Don't disappoint them. Unless an epidemic of bubonic plague strikes the Tory benches, you have nearly two years in which to make a permanent mark for cyclists. Your aim should be to change the culture that has built up since the Second World War, in which the car is king and the cyclist dirt. No easy matter, perhaps, but here are a few suggestions.
Set up a "cycle unit" in the Department of Transport immediately and make sure it is staffed by cyclists. That will give all those road-obsessed civil servants a bit of a shock.
Next, stress that cyclists must have priority on many roads. Road space must be taken away from cars and given to cyclists (and pedestrians, while you are at it). No more should "cycle routes" consist of a few white lines in which cars are parked and which come to an abrupt "END" as soon as their continuation would take up a bit of road space that motorists want to use.
Of course, a few drivers will be cross. Their journeys may occasionally be a bit slower, but no coherent transport policy can now be based on the idea that motorists have total freedom while other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians are squeezed out.
The intellectual argument for cycling has even been accepted by your junior minister Steven Norris, who, for chrissake, started out with all the prejudices of his car-dealer background and now is a terrific convert to the benefits for both health and the environment of cycling.
As time is limited, you have to get something going quickly. Why not announce a test area for a cycle-friendly strategy, in conjunction, of course, with the local council? Spend a few million pounds on engineering the roads and creating cycle lanes, and a few hundred thousand on publicity to ensure that people use the facilities. This initiative will be a model for others to follow once your term as Transport Secretary is over - you might even be remembered for it.
Be brave. Set targets for increases in cycle use and timescales to meet them. Reduce tax breaks for company cars and get the Treasury to stop taxing cycle allowances of more than 5.4p per mile. And make sure that all bidders for rail franchises agree to carry bikes free on trains.
Finally, you will have to lead by example. The Cyclists Touring Club is apparently about to send you a couple of pannier clips that will enable you to carry your red boxes round Whitehall on the back of your bike. Please start your term by getting your Cabinet to remove the ridiculous security measures that prevent cycles being parked anywhere near the House of Commons because, allegedly, they may be packed with Semtex. What credibility will any government initiative on cycling have if a minister is only allowed to travel down Whitehall in the back of a black Jag?
CHRISTIAN WOLMARReuse content