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Cycling

8 pm

Lord Berkeleyasked Her Majesty’s Government what policies they have adopted to promote the environmental and health benefits of cycling.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to start a discussion in your Lordships’ House about the environmental and health benefits of cycling.

A large number of noble Lords cycle to, from or around here. I feel privileged to be followed by my noble friend Lord Young, who is a real professional cyclist. I believe he cycles from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back in a couple of days or so. He is very impressive, and I am greatly looking forward to hearing what he has to say. I just cycle for business and a bit of pleasure, and I find it is a good way of getting around. I must present the apologies of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who is another great cyclist from your Lordships’ House. He has had a knee operation today to enable him to cycle better and, although he has been to the House, he has only just recovered from a general anaesthetic, so it is probably a good thing that he does not try to speak. I declare an interest as secretary of the All-Party Group on Cycling. We have our annual parliamentary bike ride on 10 June.

Before I launch into what a great thing cycling can be, I congratulate the Minister on the Government’s recent announcement. It is probably worth putting to bed something that comes up every time we have a debate on cycling: the vexed question of cyclists not obeying road signs or wearing lights. We must clearly deprecate any failure to obey the law. I certainly try to obey the law. That is not, however, a reason for knocking everything cycling, which one or two people occasionally do.

I shall give a few facts and figures about the benefits of cycling, particularly to health and the environment. If one thinks about the number of car journeys that most people make, an awful lot of them could be done on a bicycle. Sixty per cent of car trips are less than five miles, which can be done very quickly on a bicycle. Cycling is very good for you; I certainly feel fitter when I cycle. The Chief Medical Officer has said that adult cyclists can be as fit as someone 10 years younger and have a life expectancy of two years above the average. It is a good way to start thinking about cycling if you can behave as if you are 10 years younger and have an extra couple of years of life.

There is, however, a ridiculous fluctuation in the number of people who cycle in different countries and different cities in Europe generally or in the UK. Apparently, only 2.8 per cent of commuters in this

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country cycle. In the Netherlands, it is 27 per cent. The Netherlands is fairly flat, but so is much of England. The difference is that the Netherlands has provision for cyclists that makes one feel safe. I shall return to the question of safety and fear, because fear is a serious disincentive. The UK has two major initiatives. One is from the Mayor of London, whose target to increase cycling by 80 per cent was reached in 2000, five years before the deadline. Cycling around London, one sees that there is still a variation in provision between boroughs, but, my goodness, it is a lot better than it was 10 years ago. There is safety in numbers in cycling. When there are 25 of you trying to get across Hyde Park Corner rather than just one, you feel a lot better and safer, even with the lights.

Nationally—I am sure my noble friend will tell us more about this—the Government have increased the funding for cycling to £140 million in the next three years, which is fantastic. Again, there is a terrible variation in provision between some local authorities. I believe that some of them spend only about a £1 a head on cycling, whereas £5 to £10 a head is spent in the Netherlands, Germany and, I suspect, in Denmark. It may interest noble Lords to know that Copenhagen—I have seen a lovely report about cycling in Copenhagen—is going to increase cycling by 10 per cent, which will reduce the years of prolonged severe illness by 46,000, save £5.5 million annually and reduce the number of sick days overall by more than 3 per cent. That is worth having. Copenhagen claims that this will mean an extra 61,000 years of life—I am not sure what that means individually, but it is still pretty good—and will save 80,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. This is all at a cost of about £15 million, which is a tenth of what the Government are putting into cycling for the whole country. It is not unachievable and is of the same order of magnitude as the campaign that I am sure my noble friend will tell us about.

