Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Boris Johnson’s ‘golden age of cycling’ vision welcomed by campaigners and green groups, but ‘£2bn not enough’

If successful, measures will cut pollution, tackle health issues and improve safety of streets, but questions remain over funding and government’s £27bn road-building programme, organisations say

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 28 July 2020 17:56 BST
‘Transformative measures will properly enable people to make local trips safely on foot and by bike,’ says Green Party, but warns that more funding is needed
‘Transformative measures will properly enable people to make local trips safely on foot and by bike,’ says Green Party, but warns that more funding is needed (Getty)

Active travel such as cycling and walking has numerous benefits – not only for those doing it, but for society as a whole. This is the message Boris Johnson’s government has delivered as it unveils how £2bn will be used in its efforts to transform the UK’s use of transport.

Following a surge in cycling across the country following the coronavirus lockdown, which saw enormous reductions in road traffic, the government now appears to be making an effort to maintain the benefits millions of people witnessed.

In his foreword to the new plans, Mr Johnson writes: “All of us, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, have suddenly found out what it is like to have streets where you can breathe clean air, hear the birds singing at noon, and walk or ride in safety. We have all noticed the new found safety on our roads with fewer cars hurtling down our streets, near our homes and our gardens and our schools.”

“That is why this document aims to kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring.”

Among the key measures in the plans are the creation of thousands of miles of new “protected bike lanes”, cycle lessons for all who want them, vouchers for bicycle maintenance, national funding for e-bikes, the raising of safety standards on lorries, intensive funding of 12 new areas to become more cycle friendly, known as “mini Hollands”, investment for cycling through a long-term programme, and the creation of at least one zero-emission transport city centre.

Meanwhile, a pilot in some areas will encourage GPs to prescribe cycling as part of the push to get the nation fitter ahead of a possible second wave of the pandemic this winter.

Furthermore, cycling schemes which “consist mainly of paint” or which make pedestrians and cyclists share the same space will not qualify for funding.

The government is also aiming to show how encouraging greater numbers of people to walk and cycle can improve mental and physical health and therefore reduce pressures on the NHS and other frontline care providers.

The plans detail broad economic benefits – not just savings for hospitals – but the increased footfall on high streets where cars have been banished.

The vision outlined by the prime minister comes after the Department for Transport published an ambitious plan in March for how the government will aim to revolutionise UK transport to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver policies that make walking, cycling and public transport our main means of travel.

Those plans were described as “unprecedented” by campaigners.

The spending programme outlined in the new document has similarly been welcomed by campaigners, though questions remain over the government’s commitment to a £27bn programme of road building over the next five years.

Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner (and a former professional cyclist), described the plans as “the biggest step forward for active travel that I have seen in my lifetime”.

He said: “For the past few months we’ve effectively had a global consultation by turning off traffic overnight and by doing this we showed that people will choose to ride bikes when they feel safe.

“The widespread commitments in this plan aim to build on that and demonstrate the bold leadership needed to achieve the active travel ‘revolution’ the prime minister has promised.”

He added: “Creating a true cultural shift where cycling and walking is the default way to travel and parents are happy for their children to ride to school, requires far more than simply building bike lanes and the variety of measures laid out in these plans reflect the importance of increasing access to bikes, making local roads safer and improving air quality.”

Caroline Russell, a transport spokesperson for the Green Party, told The Independent: “It’s great to see the new design guidance, proposed Highway Code updates and such enthusiastic government support for protected bike lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods. These transformative measures will properly enable people to make local trips safely on foot and by bike.”

But she warned: “If we are going to see a measurable change in the way people get around, the government needs to find a lot more than £2bn.”

Meanwhile, the charity Cycling UK has welcomed the proposals and said they’re “on stand-by to assist in fixing England’s bikes”.

The charity said it estimates there are 16.5 million bikes “sitting in the hallways and sheds of England unused and neglected”, but many would have problems that are simple to fix.

James Scott, Cycling UK’s director of behaviour change, said: “The government has laid out a truly comprehensive and far-reaching set of measures to improve cycling and walking in England that will help would-be cyclists on their journey as well as the regular riders.

“However, to shift gears and boost active travel as the prime minister has announced so everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling, the £2bn of funding already announced will not be enough. However, with a forthcoming spending review, now’s the time for the chancellor to invest in the future and make the Prime Minister’s vision of a golden age of cycling come true.”

Xavier Brice, chief executive of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, said: “This announcement, hot on the heels of the new obesity strategy, marks a big step forward by the UK government, and one which is warmly welcomed by Sustrans. By helping more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys, this package of measures will cut pollution, tackle the causes of poor health, and improve the safety of our streets.”

He added: “Sustrans supports efforts to radically improve the quality of walking and cycling infrastructure. The majority of the public supports investment in walking and cycling, and it is now vital that the benefits of walking and cycling are felt by everyone.”

Dr Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, also welcomed the plans but said success would depend on the government maintaining determination and funding for many years, and called into question the large investment planned for motoring.

He told The Independent: “Today’s announcement by Boris Johnson to invest in thousands of miles of new, high-quality cycle lanes is hugely welcome. But as the PM himself acknowledges, this is just the start of the start. If we are to maximise the potential of cycling to clean up the air in our cities, tackle the climate emergency, reduce obesity and ill health, and keep our cities moving, then political determination and funding will need to be sustained for many years to come.

“Having the courage to build on today’s announcement by redeploying the forthcoming £27bn of spending on motoring would be a great way to show that determination.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in