No. The title of this blog is not referring to legalising some fiscal measure that rotates budgets. I’m talking about how public sector transport planners are being lobbied to allocate larger budgets to facilities, events and training for people who ride bicycles.
The debate goes something like this:
Low percentages, whether measured by travelling population or by trips made, are by bicycle. Therefore, the benefits of bicycling are underestimated because they are multiplied by a low number of people/trips. Therefore, less transport funding is spent on bicycling because cost-benefit analysis does not support significant investment per head of population. This lack of investment reduces the attractiveness of cycling, so even fewer people bicycle and fewer trips are made by bicycle.
If potential rather than actual trips or population travelling by bicycle are counted when making a business case for spending on cycling, then costs would be far outweighed by benefits, resulting in more investment. This would create a positive feedback loop with more people cycling, more trips made by bicycle and more benefits. Evidence of the likelihood of realising this potential can be gathered from numerous case studies in cities and countries around the world.
Well, cycle lobbyists, I agree.
I think there is a lot of untapped potential and that the low mode share of cycling should not deter us from spending on cycling. From cycle parking to cycle training, from bike lanes to bike hire, worthwhile investment can make a difference. It is making a difference as more places join those early case studies and spend a more significant figure on cycling per head of total population rather than just the cycling population. These forward-thinking places have seen numbers of people and trips by bicycle halt decades’ decline and sometimes rise exponentially.
Yet whilst I agree with the principles put forward by the cycle lobbyists, I am unconvinced by lobbying approach.
Cycle City Leeds, a major conference on bicycling, was held last week. It was attended by lobbyists, charities, local authorities, suppliers, academics, politicians and pretty much anyone interested in cycling. I was unable to attend, but I’ve heard from those who did. It seems that many presentations contained an element of instruction in how to lobby your local government to spend more on cycling, despite the large numbers of local government officers and some elected Members present at these very presentations. Were they to lobby themselves?
I believe that lobbyists are representatives of a vocal minority, be it big business or the little man on a bicycle. And when I consider a vocal minority, no matter how virtuous their message, it makes me wonder who is the silent majority going unheard?
My hunch is that the silent majority is not motorists. It’s pedestrians. Walking is the most basic form of human transportation. Everyone needs to spend some of their time walking. Children, the elderly, often have no other choice – some can bicycle, but almost all can walk. It’s the most accessible exercise. Those who require mechanical assistance to walk (e.g. wheelchairs) are travelling within the realm of pedestrians. Even the most dedicated drivers still need to get out of their cars at some point and walk to and around their final destination (as do people on bicycles, usually!). Their walks might be measured in metres not miles, but they still count.
Or perhaps the problem is that they often aren’t counted. Surveys ask for main mode of travel by distance, not by time.
Whatever the reason, too little proportionately is spent on pedestrians. There’s a Europe-wide cycle challenge going on, but is there a walking challenge of similar breadth? Does National Walking Month (May) get as much publicity and participation around the country as June’s Bike Week? I haven’t seen it. There is a National Cycle Network, which, although popular with pedestrians, is often not designed to be a National Walking Network as well. Mapping cycling routes is much more common than mapping pedestrian routes, but although pedestrians can go on any route, people on foot do not always feel confident or safe doing so. Few are being shown or led on another route instead, whilst there are many popular programmes of led rides on bikes. True, there are proportionately more road traffic accidents involving cyclists, but in absolute terms, there are more involving pedestrians.
Yes, I know that there are a lot of cases in which spending on cycling benefits pedestrians too. I know there are joint ‘walking and cycling’ strategies and maps and routes. But I do think that when local or central governments consider the arguments put forward by lobbyists to justify cycling spend, they could consider what other spend might be justified even if no one is lobbying for it. There are significant benefits to spending more on both!