‘Greenest Government ever’ relegates sustainable transport

Active travel projects won’t be funded until October 2011. Grants for electric cars start in January 2011.

Like other Government departments, and all in the name of transparency, the Department for Transport has released a Business Plan for 2011-2015. Cycling and walking organisations will not like what’s in the plan.

It’s big on fat grants for electric cars and rolling out a recharging infrastructure, but contains no mentions of creating any bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure. Starting in January, multi-car families will be able to get £5000 grants to buy yet more cars, but projects wanting cash from the four year £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund will have to wait until October.

Cycling projects will have to battle it out with bus and pedestrian projects to gain a share of this fund. Transport minister Norman Baker has already pledged that some cash will go early to Bikeability but has yet to say how much. Cycling England estimates it would cost £50m a year to run Bikeability but the National Standard cycle training scheme for children and adults won’t get anywhere near that, fear cycle campaigners.

The DfT’s Business Plan is a 28-page PDF.

There’s an introduction from Transport Secretary Philip Hammond:

“Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth but one that is also greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities. By improving the links that help to move goods and people around, and by targeting investment in new projects that promote green growth, we can help to build the balanced, dynamic and low-carbon economy that is essential for our future prosperity.”

While the Government is backing High Speed Rail (the bulk of which will be paid for by future Governments, not this one), it’s also spending billions on widening the M25 and adding more lanes to other motorways.

“We will make big changes at the local level too, because we know how crucial good transport is to people’s quality of life,” says Hammond in the introduction to the Business Plan.

“So we will free local authorities from central government control, letting them decide their own local transport priorities and solutions.”

The result of this policy has been the turning off of speed cameras across the UK. While some have been turned back on because of excessive speeding, there’s now a general feeling in Local Authorities that any road calming measures are now seen by the DfT as a “war on the motorist”.

Hammond is pinning a lot of hopes on electric cars, even there are motor industry estimates that less than 9000 will have been sold by 2013. He thinks e-cars will curb congestion, even though they are the same size as cars with petrol-engines.

“We also want our roads to become safer, less congested and less polluted,” says Hammond.

“So we will support the introduction of the latest technologies, encouraging the use of electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, to make transport cleaner and greener.”

Point number four of the DfT’s Structural Reform Priorities is to ‘Tackle carbon and congestion on our roads’. This will be achieved, believes the DfT Business Plan, by supporting “the early market for electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, promote the more effective use of strategic roads by addressing the causes of congestion, and continue to improve road safety.”

The DfT also wants to ‘encourage sustainable local travel’ and will do this by encouraging “sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport (including light rail) and cycling and walking more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.”

While motorways get billions, and electric cars get £5000 subsidies, Cycling England was abolished, a move described in the Business Plan as “the Department will no longer…fund and support arm’s length transport bodies where their activities are no longer required or can be better provided by other means.”

But these other means could take a while to set up. Bidding for the new Local Sustainable Transport Fund starts and ends in December but details on the entails” released on initial tranche of projects to be supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund” won’t be until October 2011. So, that’s almost a full year with no central pot for cycling or walking.

However, the DfT said it will “begin awarding Plug-in Car grants (25% of the price of an ultra-low emission vehicle, up to £5,000) to buyers of qualifying cars” by January 2011.

Further evidence of the DfT’s new windscreen perspective on the world are the ‘input indicators’, measures which we’re meant to be able to take the Government to task on. Rail and bus projects are “subsidised.” Roads are “maintained.”

There’s a “rail subsidy per passenger mile” and a “bus subsidy per passenger journey” but for motorists there’s a “cost of maintaining the Highways Agency’s motorway and A road network per lane mile.” There’s no ‘input indicator’ for local roads.

Realise your bike idea with £150,000 stimulus funding

Ideas in Transit stumps up £125,000 to boost GeoVation Challenge prize fund. What was a £25,000 pot for the best idea to improve transport in Britain has now been raised to £150,000. The idea must be geography-based rather than just ‘get more people on bikes’ or ‘solve congestion, give £5000 each to rich buyers of electric cars’. 66 ideas have been submitted so far, some of them fanciful (hovercars, anyone?); some of them practical and packed with geo-spatial goodness.

The £25,000 GeoVation Challenge was launched in September and earlier this week was given a massive cash boost by Ideas in Transit, a project funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the Department for Transport and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

We all travel and we are all transport users. Travel and transport are key to businesses and central to our way of life. But many aspects of transportation clearly have significant environmental, social and economic impacts. As users, what innovative ideas, using geographic information and other technology, can we suggest that helps reduce those impacts, changes our behaviour, and improves the overall experience? – that’s the GeoVation Challenge!

The Ideas in Transit project is a collaboration between the University of the West of England, Loughborough University, ITO World Ltd and Ordnance Survey. It seeks to apply “bottom-up” innovations to the transport challenges faced by individuals and society, such as congestion.

Professor Glenn Lyons of the University of the West of England said: “The project aims to promote the understanding, awareness and development of user innovations relevant to transport. I’m excited about the ideas we might uncover.”

Not all of the 66 ideas so far submitted are achievable, even with seed-funding of £150,000. w3g1 would like to see the creation of Hovercars.

w3g1 isn’t a pseudonym for transport secretary Phillip ‘Hoverboard’ Hammond is it? Probably not, w3g1 also wants to ‘Stop cars parking in bike lanes’.

One of the best ideas submitted to date is that of geographer and map specialist Oliver O’Brien with his ‘Innovative mapping of UK bike share schemes’.

“I have developed a map of usage of the London bike share scheme (“Barclays Cycle Hire”) and some associated graphs, but would like to develop the visualisation further, for other UK schemes (e.g. Cardiff, Reading) and to show more useful information on the map itself, such as the current trend for each dock, the “type” of the dock, i.e. normal expected behaviour at this time of day, so that unusual events and patterns can be spotted, perhaps adding live weather information too.”

