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Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 506
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Tuesday 24 April 2012
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Mr Tom Harris
Mr John Leech
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Jon Snow, newscaster and cycling advocate, James Harding, Editor, The Times, and Josie Dew, author and cycling advocate, gave evidence.
Q393 Chair: Good morning to all of you and welcome to the Transport Committee. I would like to start by asking each of you to give your name and organisation to help our records.
Josie Dew: I am Josie Dew. I am Vice-President of CTC, the national cycling organisation, and I cycle around the world. I have been cycling virtually every day since I was 10 and write books about it.
James Harding: I am James Harding. I am the editor of The Times.
Jon Snow: I am Jon Snow. I am President of CTC, but I don’t come here in that capacity. I am a citizen and I anchor "Channel 4 News".
Q394 Chair: Thank you very much. What do you think is the most important thing that could be done to make roads safer for cyclists?
Josie Dew: The first thing is for motorists to understand what it is like to be a cyclist. One of the important things would be better training for drivers so that they can have a better understanding of what it is like to be on a bike, out in the open, overtaking on blind corners. It could be part of the driving test and included in that. Maybe they could cycle for a bit of it and really see what it is like having cars coming past you.
I have my five-year old daughter here and I have cycled about 10 miles this morning. We had to get up to the station in the rain. There is a blind corner, and you have a child on the back and a car coming towards you. The car overtakes and squashes you to the side. It is under a railway bridge. You just think what planet are they on? Being on a bike dehumanises you. If I went past that person as a pedestrian, they would probably be very polite, but instead it’s like, "Oh, it’s only a cyclist; let’s barge on past."
I have cycled now constantly since I was 10. I have cycled about 500,000 miles over six continents and 50 countries. I have quite a good understanding of how cars are. It is only in the last few months that I have actually had to talk to motorists because it has got worse. The cars have got bigger than when I started cycling in the 1970s. They are now on average about a tonne heavier and a foot wider. There was one on the school run last December. I had Molly on the back and a one-year old in the front. This driver was coming up behind us. It was a country lane. I have cycled a lot in cities, but I have lived all my life in the country. She has been coming past on the school run with four children in this great fat 4x4 thing. She was coming up to this blind corner and I thought, "Don’t overtake, don’t overtake, because you will meet something coming towards you." I thought she’d squash us or the other car would go into us. She just went straight on the other side and roared off at high speed-all impatient. You can feel this great impatience of motorists.
The next day I said to Molly, because I was so cross about it, "Tomorrow morning I am going to stop this motorist, and if she doesn’t stop I am going to report her to the police." The following morning she came flying up behind us. We were a bit further ahead so I pulled across and I started walking down the road towards her. I saw her coming and I stopped her. She didn’t want to undo the window. Finally, I knocked like PC Plod on the window and she put the window down. I said, "Please don’t overtake us on blind corners. Please drive slower. I have a one-year old and a five-year old on my bike. We are not surrounded by two tonnes of metal and airbags." She went, "Oh God, we’re always late for school." I thought, "Well, get up earlier then." You think, "Is that all right then to nearly run us over?" I said, "If I had been on a horse, would you have driven that fast past us?" She didn’t say anything. Anyway, now she passes us very slowly; it’s very good, and we all wave wildly.
Q395 Chair: For you, it is driver behaviour that is the biggest single thing.
Josie Dew: It is driver behaviour, but it is bad driving.
Q396 Chair: Thank you. We will go further into things. I just want to get a general picture at the moment. Mr Harding, I know The Times has produced its manifesto. You have a lot of things. What is the most important thing for you?
James Harding: First, can I say thank you for dedicating and taking the time to address this issue? One of the reasons why feelings run so high around cycle safety is that, for a long time, there have been deadly and lethal accidents on our roads and it feels as though no one is paying attention or trying to do something about it. It means a great deal to a great many people that this Committee is addressing this.
You are right that we have a manifesto. We have a list of things that we think are doable. I would identify the key safety things as improvement in the equipment around lorries, which we think have had a particularly lethal effect in cities, and addressing the really dangerous junctions. Those are really practical things that need to be done now.
Over and above that, I would raise two big points. One is that you need to have people at every level of Government who are responsible for the people who cycle in this country. That starts right at the top of Government. You need to have someone who is overseeing that from within Downing street and looking at cross-departmental issues. You need to make sure that that happens within the Department for Transport-in particular, that when we build new roads, there is someone who is looking out for cycle safety-and that within cities there is a cycle commissioner. That is my first point-there is someone who is responsible for it.
