Last weekend I spent more time watching the telly than usual! What grabbed my attention was the World Cycle Track Championships at the new Olympic velodrome. It was great to see Team GB triumph but it was especially good to see Jess Varnish from Halesowen Cycle Club and Ben Swift, who we watched as a junior, do so well.
As well as being a fantastically exciting sport, cycling is a great way of getting about and has huge potential to reduce traffic congestion in our cities and improve our health. So, as a keen cyclist, I have joined more than 29,000 people who have so far signed up in support of TheTimes Campaign thetimes.co.uk/cyclesafe to make cycling safe and pleasurable.
Though launched to make “cities fit for cycling”, the implementation of the 8 point manifesto would also help cyclists in towns and rural areas. I know from experience that facilities for cyclists around the towns and villages of Powys are even less well-developed than in Birmingham and Birmingham is not a patch on London when it comes to encouraging cyclists!
We are coming up to council elections in May and, in Birmingham, many seats are up for grabs so this presents cyclists and budding cyclists with an opportunity to put the political parties on the spot! So far none of them have done much more than pay lip-service to the need to encourage cyclists. See, for example, the discussion on birminghamcyclist.com/ which includes a link to the video of my visit in 2009 to Cambridge with the All Party Cycling Group birminghamcyclist.com/video/lynne-jones-mp-selly-oak-in
The message that came home to me from that visit was the importance of political leadership, preferably cross-party. We do not have that in Birmingham. In Cambridge (and Cambridgeshire) where they do give cycling the priority it deserves, a high proportion of journeys are by bike. In Birmingham cycling is still not mainstreamed. Lack of finance is no excuse – just witness the waste of money on the Selly Oak Relief Road, where the provision for cyclists (pushbikes.org.uk/newsletters) is of a type long abandoned in London in favour of the cycling super highway as demonstrated by this photo I took recently on Chelsea Bridge.
Will cycling be given any priority in the Party Manifestos this May? A good start might be just a pledge to ensure that, every time there is money spent on the transport network, the needs of pedestrians and cyclists will have top priority. The Times Cycling Manifesto includes an annual grading of cities for the quality of their provision and the appointment of a local cycling commissioner, which might just push our City to take cycling seriously. I’m still waiting for a reply from Geoff Inskip (Chief Exec at Centro) to my email over three weeks ago asking whether there will be more than 78 cycle parking spaces at New Street Station. Cambridge station has 500 and they’re planning for 1300. Says it all!
At Prime Minister’s Question’s today, David Cameron backed the Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. I wonder whether, in tomorrow’s Commons’ debate on cycling, the Minister responding for the Government will commit to the legislation necessary to implement The Times manifesto!