ capacity to implement that guidance, in order that your existing funding allocations for cycling and walking are spent, and spent well.

Ahead of Active Travel England’s formation, a centralised professional training scheme for active travel
could be offered and promoted by the DfT, aimed at both officers and local Councillors. We also believe that local authorities need to be reminded that they have been mandated by the government, through statutory guidance, to enable cycling and walking. Some local authorities have remarked on record that they believe the guidance does not apply to them.

We ask you for a clear timeline on the creation of Active Travel England and support for a government-led campaign detailing the vast health, social and economic benefits of supporting active travel. Where planning can often be riddled with jargon, its essential the nation understands the clear benefits and that measures to enable cycling and walking are understood as imperative and non-negotiable for a green recovery. This has to be a clear national effort for a healthy and prosperous future of this country.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Tranter
Founder, #BikeIsBest

Roger Geffen
Policy Director, Cycling UK

Dr Ashok Sinha
Chief Executive, London Cycling Campaign