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O wheely?

We need action

Zero hours contracts, the deficit, immigration and foreign aid have all been wrestled with by our political elite in the run up to the general election on 7th May. But an election is a chance for parties to set out their ideas on the crucial issues of the day, so at Huez* we have been keeping a particularly close eye on the proposals for keeping British cycling on track.

A road well travelled

Huge strides have been taken in the UK cycling sphere over the past five years, on and off the track. We enjoyed our first ever Tour De France victories in 2012 and 2013, which sparked mass public interest in the historic road race and culminated with the huge crowds that lined the British stages of the route last year. At the London Olympics in 2012, Team GB took home 12 medals (of which 8 were Gold) – a third more than we enjoyed at Beijing 2008 (which we weren’t displeased with either!).

The average cyclist has also fared well from the growing interest in British cycling. When Cycling Minister Norman Baker announced that £241 million of additional cycling funding would be pushed into ‘Local Sustainable Travel Funding’ last year, it was the single biggest investment in British cycling’s history – not a bad result for a country cutting costs at every corner.

But we still have a very long way to go, and as yet we haven’t heard any particularly convincing plans to perpetuate our cycling success.

Tyred old story

On the surface at least, all the major parties are paying lip service to UK cycling. Labour has proclaimed that, ‘we need action to improve conditions for cyclists’, and the Conservatives that, ‘investment in infrastructure has been a vital part of our long term economic plan’, announcing an additional £200 million of funding for cycling and plans to double the numbers of cyclists on the roads.

The Liberals have assured us that, ‘getting Britain cycling is a core Liberal Democrat priority’, and the Greens, ever the heroes of sustainable transport, have pledged billions of pounds for UK cycling infrastructure if elected. They’ve also pledged the UK’s GDP 12 times over, so we may have to wait on that one.

UKIP won’t be expecting many votes from cyclists this time round, with a recent pamphlet distributed in Newcastle announcing that cycling discriminates against the elderly and that, ‘cyclists are the chosen people, and motorists just a cash cow with very few rights’. Chosen people, we quite like the sound of that.

But when we look at the commitment of prospective MP’s, the story is a little different. CTC’s ‘Vote Bike’ campaign has written to all candidates in advance of the general election, asking them to register their pedal powered proposals at votebike.org.uk. The replies, or lack of, make for sorry reading; in our own Lambeth patch the only candidate who has responded is representing the Pirate Party, and erm…well.

For all the great moves made during the last parliament, we should remember that cycling bodies have described recent success as ‘interim victories’.  As the Chief Exec of cycling charity Sustrans stated following the £241 million funding announcement last year, “in the longer term, dedicated funding of at least £10 per head is the key to transforming Britain into a cycling and walking nation.” As yet, no party has pledged even close to that amount. 

It’s not just individual enthusiasts who are pushing for greater investment, even big business has come out in favour of a positive cycling policy. The ‘Choose Cycling Network’, which counts Santander, Sky and GSK as members, has called for new targets aiming for 10% of all journeys to be taken on a bike by 2025, referring to current support as ‘short term and irregular’.

A long road ahead

As passionate and committed as we are about cycling, we’re not blind to the other massive issues our country must face over the next five years. But we also don’t think that one of the healthiest and environmentally friendly movements to emerge from Britain in recent years should be overlooked. The cycling vote is growing, and supporting positive policies towards it will have a multitude of positive effects on our country as a whole. 

Take the NHS for example. A healthier country would undoubtedly have a positive effect on obesity and other medical costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles. Waiting times would also drop, particularly if the number of bike lanes increases to protect vulnerable commuters from motor vehicles. 

 What we need to see is a real commitment to sustainable transportation, not just last minute attempts to grab a few of extra votes at the ballot box. Maybe then, we should all log on to CTC’s site and press the ‘take action’ button, sending a reminder to our own potential candidates to make their position on cycling clear.

Manifesto promises come and go, but if anyone could put together a reasonable cycling proposal for the next five years; they might just swing our vote.

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