Secondly, I hope that once this Committee has had its deliberations, it will think about not just behavioural changes and small changes to lorries and junctions, but changes to the shape of our cities. At the moment our cities are not fit for cyclists. They are dangerous for cyclists and we need to build new roads and new pathways. We have to rethink our cities in much the same way as a few really wonderful cities in Europe.
Q397 Chair: Do you feel that that leadership is there from Government at the moment?
James Harding: No. I think people feel quite the opposite. We in the newsroom at The Times have been very emotionally affected by this. Many people have. We had a young, incredibly gifted journalist, who made a huge impact on our newsroom. She was a young lady called Mary Bowers. She was cycling into work six months ago. A lorry turned left and she was run over. Six months later, having had many bones in her legs, arms and pelvis broken and having sustained a serious brain injury, she remains in a coma. She made a huge impact on all of us. Feeling so distressed by that has driven the paper to address this issue.
We are by no means alone. We look at the number of people who have been killed or seriously injured and we think that there is not enough concern about this. We feel as though there are not people within the Prime Minister’s Office, the Department for Transport and the offices of the mayors or councils of the big cities in this country taking responsibility for what is happening on the roads.
Jon Snow: I would certainly endorse everything James has said. I would also say that The Times campaign is the most high-profile moment that we have ever had from the portals of the British establishment. There is no question about that. When you ask, "Do you feel the leadership from Government is missing?", there is no leadership in Government in cycling at all. It is a completely neglected area, whatever it says on the paper.
Therefore, I believe the priority is for provision to catch up with use. Use is burgeoning exponentially. In urban areas, in particular, cycling is just going up by the tens of thousands every year. It is hundreds of thousands in the case of London, particularly with the impact of the Boris bikes. But the infrastructure stays static; there is nothing. There is paint on the road, which is not infrastructure. We have conned ourselves into believing that we have responded to the huge growth in cycle usage.
It is rather needless for me to say that cycling is good for the economy. Cycling is good for the environment. Cycling is good for individual health. All that saves the Exchequer money, yet the Exchequer will not spend money. CTC, of which I am president, has put forward a plan that talks of putting in perhaps £300 million a year for infrastructure. It is a diminutive sum of money even in an age of austerity. The fact is that there is no leadership from the state at all on cycling, and there is very little leadership from the private sector.
Q398 Mr Leech: I am really interested to know how you think we can improve driver training to help with the interaction between cyclists and drivers. I am very interested to hear the direct action approach from Ms Dew in relation to her 4x4 driver. I wrote on behalf of a constituent to all the bus companies in Manchester because he was suggesting that they ought to be sent out on a bike as part of their driver training to appreciate the interaction between bikes and motorists, and particularly buses. Would you support that kind of driver training?
Josie Dew: Yes. The best way for someone to understand is to get on a bike themselves. You then understand what it is like. They have been doing that on HGVs in London, with the dustcarts and things like that. A lot of the lorries in the London cycling campaign have reported, "We didn’t really realise what it was like down there for a cyclist." It is an understanding. It is crucial that motorists understand what it is like because we are out in the open through all weathers and on awful road surfaces. That is another thing. The road surface is pretty awful. You get a splat of paint and that’s a cycle path, which is generally pretty awful. It is full of broken glass and potholes.
I had to give a bike talk in Utrecht in the Netherlands last month. I took my two daughters and a reluctant husband across with me. We went cycling 250 miles in 10 days. It is a completely different experience. I used to cycle a lot there before on my own, but suddenly you just relax. They have such an amazing infrastructure. They started that in the ’70s. People are itching to get cycling. When I give bike talks, people say, "I’d love to get cycling but I’m too scared. It’s too frightening, the roads are too dangerous and the drivers are too awful." Given half a chance they want to.
Molly goes to the village primary school. We cycle 10 miles every day on the school run through all weathers. There are 100 pupils and we are the only ones who cycle. There are a few who do it occasionally just from the local village. One of the mothers is Dutch, and she used to cycle 20 miles a day to school when she was a little girl. She now lives 400 yards from the school and she will get in a big car and drive because she says the roads are too dangerous. This is a country road. She said, "I’d love to cycle. I’d love to do it, but I don’t want to risk it."
