Cycle Lanes (London)

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10 June 1996.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby 12:00, 10 June 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will assess the impact on traffic congestion in London of doubling the number of cycle lanes. [30602]

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

The Government are committed to funding a range of measures, including cycle lanes, to help cyclists in London through the London cycle network. Their impact will be monitored as the network is implemented.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I am also grateful to him and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for their great support for National Bike Week last week. I am delighted to hear of the support that they are giving to Green Transport Week this week. Does my hon. Friend agree that as we move the debate along in terms of aiming for less fumes and more green transport it is important to encourage local authorities—along with the cycle-friendly infrastructure, another initiative that my hon. Friend has launched—not just to mouth platitudes, but to proceed in the debate and to get more people on to their bicycles and out of their cars?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As a late and unlikely convert to the bicycle, I am convinced that it has a major role to play—[Interruption.] I think that Opposition Members have envisaged me in lycra and have decided that that is a matter of some amusement, and they are entirely right. As an unlikely convert—unlikely converts are among the worst zealots—I am absolutely convinced that we should be cycling as much as all our European counterparts. When those who do not pay much interest to these matters say, "Well, Holland is flat and that is why they cycle," they perhaps forget Switzerland which, whatever one thinks of it, is not flat and where people cycle about five times more than they do in this country. That is a big challenge for us. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who leads the all-party cycle group, has been such an enthusiastic endorser of our policy.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does the Minister agree that one of the views of cycling converts, both old and new, and of those who use cycles regularly is that the appointment of a cycling officer for each London borough, as we have in the London borough of Newham, is a means of getting suggestions from the public which meet the needs of short-distance journeys? Can the Minister give figures to show that in London most motor car journeys are relatively short? I think that he will agree that a third or a half of those journeys are capable of being achieved by cycle.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

There is no older convert in this place than the hon. Gentleman, and I pay tribute to him because I have no doubt that the reason why he is as fit as he looks today is that he cycles so much and that the reason why I look so unfit is that I cycle so little. That is a great tribute to the hon. Gentleman, and long may he continue.

Clearly, it is up to local authorities to determine how they take forward cycling initiatives. However, they should concentrate on the fact—this is the key to the whole issue—that about half the journeys we do, especially in cities, are less than two miles in length. Nobody is suggesting that we want to start cycling from London to Brighton as a daily exercise, although I understand that 23,000 souls will do that shortly as part of the London to Brighton cycle run. Personally, I am content to confine my cycling to two or three miles and no more, and when it is comfortable rather than when it is snowing. However, each time people leave the car at home and do what can be very enjoyable, they are making a small contribution towards a safer and cleaner environment.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I am not a convert, but perhaps I may ask my hon. Friend what is the use of local authorities such as Richmond upon Thames putting down more cycling tracks and then allowing people to park their cars on them so that they cannot be used. It is also very alarming to many of my constituents and to those of other hon. Members when people come whizzing up noiselessly behind them on bicycles. People feel that that is dangerous. What has happened to the good old-fashioned bicycle bell?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

We have the makings of new campaign there: defenders of the bicycle bell. The great thing about bicycle bells is that if one has one fitted one may as well use it. That is probably the most effective use for it, and would probably deal with the circumstances that my hon. Friend has outlined. There is much joy in heaven for every sinner who repenteth, and I am sure that people in his part of the world in Richmond and Twickenham would be delighted if some day he chooses to join them on two wheels rather than four.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

Does the Minister accept that bus lanes in the wrong places and at the wrong times can sometimes increase congestion, as the remaining non-cycle transport is forced into a smaller space? The building of bypasses might free up some road space and provide an unprecedented opportunity to introduce cycle lanes which, I hope that he will accept, all those who are in favour of cycling would be wise to support.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I wondered why the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) was on his own, but then I realised that it was because he was a Liberal defending a bypass. We are all delighted to see him, and delighted at his solid support. I am sorry that he will be able to give it to us only for another year. He makes a serious point about cycle lanes and their enforcement and policing. He is absolutely right that there is no point in drawing either cycling lanes or bus priority lanes on the road if they are promptly ignored by motorists. They need to be enforced, and that is a challenge for local authorities. To some degree, the extent to which those lanes constrict private car traffic is an important component in persuading motorists that there is a greener alternative and a more efficient way to make their journey. So I do not entirely consider the reduction in available road space a disadvantage.