The Copenhagen initiative is a campaign to make cyclists feel safer. There will be more cycle tracks and all the usual things as well as better behaviour, which is not a bad thing at all. The key, however, is to make the cyclist feel safer, which I shall focus on for a bit. I certainly find that fear is a great disincentive to cycling—my wife finds it even more so—and I am afraid that that is largely due to the speed of the traffic on the road that you are on and the distance from that traffic that you are forced to be. If you have a cycle lane, that is absolutely fine. If not, a 15 mile an hour speed limit is wonderful. A 30 mile an hour speed limit is probably better. When the speed limit gets up to 40 and 50 miles an hour, one thinks seriously about going on the road at all and tries to find a footpath. You are much more likely to get killed if you are hit by a car going faster. Cars have less room for manoeuvre, even if they are concentrating.

There is a lack of good design in many cycling facilities. The worst cycling facility that I have come across is somewhere in Belgravia, where Westminster City Council has put in a chicane, especially for cyclists, with lovely granite kerbs. You have to slow to about 5 miles an hour even when there is a green light. Why bother? The council has clearly not thought about the design at all. The other point about design

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is that we really must look at journeys holistically. It is fine having a great cycle lane when you want to go across London, but if you cannot get across Hyde Park Corner—which is a bad example because you can get across most places quite well now—you are not going to do it. There must be a proper and consistent series of cycle routes. There is largely such a series in London, but not in many other places.

To return to the point about speed limits, the 20 mile an hour zones in Hull, which are one example of good practice, have resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in the number of those killed and seriously injured. Residents also like a 20 mile an hour speed limit. I know that not all motorists like it, but a network of roads in the city with a 20 mile an hour speed limit should be encouraged.

Lastly, I make a plea to the Minister. Lorries are bigger than cars, and their size makes them particularly dangerous for cyclists, especially when they turn left. We have had a lot of publicity about this recently. I do not like longer and heavier lorries, and I hope that the Minister can give me some comfort that the Government are not about to introduce them. However, March 2009 is the European Commission deadline for fixing safety mirrors on lorries so that drivers have a chance to see all around their lorry, especially the side that they are not driving on. Will the Government require them to be fitted retrospectively? If not, we would be in trouble and the blind side of the lorry would be a serious problem for cyclists.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will look at road use holistically when they are getting others to spend this £140 million, which is really welcome. There are great gains for the environment and health, but I still worry about the fear factor which can be mitigated by design and speed. Unlike car and lorry drivers, cyclists are not protected. As a number of officials and Ministers have done already, I hope that the Government will continue to look at best practice in Copenhagen, Amsterdam or wherever. The potential for increasing the proportion of people who cycle is enormous and the more of us who cycle, the safer we feel as a bunch. There is a bit of a herd instinct.

8.10 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Berkeley on obtaining this debate on an issue which I feel can make a positive contribution to the health of the nation when looked at in its widest context. I declare an interest in that I am a keen cyclist. I would not describe myself as a professional cyclist, which would be taking it a bit too far. For me, 2004 was a special year. I entered this House and I also cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats with a friend. We did 1,012 miles in 21 days, which was not the most direct route and certainly was not done in the fastest time. But it was a great way to experience the state of the roads and to test how integrated the transport system is as a whole. We also experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of British bed-and-breakfast accommodation and the joys of the Youth Hostel Association. Last year, we toured

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the Western Isles and I occasionally cycle to the House from my home in Southall, a distance of 12 miles through busy, London traffic. I bring to this debate current experience of what it is like to cycle all over the UK.

Some cyclists—it was in the news recently—have a reputation for going through red lights and even for cycling down one-way streets, and some cycle recklessly on pavements. Clearly that is not acceptable behaviour, but we need to get it into perspective. It is rare for pedestrians to be injured or killed by cyclists. However, when cycling, the behaviour of many drivers leaves a lot to be desired. They have a desperate desire to overtake anything and everything, whatever the circumstances. They will drive frighteningly near cyclists, which adds to the climate of anxiety to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred. Being in a cycle lane, which is just a painted area of the road, does not afford the cyclist much protection.

The state of the roads is another disincentive to cycling. More and more one finds significantly large potholes. Cyclists need to look ahead, because if they do not it is not just the wheel of their bike that will be bent, it will be a part of their anatomy as well. Sometimes potholes are left unrepaired not just for months but for more than a year. It is important for the Minister to encourage local authorities to understand that cyclists need a safe environment, and that includes the state of the roads.