Q399 Chair: We are trying to identify the things that need to be done. Mr Leech has asked about training. Do the other panellists have a view on training? Should there be more training for motorists and lorry drivers when they are learning to drive, or should there be training for cyclists? Do you have views in those areas?
Jon Snow: There is very good training provided by local authorities, which is free, though not many people avail themselves of it. There is cycle training provision. I would certainly like to see cycling as an element in the driving test, as well as the whole issue of sharing the road with cyclists and, indeed, pedestrians. Pedestrians are better looked after in the driving test. As you are looking at safety, the fact of the matter is that I do not think any amount of training will really position the bicycle and cyclist in any greater place of safety. I am afraid it has to be much more tangible than that. We have to look at the infrastructure that is used by the car, the pedestrian and the cyclist. That is where safety really resides.
There are other measures that have been taken that I think this Committee should endorse and perhaps even think about enshrining in legislation. There is a company called Cemex, which has 1,000 trucks on the road. In 2004, one of the trucks killed a cyclist. They then set about making their trucks safer. These are big six-wheeled trucks-you have seen them-with the turning, churning barrel on the back.
Q400 Chair: In fact I and some of the Members have actually been in one this morning; so we have seen it.
Jon Snow: Well, then, I am telling my grandmother-[Interruption.] Not my grandmother but my sister.
Cemex is obviously a model company to look at. This is about provision to make cycling safer. Although training can be an ingredient, it is physical infrastructure, political commitment and legislative power that will change the position of the cyclist. As both Josie and James have said, it is dangerous to cycle in cities. Josie has illustrated that it is pretty dangerous in the country.
I have two daughters of close to adult age. I would not encourage them to cycle in London. I would be terrified if they took up cycling in London. That is a terrible situation, given that I adore the process. It is my life blood. I have cycled all my life, but I don’t advocate people taking it up. People are taking it up anyway, because the economy dictates, and there is the opportunity with the Boris bikes and so on in London, and we are doing nothing to go beyond that provision.
Q401 Chair: Mr Harding, do you have any different view on that? Do you think something can be done with training?
James Harding: I have a few small points. First, Mr Leech identified something very important-HGV drivers and training for them. That is a really useful thing to focus on. I do think training is really important. It needs to be part of the driving test. Jon mentions that there is training for cyclists. We need to think quite carefully about how you make sure that local authorities provide that and that people are given the opportunity, either through their schools or their companies, to take that up. I would echo this point. The concern I have is that people see what is happening in terms of the tens of thousands of people who signed up to this campaign and think to themselves, "Let’s fix some trucks and let’s fix some junctions." Actually, what you are going to need to do is really to rethink some of the major roadways throughout the big cities in this country.
I would say something slightly different from Jon in terms of safety and the danger of riding in London. Riding in London is a wonderful thing. It can be beautiful and hugely enjoyable, and then suddenly you will find yourself on a stretch of road where it is anything but. That is the issue in London. It is so changeable. Parts of the city do cater for cyclists. There are segregated cycle ways-
Jon Snow: Too few.
James Harding: Far too few. But then, suddenly, you will find yourself riding along the Embankment with nothing to protect you but the divine power of prayer.
Q402 Mr Leech: I am keen to know whether or not you would like to see compulsory training with cycling. On the point I made about the bus companies, one company wrote back to me and said that it was too dangerous to send their trainee bus drivers out on a bike. Do we need to make it compulsory? Clearly Mr Snow gave the example of one company that is doing it, but there are far too many other companies who are not doing it. Should it be compulsory?
James Harding: My view would be yes.
Josie Dew: Yes; definitely yes.
Jon Snow: There is something that has come to me while I am sitting here. The Government have this tax-incentive scheme for employers to provide bicycles. You can get a break for buying a bicycle through work. It seems to me that one very simple thing in terms of cycle training would be to say that you get the bike cheap because you get the company kickback on it, but before you draw the bicycle from the shop, you have to go for one and a half hours’ training at the local authority cycle training place. That would be a way of training cyclists automatically.
It is no good thinking that the motorist is the only offender in this. In many ways, because cycling is so grotesquely unsafe, you do actually break the law regularly in order to try and cycle more safely. There are moments when it is safer to go across a junction at red, if there is no traffic, than to hang about. One of the reasons why we believe more women are killed in London on bikes is because men are more aggressive. Women hang back, behave themselves and get killed. Men get to the front, thrust out across the road the moment the thing goes to amber or even red and they are away. This is a crazy jungle of a situation. Most drivers are aware of some very bad cycling. We have to take that into account. Cycling will get better only if provision gets better.