O’Brien’s visualisation maps are things of living beauty. The London map, like the others on his website, uses OpenStreetMaps. What will Ordnance Survey make of an entry using an open-source rival?

Perhaps Bike Hub should submit an idea, too? We could make our iPhone ‘satnav for cyclists’ app even better, but that too uses OpenStreetMap.

Perhaps Cyclestreets – which also uses OpenStreetMap – could submit an idea on using OS mapping for its routing engine?

If you have a geo-spatial idea you’d like to see get off the ground, submit away.
The closing date for the challenge is 26th November.

Let a pro show you how to love your bike


British Cycling is launching Bike Maintenance and Repair Workshops for beginners and intermediate cyclists.

The workshops will be delivered by Peter ‘Spike’ Taylor, former GB Cycling Team head mechanic.

The Beginner Workshop is a half-day course for new cyclists with little or no experience of maintaining a bike, while the Intermediate Workshop is a full-day course for more experienced cyclists interested in learning advanced maintenance and repair skills.

Workshop modules include bike anatomy, riding position, puncture repair, brake and gear maintenance as well as oiling, cleaning and component care.

Taylor said: “There is nothing difficult about basic bike maintenance and repair. These new workshops are designed to teach new and regular cyclists some simple techniques and give them the confidence to do the job themselves.”

Stewart Kellett, Director of Recreation and Partnerships at British Cycling, said: “As the national governing body for the sport and home to the GB Cycling Team, we can offer the inside track on maintenance and repair straight from the pros. The new workshops will be delivered in a fun and hands-on format and are open to cyclists of all ages and abilities.”

There is no need to bring your own bike or tools, refreshments will be provided and anyone who registers for a workshop will automatically receive British Cycling Ride membership worth £24.

The courses take place in Manchester (27/28 October), London (30/31 October) and Birmingham (12/13 November).

To book a space call 0161 274 2049.

Bonfire of the quangos set for Thursday

This coming Thursday, it will be announced in Parliament that Cycling England – and up to 176 other quangos; some vital, others less so – will be abolished.

No amount of lobbying could have saved Cycling England, despite the fact it was one of the vital quangos, employed just four people and cost peanuts to run.

However, as revealed on BikeHub.co.uk, Bikeability training – a core function of Cycling England – will be saved, although a vehicle for its administration has yet to be revealed. To keep ‘Cycling proficiency for the 21st Century’ ticking over will cost £10m a year. There are 2000+ Bikeability instructors in the UK, some of whom now rely on the scheme for their living.

The fate of Cycling Demonstration towns – and the city, Bristol – is unknown but continued funding could come from the recently announced Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Thursday’s announcement in Parliament will confirm the worst fears of cycling advocates but Cycling England will not disappear overnight. Cycling England staff are on contract until the middle of next year and there will need to be an orderly winding down of the (compact and bijou) organisation’s duties.

Watch out for transport spending levels in next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is expected to be one of the ministers with the biggest axe – chopping nearly 40 percent from the DfT budget – but if he announces any road building funding whatsoever, critics will call foul. He has been pressed and pressed that cycling offers a good return on investment. Good for local economies; good for health; good for people; good for carbon reduction; good for de-gridlocking. Good riddance? What a waste!

To quash Cycling England but to build more roads to be filled up with yet more motorised vehicles will be called out as the height of car-fixated stupidity.

One million reasons why London is now a nicer place to live and visit

Later today, somebody will make the millionth journey on a Boris Bike.

London’s cycle hire scheme mooted by Ken Livingstone but now popularly linked to Boris Johnson will reach a milestone today: the millionth journey.

That’s one million bicycle journeys and as the safety in numbers theory can attest, the more cyclists there are, the safer it becomes for all cyclists. And more pleasant all round: bicycles civilise cities.

London has streets choked with motorised traffic but this is slowly changing, despite the fact London has little cycle infrastructure. In morning and evening peak periods, many major London road junctions swell with 30+ cyclists making it impossible for cars and vans to speed past (straight away). These phalanxes of commuter cyclists – some hardcore, some cycle chic – are now being joined by Boris Bike riders.

Mums can been seen joining their kids on journeys to school on Boris Bikes. Groups of suited business types can be seen jumping on the corporate branded hire bikes instead of waving down cabs. London, slowly, is becoming a better place to live, work and visit.

Ten weeks after it was launched – to members only so far – the millionth journey is a major milestone.

There are 90,000 members, making around 20,000 journeys on the iconic blue bicycles every week day. When the scheme is opened up to credit card walk-up customers, the journey numbers will sky rocket.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “A million thank yous go to Londoners for the warmth in which they have embraced our beautiful blue bikes. The zest in which people have taken to two wheels and joined the cycling revolution we are engendering in the Capital has gladdened my heart.

“The doom mongers and naysayers who darkened my days with pre launch predictions of cycle hire woe have been vanquished.”

The cycle hire sponsor, Barclays, is offering the person who makes the millionth journey, plus three of their friends, free annual membership of the scheme for five years. The four riders will also be offered the chance of an urban cycling makeover at the Bobbin Bicycles boutique in Islington.

Deanna Oppenheimer, CEO UK Retail Bank and Vice Chair Global Retail Bank, said: “The popularity of Barclays Cycle Hire has been tremendous. Londoners are leading more active lives and we’re promoting the benefits of cycling as a sustainable, environmentally friendly mode of transport, while taking our brand around London.”

Hiring a bike is free for up to half an hour.

David Brown, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL, said:

“The vast majority of journeys being made are under the 30 minute mark. This illustrates that as well as offering those who live or work in London an alternative way to make short trips around the city, they’re also getting great value for money too.”