Active Travel — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:07 am on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 10:07 am, 9th July 2019

I congratulate Robert Courts on securing this debate. As a lifelong cyclist, I could speak for hours about why cycling has become so difficult in this country. We know the benefits of cycling, but what are the barriers to more people cycling? I think they are habit and road safety, and the two things are linked. If our young children start by cycling and walking to school, that will become a lifelong habit, as it became for me; I used to cycle to school every day when I was growing up in Germany. But when I became a parent in this country, I was terrified of sending my children to school on their bikes because it was not safe.

Let us concentrate on school travel plans, to allow children to travel safely to school and, therefore, embed a habit early on that people will continue into their later lives. What does that mean? As a councillor for 10 years, I was actively involved in trying to create meaningful, continuous cycle routes to get from A to B. That is very difficult, but as I said in my intervention, we can use existing infrastructure by signposting routes properly away from the main traffic.

Where we cannot get away from the main traffic, the Government could legislate 20 mph zones in every town and city. In fact, studies say that a continuous 20 mph zone may make congestion much less likely because, as happens on motorways, traffic flow is much better if everybody travels more slowly. Why not go ahead and introduce 20 mph zones in all towns and cities? That would make cycling and walking so much safer, even if cyclists and pedestrians were mixed with motorised traffic.

We have many opportunities, and there are many good news stories. My council, which became Liberal Democrat in the last local election, is looking actively at walking buses: schools are encouraging parents to let their children walk with a dedicated person. Use of the Bath to Bristol cycle route increases by 10% every year. Where we have such cycling opportunities, they are used, but they have to be attractive. It does not help that a lot of money is spent on capital projects rather than on revenue, which can mean that where we create cycle routes we cannot maintain them. There are many things that the Government and local authorities could do, but we should start by looking at our young people and make walking and cycling to school the first priority.