Q403 Paul Maynard: It is a truism that, if you want to say anything controversial, the best place to say it is the Floor of the Chamber of the House of Commons because no one notices. The only time anyone has ever commented on anything I have ever said there on TheyWorkForYou.com was when I asked a pro-cycling question during Transport questions-and I was criticised for cyclists for not being pro-cycling enough.
Clearly, this whole issue generates immense antagonism between cyclists and non-cyclists, whether pedestrians or motorists. You see it in the letters page of The Times. Do you think that that degree of antagonism is helping or hindering the development of good quality public policy?
James Harding: Mr Maynard, you are exactly right. It is not a temperamental issue between cyclists and drivers or pedestrians that causes this antagonism. We have an adversarial road system. If you are a cyclist, you often feel cut up or endangered by drivers, and if you are a driver, you often feel cut up and endangered by cyclists. Until we address the structural problem in the road system, you are going to continue to have that antagonism.
We should be absolutely clear that the anxiety in this is not just confined to cyclists. There is also huge anxiety around this issue among drivers. I do not think it is about gangs or groups or lobbies. The problem lies in the road system.
Q404 Paul Maynard: As a follow-up to that, there appear to be two distinct groups of solutions. One group is seeking to change human nature, driving behaviour, cyclist behaviour or pedestrian behaviour in the hope that somehow they can appeal to our better angels and we will all learn to respect one another. That would be a lovely dream, but I do not feel it is always realistic.
The second group-and it was perhaps borne out by what The Times is reporting today about the role of roundabouts in so many of the more serious accidents-is that we can seek to engineer out many of the physical structures that cause cyclists, motorists and pedestrians to contest for very scarce road space that causes the antagonism.
Is it time that we stopped trying to shift human nature and started trying to be more imaginative in how we design-and indeed redesign-our roads? Is that where public policy should focus?
Josie Dew: Yes. I think a lot needs to be completely redesigned, as in the Netherlands. The roundabouts here are like death traps. If you are starting off cycling and you come to a roundabout and are a little bit uncertain, it is just awful. You have to enter a big roundabout, keep up your speed, fly on in-
Q405 Chair: What is done differently in the Netherlands?
Josie Dew: It is fantastic. In the Netherlands, cyclists have priority. I live 20 miles north of Chichester, and there is the Northgate roundabout, which is a big roundabout. It has a cycle lane going all the way round, but every exit is a tiny little thing. You are supposed to stop at every exit. If you have someone who is not used to cycling, they start off in the wrong gear and you cannot stop at each exit because cars are flying off here and there.
Q406 Chair: So it is having priority.
Josie Dew: Yes. In Holland, you get a great fat thing for the whole roundabout. The cyclists just go straight in and all the cars wait for you. They are polite. There is none of this-
Q407 Chair: You see that as a different measure that makes a real difference.
Josie Dew: Yes.
Q408 Chair: Mr Harding, do you want to respond to Mr Maynard?
James Harding: I entirely see Mr Maynard’s point. I am a fan of the old "Yogi" Berra view that if you see a fork in the road, take it. You want to make sure that you deal with some of the behavioural issues on training, lorries and junctions, but the big opportunity and the really important thing-and not just for London, but for Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham-is that we start thinking about investing in separate cycle ways and cycle lanes. It is the kind of systems that you see in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. As Jon says, you are going to keep on seeing increasing uptake of cycling, and we are going to have to change the provision of cycle ways. Ultimately, I guess I am with you that the emphasis needs to shift from training and a greater emphasis on the Highway Code, to different ways of building the cities.
Q409 Paul Maynard: But cycle only; not shared with pedestrians.
James Harding: Correct, yes.
Q410 Chair: Mr Snow, do you want to comment on Mr Maynard’s question?
Jon Snow: I would like to change behaviour, I must admit. I still live in hope. I am a driver myself. You get behind the wheel and somehow you are superior to anybody else on the road because you are in a tank; you are in a metal box of power. It is very difficult psychologically to recognise that there is only one of you and there is one of them on a bike. Somehow we have to try and get people to understand some degree of equality. I suspect that if the system accepted that cyclists had rights of provision, rights of law, rights of giving way and so on, we could change behaviour, but I also agree very strongly that we have to change physical provision.
