Cross-departmental push for more cycling and walking

A cross-departmental review to get more people walking and cycling has been announced today by transport minister Jesse Norman. It will be open to submissions from expert stakeholders and from members of the public. The call for evidence is asking for a range of opinions on everything from improved infrastructure to training and awareness campaigns for all road users.

Norman said the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review would be an "open, comprehensive and thorough review across government to encourage active travel and improve safety for all road users".

BikeBiz understands that the review has been signed off not just by the Department of Transport but also other government departments, such as Health and the Ministry of Justice. This cross-departmental approach is significant, and has echoes of the Office for Active Travel, a £1 billion body that was mooted by the coalition government in April 2013, but later dropped.

OAT was planned to be cross-departmental, not just a responsibility of the Department for Transport. This was a recognition that walking and cycling are much more than just modes of transport. 

At the time a source close to the OAT plans told BikeBiz: "By working together, cycling and walking organisations and campaigners will be much stronger. The Office for Active Travel would have all-party support. It’s a very promising new body."

Whether today’s announcement will lead to the creation of a similar body, or a similar promise of cash is not yet known. However, the potential for such a body has been welcomed by cycling organisations, including the Bicycle Association. The organisation’s general manager Steve Garidis said:

“The BA particularly welcomes the cross government nature of this review. Cycling should not be treated as a transport niche, but as a central solution to the government’s big agendas: the future of mobility, an aging population, and clean growth.”

Cycling UK CEO Paul Tuohy added: “Cycling UK has long campaigned for a review of all road safety laws and enforcement, so it is encouraging that these points will be considered in the call for evidence.

“We want to see more people cycling safely, and will actively engage with the review to ensure it addresses the causes of dangers for cyclists and the barriers to more cycling.”

Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice also welcomed the review:

"Safety concerns are some of the greatest barriers to more people choosing to walk and cycle and we are pleased that the Review is seeking to make it easier for everyone to travel on foot or by bike, and recognises the wide benefits that active travel brings to individuals and societies."

British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman, said:

“The Department for Transport has been very clear that all recommendations in the cycle safety review must be evidence-based, lead to more and safer cycling and fit with the aims of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. We very much welcome this approach.

“British Cycling is clear that we cannot make cycling safer without significant investment in the spaces where people ride, and any suggestion that the answer lies in compulsory hi-vis and helmets is factually-bereft nonsense.”

The safety review has six questions, seeking evidence on how to improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians through changes to road infrastructure; the law; training; education; equipment; and understanding and awareness.

The call for evidence recognises that busy roads and dangerous driving deter active travel modes. It says "perceptions of safety can influence the decision to walk or cycle or use another mode, and fear is a major reason given for not cycling."

The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review already seems to have reached some important conclusions for it states that "in towns and cities where cycling and walking are normal everyday activities, the effect is to make their economies stronger and wealthier, their people fitter and healthier, and their environment more pleasant, less congested and less polluted."

And this recognition from government that cycling and walking play a key role in Britain’s future has been welcomed by MPs, including the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Tory MP Andrew Selous. He said:

"More people cycling will help tackle congestion, air quality and obesity. I hope lots of people will contribute to this consultation and I look forward to the seeing what the government will implement to create a better cycling environment."

In addition to the announcement about the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review, Norman also revealed that a barrister commissioned by the government to look into the creation of a new offence of "death by dangerous cycling" has released a report recommending that such an offence merits creation. At the weekend BikeBiz reported that this recommendation was on the cards. This follows last September’s mainstream media feeding frenzy over the rare and exceptional case of a pedestrian killed by a cyclist. 

Matt Briggs lost his wife Kim when she was involved in a road traffic incident in London in 2016. She died a week after being hit by fixie rider Charlie Alliston, whose bicycle didn’t have a front brake, making it illegal for use on the public highway. Late last year, Alliston was sentenced to 18 months in youth detention after being convicted of the 1861 offence of "wanton and furious driving".

After his wife’s death, Briggs launched a social media campaign to get cycle retailers to only sell legally-compliant bicycles, and for the government to add cyclists to the existing law against causing death by careless or dangerous motoring.

In 2015, two pedestrians were killed in Britain after being hit by cyclists; in the same year motorists killed 409 pedestrians.

Despite this disparity, the government announced a two-pronged cycle safety review in September last year.

The first part of the review was conducted by barrister Laura Thomas – she found there was a "strong case for changing the law to tackle the issue of dangerous and careless cycling that causes injury or death," said a DfT statement. 

Thomas is a barrister at Birketts of Ipswich and heads up the firm’s criminal defence team, She is also the deputy traffic commissioner for the East of England and was a director of the Freight Transport Association between 2014 and 2017.

At the weekend the Daily Mail jumped the gun with a headline proclaiming "cyclists who kill pedestrians could face life imprisonment under tougher new road plans to be unveiled this week". It’s likely the government will act on Thomas’ recommendations, but nothing has yet been set in play.

Briggs welcomed Thomas’ independent report saying it offered a "clear acknowledgement that there is a gap in the law and a strong case for introducing new legislation regarding causing death and serious injury by dangerous or careless cycling."

He added: "I would now urge the government to go further and bring forward this legislation and ask that they publish a timetable towards this goal for which there is overwhelming public support."

Cycling organisations have pointed out that the government ought to put the deaths of pedestrians by cyclists into perspective – in the last ten years 99.4 per cent of all pedestrian deaths involved motor vehicles.

“Road safety applies to everyone, regardless of travel mode and we broadly support the case for a new offence to tackle dangerous cycling," started Brice of Sustrans.  

"However, it must remain proportional as people on bikes rarely cause harm to others through their own actions but, like pedestrians, are particularly vulnerable to motor vehicles which are by far the largest cause of death and serious injury on our roads. It is therefore good to see this as only one part of a much wider safety review to enable more people to walk and cycle every day.”

Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said: “What’s needed is a full review of all road traffic offences and penalties, something the government promised back in 2014 but has yet to deliver.

“Whether someone is prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving is often something of a lottery, as are the resulting sentences, leaving thousands of victims and their relatives feeling massively let down by the justice system’s failure to reflect the seriousness of bad driving.

“Adding one or two new offences specific to cyclists would just be tinkering around the edges, especially when the way that mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users is dealt with hasn’t been fit for purpose for years.”

“That system can’t be fixed simply by bolting on one or two new cycling offences to something which isn’t working now.”

British Cycling campaigns manager Martin Key agreed that "there is a gap in the law concerning death caused by careless or dangerous cycling, and we recognise that the outdated law used to convict Alliston was not fit for purpose in the 21st century."

However, he added that the "adoption of this new law alone will not lead to a marked improvement in the safety of our roads. Between 2011 and 2015 the average number of pedestrian fatalities was 365, of which just three involved a bicycle, and last year the total number of fatalities increased again to 448. We look forward to hearing how the government plans to combat this increase going forwards.”

Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, added that "any review of cycling offences should be in the wider context of a a comprehensive review of all road safety laws that was announced by the Ministry of Justice in 2014, and has still not taken place."

In today’s statement from Norman he stressed that "we need to become a nation of cyclists, and this government wants to make cycling the natural choice of transport for people of all ages and backgrounds."

The DfT’s review closes on 1st June – submissions can be made online.

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