Gearing Up Britain's Bike Use

Although Britain's sporting successes make it out to be a nation of cyclists, only 2.2% of Britons use a bike as their main mode of transportation. Peter Walker looks at how a pioneering parliamentary inquiry hopes to get more people on bikes.
January 23, 2013, 1pm PST | Jessica Hsu
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"When it comes to cycling as everyday transport the UK is so far down the table it's almost scary," said Kevin Mayne, director of development at the European Cyclists' Federation. "With all these Olympic medals people maybe have this idea that the UK is doing OK in cycling. But it's not." The British Parliament will begin conducting an inquiry this week into how best to get people pedaling, "building on the momentum from last summer's sporting triumphs and an energetic cycle safety campaign by the Times." Six evidence sessions will be conducted to gather views from experts, government officials, professional cyclists and the media.

"Almost three-quarters of British cyclists are men, a statistic that speaks of a macho, gung-ho cycling culture where riders are expected to mix it with speeding cars, buses and trucks," says Walker. He continues, "To get cycling mainstream, experts agree, you need wholesale investment in infrastructure, most obviously well-designed and continuous cycle lanes, separated from faster traffic by a kerb or other barrier and with cyclists offered protection at junctions." Rachel Aldred, a London academic specializing in cycling, estimated a cost of over £1.1bn a year for Britain to catch up with the bike infrastructure of other nations.

"While Britain is littered with bike lanes they are almost universally piecemeal and substandard, often just a narrow strip of paint inches from speeding traffic," adds Walker. "London and a handful of other places, notably Brighton and Southampton, are now proposing limited Dutch-style segregated schemes." However, said Roger Geffen, policy director of the CTC and among those participating in the inquiry, "[g]ood infrastructure is vital but even that only goes so far. At some point, if you're going to have room for all these new bikes and bikes lanes, you have to start talking about ways to reduce traffic levels. That's where delivering on cycling really gets difficult."

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Published on Sunday, January 20, 2013 in The Guardian
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