I would just like to mention one country that you would not look to for any road guidance: the United States. In Washington DC, there are a number of traffic light systems where they favour the cyclist by allowing you to turn, in their case, right on red. It has a little sign saying that you can do it, and you do it. That enables all the cyclists that are at the junction to get out before the traffic goes. So filters are something we should think about.
One of the infrastructure problems we deal with in this country-and it is right across Britain-is that the traffic light system was invented in the 1930s and has largely not been updated. There is no excuse for traffic lights after eight o’clock at night. Flashing amber would probably be enough at nearly all our junctions. That is the case in the United States. In New York, Washington and in many parts of urban America traffic lights are switched off and become amber flashing. They also have this filter system. We do nothing to upgrade our traffic light system and we should.
Q411 Kwasi Kwarteng: You said something earlier about leadership and the fact that there was no leadership in this very important public safety issue. I was struck by one thing. What does leadership in this department look like? What would you like to see?
Jon Snow: Leadership looks like joining up Government. There are lots of elements of Government that are interested in cycling. Health is interested in promoting cycling. It is very good for the lungs, the pulmonary system and all the rest of it, and there is obesity, for example. A lot of people want children to cycle, but, as Sustrans and indeed CTC have illustrated, cycling to school is extremely dangerous in many places. They have invented these cycle crocodiles in some places to try and take bunches of children together as a sort of elongated cycling bus, but it is very difficult. That should not be happening. It should be a fundamental right of parents to allow their children to cycle to school.
Q412 Kwasi Kwarteng: Forgive me but, practically, what does that mean?
Jon Snow: It means education, health-
Q413 Kwasi Kwarteng: But in terms of the Government.
Jon Snow: It means one Minister is charged with the responsibility for liaising with all these Departments, but most principally with infrastructural decisions that are made about road building. Very recently there has been an urban road built in King’s Cross to deal with the new King’s Cross development. Is there a separated cycle way? No; they have not even given a thought to it. There is some paint on the road though. Paint on the road is not a solution. How dare they put paint on a road when they had all those millions to spend on a road system coming through King’s Cross? I don’t know whether it was millions; it may only have been hundreds of thousands, but, nevertheless, if they had built it there and then when they built the pavement and the road, it would have saved them money. They would have had a separated thing. The trouble is that it would have ended nowhere. Where would it have ended? On the Euston road, and it would have come to a grim end.
James Harding: Can I ask a question and I think it is a key question? At the city level we have said in our manifesto that every city should have a cycling commissioner. You can call them what you like, but you want someone in City Hall who is responsible for cycling. As we have seen with our campaign, the best way to fix some of the problems on the roads is to respond to cyclists, and they have no one to call. At the city level, we would like to see every city introduce a cycling commissioner.
Inside the Department for Transport I think there is a real issue. When new road systems are signed off and when new construction happens or improvements are put in place, again there is no one in the room whose job is to look out for cyclists. We need that within the Department for Transport.
Thirdly, the reason why we would like to see the Prime Minister and Downing street get engaged in this is because, as Jon says, at the moment you see bits and pieces of cycling policy come out across different Departments. You want someone who is working at a cross-departmental level and saying, "We really care about the safety of cyclists and we are going to pull this together." In terms of Government, that is what we would like to see.
Q414 Kwasi Kwarteng: Would that person sit within the Department for Transport or in the Prime Minister’s Office?
James Harding: Frankly, you would have someone day in, day out, in the Department for Transport. Given the public’s appetite for political action, I think the Prime Minister should engage with this issue. He has been very supportive in terms of what he has said about the cycling campaign, but you actually want to see someone in Downing street making sure that those warm words translate into action.
Kwasi Kwarteng: That is a very comprehensive answer; thank you.
Q415 Chair: The Prime Minister has been supportive in what he has said. Are you aware of anything he has actually done?
James Harding: As you have seen in the paper this morning, we are trying to keep tabs on the progress that is being made. There is progress being made on the manifesto. I think the progress is seriously inadequate. Arguably worse than that, there is a danger that the reason we are not seeing cycling injuries and deaths climbing as quickly as they could be is because too many people are being scared off the roads. One of the things that concerns me-and I know you are seeing the Ministers later this morning-is that to a certain extent it may even suit the Department for Transport to think, "We will keep a certain number of people off the roads because that will manage this problem for us." The only way to answer it, as I have said before, is to have a different vision for the way our cities work for cyclists.
