26. 09. 2007

Shattering the government silos with pedal power?

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The biggest frustration for anyone watching governments make such a horlicks of sustainable development is their apparent inability to make the connections between different policy silos. So here are three seemingly “separate issues”: the increase in levels of obesity – especially amongst young people; the increase in the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from car use; declining quality of life in our towns and cities through increased air pollution and congestion.

No doubt dozens of hard-pressed officials in the Department of Transport, Department of Health and the Department of Communities and Local Government are hard at work in their own respective silos struggling with what are by any standards “seriously wicked issues”. But the idea that the single most important answer to these problems lies in promoting cycling and walking is obviously just a bit too wacky, too subversive, too “muesli-ish” – as someone put it to me the other day!

But could the improbable combination of Alistair Darling and Ruth Kelly be on the verge of shattering those separate silos? A recent report from Cycling England has dramatically raised the stakes in demonstrating that for a mere £70 million a year the Government could secure by 2012 a 20% increase in cycle journeys, 54 million fewer car journeys, and a reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 35,000 tonnes a year. The impact on obesity levels is harder to estimate, but the data shows quite clearly that increased levels of physical activity are fundamental in any anti-obesity strategy.

So could the Government at long last make up for 10 years of paralysing failure in this one tiny policy area of cycling? During that time, the average distance travelled by bicycle fell from 43 to 36 miles per person per year with average trips down from 18 a year to 14. Targets to increase cycle use have unceremoniously been abandoned, and money dolled out in such pathetic dribs and drabs that it’ s no surprise that nothing has happened.

So where has Prudence been all this time? Whatever happened to the “invest to save” philosophy? As the Cycling England report points out:

“even achieving a modest target returning the number of trips to the 1995 level within the next 10 years could save around £523 million by 2015”.

So, anybody prepared to take a punt on the following headline in the announcements about the Comprehensive Spending Review: “cycling receives massive boost as part of governments new sustainable transport strategy”.

I wonder why not!

http://www.cyclingengland.co.uk

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Comments

27. 09. 2007
Richard

About time the government woke up to cross dept. working. For a picture representation of the current cycling malaise have a look at: www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk:80/facility-of-the-month/

01. 10. 2007
Gerhard Weiss

The problem may just lie in any government's understandable reluctance to MAKE people cycle. Freedom to choose the most appropriate mode of transport should be expected in a democratic society.

Unfortunately we are far far far away from a real choice as absolutely everything, housing, road infrastructure, urban design and even the legal framework is designed around the private motor car and against cycling.

Most new housing developments in my London borough still offer pathetic bicycle parking. So where are people supposed to start, when they can't even put their bike anywhere?

And this is just one issue. To change our environment to one that enables people to actually choose cycling for reasons other than being green or getting fit is I believe a mammoth task and far from a "tiny policy area".

Gerhard Weiss
Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign

02. 10. 2007
Maf Smith

There are other things that policy makers could do. One thing would be to learn from the recent experience in Paris of the new Velib cycle scheme. This was installed by the Major of Paris who, in similar fashion to Ken Livingstone is using his office to develop new initiatives and challenge some of the traditional policy and thinking.

The Velib scheme sets out to deliver what people have tried and failed to do before: to make cycling a first choice for city residents and visitors and integrate it with other travel options. There are racks of Velibs dotted around Paris and an almost continuous stream of them travelling on the city's streets.

I've been in Paris a lot recently and the scheme looks like it is working well. Based only on observation I reckon that it has doubled the level of cycling in the city. If a city like Paris, which traditionally I think has been unfriendly to cycling can achieve this in less than a year then so can other cities. It would be nice to see a city in the UK give this a try, which is something that requires not just a lack of silo thinking but also strong leadership in our regions and councils.

see: http://www.en.velib.paris.fr/ (if like mine your French is ropey on the top right you can switch to English (though the home page is still only in French you can go to other pages for more info).

03. 10. 2007
Glenn

On another issue Jonathon - 'the barrage'.

Yesterday's SDC report into tidal energy has been very unfairly and badly reported by the Bristol Evening Post.

LINK to Comments

On an important, high profile, complex issue like this accurate, balanced, reporting of all key issues raised in major reports is especially important. How about pointing this out to my local paper??

05. 10. 2007
Maria Arnold

I agree about the Velib scheme, it is working really well in Paris, and I would love to see it take off in the UK. Apparently this is something that Ken Livingstone is now looking to implement for London.

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/gla/story/0,,2145870,00.html

Rather depressingly the pilots attempted in England have historically not been very successful...in Cambridge in 1993 all 300 bikes disappeared in the first day. But I am sure technology has moved on in the last 14 years so we should be able to fix it!

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2224917.ece

08. 10. 2007
Al Hughes

Local Authority Transport Departments are predominantly populated by road engineers and traffic managers that have little or no interest in sustainable transport. The significant minority of sustainable transport officers residing within this 'hostile' environment struggle to ensure their voices are heard and their issues are placed on departmental agendas. Until we redress the balance and change the culture and ethos of transport departments at a local level, and ensure government policy is a directive not a request, I fear the status quo wil prevail.

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