U-turn on bikes as minister admits cycling is normal

Transport ministers want to turn Britain into a nation of cyclists by quadrupling the number of bike journeys over the next 15 years.

A cycling strategy to be launched by Sir George Young, the Transport Secretary, on Wednesday marks the completion of a remarkable transformation by the Government, which as recently as the early 1990s considered cycling as a dangerous form of transport to be officially discouraged.

Now cycling is to be actively promoted with the target that by 2012 the proportion of journeys, currently around 2 per cent, will be 8 per cent, bringing Britain more into line with cycle-friendly countries such as Germany and Denmark. Specific targets are to be set for certain groups. Ministers want to see a doubling of the number of schoolchildren using their bikes to get to school and they want employers to provide facilities for cyclists.

The 42-page document has been produced by a working group chaired by junior transport minister Steven Norris and included representatives of cycling groups and industry. The strategy is backed by the CBI and the local authority associations.

The strategy suggests that some road space should be taken away from motorists and reallocated to cyclists. Until now, most cycle paths have only been advisory. They have often been built on pavements rather than on roads.

Local authorities will be expected - but not forced - to set targets for cycle use, but those that do not include cycle-friendly measures in their bids for transport grants from central government are likely to have their applications for cash rejected. This stick, combined with the carrot of extra money for councils which encourage cycling is expected to ensure that local authorities fall into line.

Every road scheme will have to be examined in the light of its impact on local cycle use and schemes which do not accommodate cyclists will be rejected by the Department of Transport.

A National Cycling Forum is to be created to examine ways in which cycling can be encouraged. The setting of targets for the reduction of cycling casualties will also be considered.

Although cycling groups will welcome the new commitment to cycling and the detail of many of the recommendations, they are likely to be disappointed that local authorities will not be required to set targets and that those hostile to cycling will not be more clearly penalised.

Sir George said: "Cycling should be a normal form of transport, unremarkable and widely used. That is what the strategy will seek to do."

Join our new commenting forum

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

View comments