Q416 Julian Sturdy: So far all the panel has talked about the need for investment in segregation-that is coming out loud and clear-and the fact that our road system is not equipped for segregation, for obvious reasons. In point seven of The Times’ manifesto, you talk about the need for private sector involvement and sponsorship in dedicated cycle lanes, cycle tracks and the success of the Boris bikes. The Times Cycle Way has a nice ring to it. I fully support that and I can see that having great potential in London, but how do you think that would manifest itself into other parts of the country and into northern cities? I am a northern MP. Do you think we can get that outside London and into northern cities, or will there have to be Government incentives-potentially tax breaks, business rate relief and so on-to drive that? Do you think that might be a way the Government could spread it outside London?
Jon Snow: Leadership, as we have talked about here, would be meaningless if they did not have any money to spend. Unfortunately, you do need money to spend. The problem is that we never like looking at the equivalent savings that would be made by investing. If <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>you go for a modest sum like £300 million dispersed reasonably evenly across the country, there will be some money to spend. If there is leadership with no money, the leadership is completely pointless. There really has to be a new provision.
Q417 Julian Sturdy: That is Government money. I am talking about how to get the private sector engaged in sponsorship, as has happened with the Boris bikes.
Jon Snow: You have companies sponsoring roundabouts. A lot of companies pay to garden roundabouts. That happens in the north and the south. I have seen many around Manchester and elsewhere. You have companies sponsoring trees. I do not see why you could not have companies sponsoring cycle ways. I do not mind cycling along the Unilever cycle path. Fine; there is no problem at all. What I want to point out is that this is probably the largest body of British citizens for whom there is effectively no one in charge and no real provision at all. We are talking about millions of people. We do more for football supporters than we do for cyclists. We actually try to save football supporters’ lives. We have regulations and all sorts of stuff that protects them. We police them and all the rest of it, but not bikes. I have never seen anybody ever prosecuted for driving in a cycle lane-never.
Josie Dew: Why can’t cyclists have more money? The Netherlands have £20 to £30 a head per cyclist. We have a paltry £2. I have had a friend killed by a motorist and the driver practically got off with a fine of a few hundred pounds for careless driving. I have had another one left brain damaged. Drivers get off too easily. Why can’t it change and motorists start beginning to fear cyclists so that, if they hit a cyclist, straight away your insurance cops it or something and you have to pay a massive fine? There have to be stricter penalties. Mobile phones are just awful. I am cycling all the time and you see people coming round with one hand on a mobile phone and changing gear. I am in the middle of a roundabout. I just think that too many people get away with mobile phones.
Q418 Julian Sturdy: I entirely accept that, but it was the segregation point I wanted to address, as well as sponsorship by the private sector and whether Government need to offer something back to engage the private sector in it. I am talking especially about outside London to get it going. That might be something on business rates and so on, or something along those lines.
Chair: Is it realistic that the private sector could engage in this? Mr Snow is saying yes.
James Harding: The answer is absolutely yes. If you speak to Barclays, one of the most effective and rewarding things they have done in terms of marketing in London has been what they would like to refer to as the Barclays bikes. I would say two things about that. One of the really useful things that the Committee can do in this area is to try to think through how you engage the private sector. That there would be a public appetite for that engagement I think is beyond doubt, in that the public response to this campaign has been amazing to us. People feel passionately about cycling. They feel it is an enormous part of their identity and they do not feel cared for or catered to. Rather than in so many other areas of life where people are turning their backs on politicians, this is one of those areas where people are looking to politics and politicians to find an answer. As Jon says, if you look at what has happened with roundabouts-the "adopt a highway" approach-it is entirely possible that you would get both national and local businesses to say, "We want to put our name to segregated cycle ways precisely because it would show that we were in touch with the concerns of our customers."
Jon Snow: It is important that the image of cycling has changed so dramatically. It is now seen as a mainstream activity and as part of the daily work cycle. In the old days, if you were in this place, I can tell you that the MPs who cycled were seen as slightly bonkers. They used to call him the bicycling baronet; now he is Leader of the House. The current is all in the right direction. The private sector wants to be involved with things that are seen to be a good thing.
Q419 Chair: You are looking for leadership and you think the private sector can be part of that.
James Harding: Absolutely.
Jon Snow: Very much so.
