Is your MP going to talk cycling on September 2nd? Here's what we'd say to them.

Dear Member of Parliament,

Are you going to the Cycling Debate on September 2nd? We think you should, and we think it could have a direct impact on your constituents.

Does your constituency have any of these problems?

  • Congestion
  • Pupils who can’t pay attention or who struggle at school
  • Air pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Childhood or adult obesity
  • Boarded-up shops
  • Deaths and injuries on the roads

Because cycling is a bit like one of those 19th Century ‘one cure fits all’ elixirs. Except it works. In countries with high levels of cycling - like the Netherlands, and Denmark - all of these problems are ameliorated by helping the general population to get on their bikes.

The thing is, cycling is excellent value for money. We know, from studies in the UK and abroad, that when you spend money on cycling infrastructure you get it back with the same or more on top, within two years.

That’s the key though: we’d like you to support real cycling infrastructure. Governments since the War have been very good at throwing money at cycling advocacy, national cycle routes that go nowhere useful, pots of paint for our congested roads, and shouty advertising campaigns. But what we know from talking to people in the UK is that they’re interested in getting on their bikes if they think there's somewhere safe to do it.

The problem is, even though cycling is an inherently safe activity, most people perceive it to be unsafe. And if you’ve driven anywhere, you probably know why. People need to feel safe while cycling in much the same way they feel safe when walking - when they’ve got somewhere nice to to do it, away from motor traffic.

If you walked into a Dutch town and asked people why they cycled, they wouldn’t bore you with how green it is, or how fit they are, or even bore you with economic benefits or return on investment. No, they’d say “It’s an easy way to get around and do what I need to do. If I have a longer journey to make, I take my car.” Cycling has been made a safe and obvious way of getting about. There's no reason why we can't do the same in Britain.

Now you’ve probably got a few objections from constituents already on your mind, so we’ve prepared a handy cheat sheet for all the ones we can think of:

There’s no space”. Cities like Cambridge and Bristol managed to find space, and the minute they did so, cycling levels skyrocketed. We’re not asking you to convert every road into a cycle route - we’re asking you to support cycling as an ordinary way of getting around, with its own safe, segregated network.

I’m not forcing people out of their cars - this isn’t a nanny state”. We agree completely. This is about choice. Did you know the Dutch own more cars per head than the British? Yet they manage to make the two co-exist happily. If you ask the Government to spend decent cash on basic cycling infrastructure, you’re not forcing anyone to do anything - quite the opposite. You’re offering them a real choice that many people don’t think they have right now.

Cyclists are all lycra louts”. You know this one isn’t true, don’t you? Do you have a son or a daughter who likes to get out on their bike? And you go with them, right? Riding a bike is something that anyone can do. We’re asking you to make sure it can become ‘everyone’ rather than ‘MAMILs’ or ‘lycra louts’.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax”. We think you know this one as well - the roads are paid from general taxation. Besides, almost everyone who owns a bike also owns a car.

Britain isn’t like the Netherlands - it’s all flat there”. If people cycled in the Netherlands because it is flat, we would see Dutch cycling levels in many parts of the UK. But we don't. Flatness isn't the reason why the Dutch cycle. They get on their bikes - even in the hilly parts of their country - because it’s an easy, reliable, pleasant mode of transport.

The cyclists I see are all dangerous and irresponsible”. Even if this were true, bluntly - so what? Motorists break laws on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean investment in the road network should come to a halt. We’re not saying anyone who rides a bike is automatically an angel. We’re just asking you to treat cycling as a mode of transport like any other.

I don’t want more cycling in my town, they all cycle on the pavements. I get more complaints about that than anything else”. Did you stop to ask why people cycle on pavements? If you did, you’d generally find that it’s because those people on bikes are scared to be on the road. They don’t want to weave around pedestrians, they just want somewhere pleasant to make their journey.

It needs lots of legislation”. Actually this one isn’t true, either. Many of the required policies and rules are already in place; the country is dotted with examples of good cycling infrastructure.

Britain isn’t a cycling nation”. Closed road events, like the recent RideLondon - where tens of thousands of ordinary people turned out to ride in safe conditions - suggest this isn’t true, as do recent retail statistics from the cycling industry. But even if it were true, so what? The Dutch and the Danes don’t all get on their bikes because they have a symbiotic relationship with them, they do it because it’s an easy way to get around. (Are you spotting a theme here?)

What about presumed liability?” What about it? Yes, most other European countries have it, and yes, we think it would be food for the UK to have it, but it’s not that important right now. People don’t change their attitudes to cycling just because they know that, in future, when they’re run down by an HGV, the law will presume it to be the HGV driver's fault. Most of your constituents are a bit cannier than that, we’d suggest.

Neglected for decades, the bicycle is the missing link in transport policy. It deserves to be taken much more seriously as a mode of transport than it is now, with serious levels of investment and commitment. We already know that there is a huge amount of suppressed demand for cycling in Britain, demand that, if released, would reduce congestion and danger on the roads, greatly improve public health and wellbeing, and make the places we live vastly more pleasant. We just need action.


The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

For more information, you can read the evidence we submitted to the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry here