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Thousands of miles of cycling lanes and bikes on NHS all part of Johnson's cycling revolution

Joe Robinson
28 Jul 2020

£2 billion spending plan aims to put cycling at forefront of travel in the UK

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a 'revolutionary' £2 billion spending plan to make cycling an everyday form of transport.

The spending plans will prioritise the building of thousands of miles of segregated cycle lanes across England, built to a new standard, as Johnson 'aims to kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring'.

The announcements come as part of the Government's new 'Gear Change' initiative, first reported by Forbes, that looks to prioritise active travel methods – such as walking and cycling – as a solution to the country's Covid-19 recovery, its ongoing obesity crisis and the global environment emergency.

The new scheme will not only look at building new curb-protected cycle lanes throughout the country but also offer cycling lessons to adults, provide bikes on NHS prescription, supply government-funded vouchers towards bike maintenance and also readdress the Highway Code in a more cycling-friendly manner. 

In a statement, the Government laid down the high standards it plans to work from, stating that: 'Schemes which consist mainly of paint, which make pedestrians and cyclists share the same space, or which do not make meaningful change to the status quo on the road, will not be funded.'

Further in the statement, Johnson stated that this 'revolution' would take place in order to make Britain a 'more active nation', a concept the Prime Minister is said to have become 'obsessed' with since suffering from Covid-19 earlier this year.

He added that for a healthier country to be possible 'we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels' and reap the 'transformative benefits of cycling'.

The cornerstone of this new £2 billion spending spree, first mentioned by transport secretary Grant Shapps in May, is to be the construction of new cycling lanes. These will be built to a new safety standard which has been published as new guidance to local authorities.

These newly implemented infrastructure improvements will then be overseen by the Active Travel England body, which will help manage the budget around cycling and walking in the long term.

Furthermore, the new policies will prioritise the installation of bicycle parking in city and town centres, including public buildings such as libraries. This will combine with the extension of 'low traffic neighbourhoods' that looks to restrict motor traffic from passing through certain areas.

Bikeability lessons will now also be extended to adults, an initiative that aims to give people the confidence to cycle by offering classes with instructors. Finally, as revealed over the weekend, GPs will now also have the ability to prescribe bikes to patients on the NHS.

There will also be a national e-bike programme that, while information is yet to be released, we would presume includes Governments subsidies to purchase electric bicycles, similar to that of electric car incentives.

These initiatives are not only the work of Johnson but also Andrew Gilligan, a journalist who was appointed a travel advisor this time last year. Gilligan worked as walking and cycling commissioner during Johnson's stint as Mayor of London.

As can be expected, these announcements have split opinion.

The likes of Chris Boardman, cycling commissioner of Greater Manchester, and CEO of Sustrans Xavier Bruce have applauded the announcements stating that recent, temporary cycling measures across the country have proven the appetite for active travel across England and that these announcements back up pledges of 'entering a golden age of cycling'.

Meanwhile, some like the RAC and lobby group FairFuelUK have voiced their anger at the spending promises. 

After the Government announced plans to introduce a new 'Hierarchy of Road Users' which sees pedestrians top the list, with cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists also coming above motorists, RAC head of policy Nicholas Lyes questioned its practicality. 

'We need to consider just how practical, and indeed safe it is to advise drivers to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a road at a junction when traffic from another direction may be approaching,' Lyes commented.

In a more comical and unsurprising move, Howard Cox of the FairFuelUK campaign group believes these new initiatives are a stake through the heart of the motor engine.

'In his latest craving to make us all thin and healthy, our Prime Minister is happy to make our towns and cities no go zones for the internal combustion engine,' the statement from Cox reads.

'Favouring only 3% of road users in the UK, Boris is to betray the worlds (sic) already highest taxed motorists, van drivers and truckers to put in place virtual (sic) signalling urban no driving areas, to be replaced with taxpayers (sic) financed cycleways, that the massive majority will not use.

'This Government's ignorance will decimate businesses and the economies of our major towns and cities and is a naive knee jerk response to those emotive driven, well-financed, so-called environmental groups based in the London bubble. FairFuelUK will fight this strategy tooth and nail.'