Q420 Iain Stewart: I would like to pick up on the urban planning points and cross-departmental points that Mr Harding and Mr Snow alluded to. I represent a Milton Keynes constituency. When Milton Keynes was first designed, there was a conscious decision to segregate cyclists completely from motor cars via a network of what are known as Redways. In the more recent housing estates that have been built, that has not been extended, which is partly because of the pressure to cram in as many new houses as possible. As we are moving into the phase where we are building many more houses, and we have the localism agenda where communities have a much greater role in shaping the geography of new developments, what do you see as the process for helping cycle lanes, pathways or whatever it is to be built as an integral part of these designs? Is it a legislative requirement? Is it a campaign for influence when the neighbourhood plans are designed? How do you see it working?
James Harding: The focus of our campaign has not been on legislation; it has been on action. As I mentioned, one issue within the Department for Transport oversight of any new road building is that there is someone in the room who has responsibility for cycle safety. I think we should be clear that what we are talking about with an eye to investment and changing urban planning and the road structure is going to take many years. It is more about ongoing parliamentary scrutiny and the earmarking of a serious sum. Jon talked about £300 million; we said 2% of the Highway Agency’s budget. There needs to be a commitment from Government at a central and local level on spending. There needs to be scrutiny of how that is spent within the Department for Transport and, I would hope, by Parliament, too. Maybe I am missing something in terms of what could be done through legislation, but the focus we have had so far has been chiefly on what could be done by Government.
Jon Snow: I am afraid in terms of urban planning, in particular, that cycling has to join the other issues that have to be considered such as trash collection. There are all sorts of planning regulations that facilitate living in an urban area. I am afraid I do think legal compulsion to make provision for cycles is absolutely essential. That means where people live so that they can cycle from where they live to where they work, and from where they live to where they go to school. That involves compulsory provision as part of the planning system. It must be introduced. I cannot see how a bitty process is going to deliver this. We have seen the effect of bitty processes on painted cycle ways on the road. They suddenly stop because you have either changed boroughs, or moved into another council area. This can be suicidal. It can be absolutely terrifying to be channelled into a thing that eventually just peters out. It is absolutely essential that, if cycle safety is to be developed, there has to be compulsion in the planning system to make provision in every new urban development for the bicycle, and that includes parking bicycles, which is another area we have not touched on.
Q421 Iain Stewart: Can I just press you on this a bit more? I think I am correct in saying that when a new housing area is planned at the moment, the fire service has to be consulted on access for their emergency vehicles. You are calling for cyclists also to be involved in that process, but who is involved?
Jon Snow: Curiously enough, I am not asking for cyclists to be involved; I am asking for planners to be involved. Just as the planners have to plan a road, they have to plan pedestrian access and cycling access. These should be the three transport commitments. I am not asking for an automatic rail provision, for example, but here you are talking about fundamental citizens’ usage. The citizen uses the bike, the feet and the car. Those three items need to be accommodated in every new plan.
Q422 Chair: You say these should be laid down in the routine procedures for planning.
Jon Snow: Yes, I am afraid so. I am not a Stalinist.
Josie Dew: But there has to be someone in charge of cycling in all the councils and parish councils. At the moment people don’t really understand what it is like to be cycling. Something has to be done about the speed limits too.
Q423 Chair: What about the 20 mph speed limit suggested for local roads? Would that make a big difference?
Josie Dew: Yes, it definitely would. Past Molly’s school there is a 40 mph speed limit, which means I am often overtaken at 50 mph with children on the back. I went to the council last December and said, "Can we get a 20 mph speed limit past the school?" If you hit a cyclist at 40 mph, 90% of children would die. If you hit them at 20 mph, 5% would die. That is a huge difference. They said, "Oh well, we can’t really do that." There is all this umming and ahhing. They just make excuses. You have to get on and do it. They said it has to be petition-led, so I have to go traipsing round the whole village. Some people say, "I don’t want to slow my speed because I want to get to work." Portsmouth has put in 20 mph speed limits.
Q424 Chair: If there was a system of a default 20 mph speed limit on local roads, would that be something the other panellists would support?
James Harding: In areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. We would argue for a 20 mph speed limit in residential areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. One of the things about that, as Josie says, is that it is not only safer, but it would reinforce the sense that the interests of cyclists and drivers are aligned. Drivers want to go faster, in which case there need to be segregated cycle ways.
Jon Snow: I agree with James.
