Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:40 pm on 23rd May 2007.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Shadow Minister, Defence 4:40 pm, 23rd May 2007

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this subject today. Cycling debates are becoming a bit of a habit in this Chamber. Only two weeks ago, Martin Linton led an excellent debate on rail-bike integration. Although I do not plan to focus on that issue today, I lend my support to the campaign on it run by the Cyclists Touring Club, which is the UK cyclists organisation. It wants better standards for rail-cycle integration, including access to and within stations, parking, hire and storage facilities where appropriate, cycle carriage facilities on trains, better customer-focused reservation and ticketing systems, and better information and publicity. We need a commitment on those issues for the forthcoming rail franchise negotiations. I hope that the Minister will consider the CTC's campaign, because it would mean a significant step forward in rail-bike integration.

I am an occasional cyclist. Before I entered the House, I regularly chose to cycle in and out of Edinburgh to work. I tried various methods, sometimes going on the cycle paths and sometimes trying the main road, and often I would beat my fellow travellers who were going by car. I do have a word of warning, however. Often, those trips were not for the faint-hearted—in fact, a ride on the Oblivion rollercoaster at Alton Towers would be less scary than some of the journeys that I made into Edinburgh.

I recognise that, over the years, there have been improvements in the provision of facilities throughout the country. The national network of paths is a good development. However, some developments have been no more than tokenistic. Let us take, for instance, the local towns roundabout where I live. Lines painted down the side of the road, with no parking restrictions for those lanes, are less than useless, unless someone is particularly good at weaving in and out of the cars. However, a statutory duty on local authorities to have a cycling strategy would not be tokenistic. Perhaps such a duty could be included in the draft Local Transport Bill, which was published yesterday. It could require local authorities to acknowledge the role of cycling in delivering not only transport benefits, but benefits for the environment, health and tourism. Councils should also incorporate cycling in highway planning and design.

Yesterday, I received a picture from a constituent from the local town of Inverkeithing. It shows the new traffic island that has been built on the main road. For a bus to get past that traffic island, it has to go well into the cycle lane, which is extremely dangerous for cycle users on that busy road.

I am also grateful to the Warrington cycle campaign, which has a particularly entertaining website. It has a crazy cycle facility of the month, and there is a variety of examples, which I encourage hon. Members to have a look at. They include the 5 m-long cycle path in Manchester. In Greenwich, pedestrians are advised to look left where cyclists are coming from the right. In Lincoln, those members of the cycling community who are of the tree-hugging variety are encouraged to sweep round the side of a tree that is plonk in the middle of a cycle lane. Another example is the lane in Gateshead that is even narrower than the smallest possible tricycle that my three-year-old son would ride. There are many more examples and again I urge hon. Members to have a look at that entertaining website.

Local cycling strategies should include road safety policies that support, rather than undermine, efforts to increase use of bikes. Too many authorities think that cycling is dangerous and should be kept out of the way. Cycling strategies should also set standards for cycle parking, access, showers and other facilities in new housing developments. The strategies should be all encompassing; they should be holistic. They should encourage schools, health services, businesses and others to encourage cycling. I hope that the Minister will consider that for the Local Transport Bill.

I will briefly mention representations that I have received from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which is concerned about the increasing integration of pavements and cycle lanes, which is often dangerous for people with sensory impairment. I hope that the Minister will enter a dialogue with that association and others to explore possible solutions to that problem.

When I visited Dunfermline cycling club last year, I heard a number of comments about measures that could be taken to support cycling. Maintenance cropped up several times. The members of that club were fed up with overgrown vegetation, rubbish and debris on cycle paths, as well as the recurrent issue of potholes at roadsides and on cycle paths, which can often cause a puncture and pose a danger to the cyclist.