Many more people might consider cycling to work or taking their bike on holiday if they could use the train, but facilities are minimal. If trying to organise taking your bike on a train, you will have to plan a long time in advance. The facilities are minimal. If using your bike for work, it is at risk of vandalism or theft if you have to leave it at a station without lock-up facilities.

I welcome the Department for Transport report, A Sustainable Future for Cycling, which was published in January. I have not had the chance to read it perhaps as closely as I would like, but, if it has a gap, I did not notice a reference to an integrated transport approach, which we need on cycling. It is no good looking at cycling on its own. It should be part of an integrated approach to transport. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, I, too, welcome the three-year budget of £140 million for Cycling England. There are some interesting elements in the programme. For example, the report states:

It is really good to encourage the next generation of young cyclists to cycle safely and responsibly on the road.

The infrastructure programme will deliver 250 additional links to schools. Up to 11 new demonstration areas and six demonstration towns will have their own projects to encourage cycling in towns. These are really good developments. A Sustainable Future for Cyclingalso states that the infrastructure programme will also deliver:



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and,

Many people may think that £140 million is quite a lot of money for what they consider to be a niche area. But if we look at the cost-benefit ratio, for every £1 spent on the programme, the Government expect benefits of £3.20, which is a good return on the investment.

If one asks the average person his or her perception of how safe it is to cycle on the roads these days, given the increase in traffic, I think that most people would feel that it is less safe. Interestingly, statistics give a different story. It does not mean that there is any room for complacency, but, while it is true that cyclists are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured than motorists—a rather obvious statement—the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in 2006 was 35 per cent lower than the 1994-98 average.

It is important to make drivers more aware of cyclists. Very often cyclists feel that drivers do not care or are blissfully ignorant of people on two wheels using the road. I welcome the fact that driver testing and training has been improved to encourage more awareness of vulnerable road users. How much of that is incorporated in the driving test, I am not sure.

A Sustainable Future for Cycling makes a valid point when it states that cyclists also need,

I must admit that too often I see the “near invisible cyclist” at night. They have no lights and dark clothing, and clearly have a bit of a death wish. Educating cyclists is as important as educating motorists.

The CTC, the cyclists’ touring club, has suggested that 20 miles per hour should be the default urban speed limit. I have no doubt that motorists would see that as a severe attack on their liberty. It is interesting that the CTC states:

The Government should seriously consider that.

The CTC also proposes that we should:

So the Government should promote walking and cycling as a key part of their plans.

If we have to assess the contribution of the Government, overall they are doing a good job of promoting the benefits of cycling, but in terms of whether we yet have a truly integrated transport that sees road, rail and cycling as a whole, I am not convinced. I will welcome the Minister’s comments on that. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for giving us this opportunity.



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8.20 pm

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for letting me speak in the gap. I have been a cyclist for many years and I am very enthusiastic about it. I feel quite strongly about the value and benefit of cycling. On the question of health, I agree entirely with my noble friend. Fitness, exercise and well-being are wonderful benefits of cycling. An important point to make about cycling is that you can do it until late in life. Cycling is intergenerational and can be done for an awfully long time. I welcome the fact that even though, dare I say it, I am now in my mid-70s, I can still cycle regularly. I hope that the knee problems of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, are not caused by cycling. I have always considered that one of the advantages of cycling is that it is much easier on your knees and ankles than running or other sports. It is very important that you can cycle until late in life.

The advantages for the environment, about which both my noble friends spoke, are obvious. The problem is, of course, how to get more people cycling. In urban areas the answer is to make it safer and speedier. I congratulate Sustrans, the CTC and some local authorities on their work to provide safer routes to school, to work, to the railway and bus stations and to the shops. However, the lanes have to be properly designated. They need to be more than just white lines painted on the road. Even little bits of rubber nailed into the road surface so that drivers know that they have strayed into the cycle lane when they feel a bump, as exist in Paris, would be a great help.

