Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:50 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Viscount Craigavon Viscount Craigavon Crossbench 7:50 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, I am grateful to my fellow pedalling Peer and old friend the noble Lord, Lord Young. I think the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will provide the headwind that we have missed so far in this debate.

First, I declare my interest as a frequent cyclist, as well as a motorcyclist on a 125 and an infrequent motorist, so I speak from that rounded perspective in full support of the cause of two wheels. I have been involved with the parliamentary cycling group for many years, although I am no longer in the front line; it should be congratulated on what has been achieved in the last Parliament and to date, in conjunction with the Times in particular and the many cyclist lobbying groups.

We should not forget the generosity and example of the Dutch, whose embassy every year sponsors, with hospitality, an annual bicycle ride from their embassy to Parliament during Bike Week. As has been said, we were told yesterday at Question Time that we are awaiting the Government’s summer report on the distribution of the £300 million during this Parliament. I understand that more than £120 million has already been promised for particular worthy causes, which does not leave much for the rest of the period to 2020, especially when much is likely to be London-centric.

I realise it is easy to ask for more money, and that can be justified, but, as we know, there is no simple, silver bullet to deal with the worthy but diffuse demands of cycling. While I regard leisure or recreational cycling as valuable, I believe that the majority of our efforts should be on city or commuter cycling, but I realise that, surprisingly, rural cycling is significantly more dangerous than urban. I mention some caution on that without, I hope, being negative.

I support dedicated cycleways, but we all know of some minor routes that have simply not been thought through or linked up as part of a wider picture, and sometimes the larger schemes are too intrusive on other users. We have witnessed locally, in Westminster, the roadworks necessary to effect the cross-London route along the Victoria Embankment and past Parliament. There, to provide segregated cycle paths, some considerable inconvenience may, in future, be caused to motorists where a heavily-used, two-lane route is effectively being changed into a one-lane channel for cars from which, in parts, no escape is possible, because the cycle area has been physically separated. As has been said, what if any vehicle breaks down, acting as a block for those behind?

I understand if motorists’ frustration builds up when the neighbouring cycle lanes appear to be very underused. This is particularly so at off-peak times, when they can be particularly sparse. Around and near Parliament Square, it appears that two lanes are now being filtered into one, to allow so-called proper bicycle approaches to junctions. I am reminded of the dedicated bus and taxi lane some years ago alongside the M4 approach to the Chiswick flyover in London. Queueing motorists, in their frustration, could not believe the oft-asserted rationale for such a sparsely used lane and in the end, after some time, that pressure gave way to common sense and the lane was abandoned.

In the case of cycles, it may be hoped that simply by provision, use will expand. I just hope that the level of frustration at such pinch points in these new schemes does not reach crisis point and serve to aggravate the sometimes fractious relations between motorists and cyclists. I believe that it is not always a case of, “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”.

On a related matter, also being a motorist, I understand the arguments but have never been convinced about the widespread use of 20 mph zones: why not 15 mph or 25 mph? Also, the 30 mph limit has never been universally or properly enforced. I realise that the justification is for pedestrians as well as cyclists, but I hope that cycling does not get the blame.

Finally in this short debate, there are no universal answers to very diffuse issues, but I hope there will be more central co-ordination as to how cycling should be supported, perhaps guided by the Government with financial support. For me, the best hope in the longer term is a change of attitude to one of more genuine respect for cyclists, as seen in Denmark and Holland.