To make cycling safer and quicker, the cycle lanes have to be continuous. My noble friend Lord Berkeley talked about the cycle lanes in London, many of which are good, but the trouble is that some of them end when you get to a difficult junction, which is the very time when you need a dedicated lane. This is what makes people cycle on the footpath, go against a red light or ride down a one-way street—not that I have ever done those things, of course.

We ought to give some sort of priority to cyclists or reduce road speeds. One of the pleasures of cycling in Belgium, Holland or Denmark is that motorists give priority to cyclists. There are teeth-like marks on the road and motorists stop to give priority to cyclists. That is one reason why many more people cycle in those countries. That sort of culture would be a big help. Moreover, people are not tempted to go against the Highway Code.

I agree with my noble friend that we need an integrated system, an important element of which is being able to book your bike on to the train. Some railway companies provide a booking service, but many do not. Every May bank holiday I go with a small group of elderly people on a trip to France. We take the ferry from Dover, but to get to and return from the port we have to take the car. We do that because a whole group of cyclists may come off the boat and take up the few spaces available on the train. You could be stuck in Dover with your bicycle for a day or two because there are only three or four bike places on each train. A group of, say, boy scouts would take up all the spaces and you are then stuck. Indeed, that once happened to us. We have to take the

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car down to the ferry in order to get home. If people could book their bikes on to the trains, that problem would be avoided. It is an important point about integrated cycling.

I welcome the investments into and the promotion of cycling being undertaken by the Government. I have gone over my time, so I shall sit down. I see that the Whip is very pleased at that.

8.25 pm

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I am not a Whip; I am revisiting ancient times because no one else was prepared to speak on cycling. I have been cycling all my life, but more particularly for the past nine years since I was diagnosed with diabetes. At the time I was three stone overweight and I was told that I had to do something about the way I conducted my life. I have done that and kept my weight down, mostly thanks to cycling.

I cycle in London whenever I can. I come in in the mornings—this shows what we leisurely Peers who do not have to go to offices do in the mornings. I also come in on my motorcycle, which may be of interest to noble Lords. According to the newspapers, the two enemies on the roads are motorcyclists and bicyclists. I do not see that. I ride a motorcycle and a bicycle and the greatest problem, apart from the lorries—despite the mirrors, which I understand in many cases have been provided free—are pedestrians in London. Pedestrians, whether natives or tourists, seem to look with puzzlement at pedestrian lights, and there is a certain aggression. The other night I cycled down a street in Piccadilly with the lights in my favour, but the pedestrians were streaming across the road. I threaded my way through them carefully but I was called all kinds of names beginning with B and C, which I would not repeat in your Lordships’ House.

Speaking personally on the health aspect, I can say that for someone with my condition cycling is probably the very best exercise. Every six months I go for a check-up with my diabetes specialist. He has told me that I am the only one of his patients who cycles regularly, which is because of the fear factor that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, described. My doctor said that he would cycle to his clinic in Marylebone High Street if he felt that he could arrive safely. He has also said that I am more likely to die cheerfully as a result of falling off my bicycle than by succumbing to the effects of diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

I am very careful on my bicycle and I have to say that I am pretty horrified at the standard of riding demonstrated by most other cyclists. I do not often see the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who rides with great skill and speed. He even has special gears fitted on his Brompton folding bicycle so that he can move rapidly down Birdcage Walk or wherever he is going. I have a standard machine which I put in my car when I go away. Like the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, I travel to France; when I do, I put the bike in the back of the car, as I did last year when I went to the San Sebastian film festival. San Sebastian, besides hosting a lovely film festival, is a remarkable place. It was the pioneer city in Spain for cycle lanes. Quite apart from being

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the most beautiful belle époque city, it looks after cyclists. The way in which cyclists are treated by all other road users is exemplary. When you come back to London, you are back in the jungle again.


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