Q425 Mr Leech: I am interested to hear why you think that the residential streets where there are segregated cycle ways should not have the 20 mph limit. There is a danger, if you keep it at 30 mph on those streets, that drivers are less inclined to stick to the 20 mph speed limit on the other roads. Is there any reason why you have gone for that particular view?
James Harding: As Josie said, the reason is that 20 mph makes it safer. I think that you need to put in place many more segregated cycle ways and you need to incentivise drivers behind that idea too. Being able to free up drivers to drive a little more quickly where there are segregated cycle ways reinforces that point.
I should say two things. As I have said, we were prompted into this by the terrible accident that happened to Mary Bowers. We do not think we have it all here in this manifesto. Listening to you, Mr Stewart, we are trying to think through whether there is a capacity for legislation. We have to go away, do some work and think about where that might or might not work-I don’t know. Likewise, on this point about speed limits, the truth is that we have done a lot of consulting with people, but we probably need to speak to more in terms of what the impact would be on drivers if you have that differential 20 mph to 30 mph.
Jon Snow: I think we are asking for a lot and we should be pragmatic. I absolutely agree with his approach. If the motorist just thinks the cyclist is being favoured in some totally unfair way, we are not going to make progress. In new building in urban areas, the segregation should permit slightly faster speeds, but where there is no segregation, 20 mph is absolutely plenty.
Josie Dew: I do a lot of cycling in the countryside as well as in the cities. The countryside has some of the most dangerous roads now.
Q426 Chair: What should be done in the countryside? A lot of our discussions have focused on London and perhaps other cities too. What should be done in the countryside?
Josie Dew: Cycling in itself is a safe activity. It is the people around you who make it unsafe. Cycling is fantastic; there is no better way to get around.
Q427 Chair: What should be done to deal with the people who cause a problem?
Josie Dew: One of the places where cyclists get killed in the countryside is on A roads. You just shouldn’t ever cycle on an A road. I had to join an A road two days ago-
Q428 Chair: What should be done?
Josie Dew: What should be done? Well, you need to have a completely fantastic infrastructure of cycle ways. Take the A272-Petersfield to Midhurst. If you want to cycle down it, you have a white line-
Q429 Chair: So you want to have either cycle ways or-
Josie Dew: You have to have a proper cycle lane-not a foot to cycle in, because people are passing you at 60 mph two inches from your elbow.
Q430 Chair: Are there any other things that should be done in terms of rural areas?
Josie Dew: Enforcement of speed limits and the education of drivers about overtaking cyclists on that road. There should be a huge advertising campaign, too, on what speed does. It is speed that puts people off and kills people. It is a bit like boy racers. James had something in the motoring section of his magazine about a young lad who got a car. He wanted a Corsair because he could go at 140 mph top speed. All his friends were egging him on to go faster and faster. This is on a country road. This is where I might be cycling.
Q431 Chair: So it is speed.
Josie Dew: Speed is a huge-
Q432 Chair: We are about to question two Ministers. Is there any one question that you all think we should put to them?
Josie Dew: If you build a good cycle way, they have to be-
Q433 Chair: What is the question to the Minister? Have you got one question?
Josie Dew: Go to Holland. Go cycling around Holland.
Q434 Chair: Is there a question that you would like us to put to the Ministers? We have two Ministers coming.
Jon Snow: Minister, how do you propose to raise the profile and the power of the direction of cycling in this country? Where is the leadership in government? I do not suppose that everybody in this room-maybe not anybody in this room-could even name the Minister for cycling. Presumably there is somebody, but it is a tacked-on responsibility. It is a very big subject. It is a full-time subject, Minister, and what do you propose to do to raise the profile and attract the funding and the infrastructure for something that is a key dependence of millions of people in this country?
Q435 Chair: Is it agreed that that seems to be the key question?
James Harding: I have a different question, which is simply: how much money will you commit to building new cycle ways over the next five years?
Chair: It is the profile and the money. Thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mike Penning MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport, gave evidence.
Q436 Chair: Good morning, Ministers. Welcome to the Transport Committee. As you know, we are focusing on cycling safety this morning. We called for a Twitter campaign about this. We received 775 tweets. The questions that we are asking are focused around the issues that were identified there. In some cases we may ask you the direct questions in the tweets themselves. Perhaps I could start by asking you, who is the Minister for cycling?
Norman Baker: I am the Minister for cycling and my colleague here-
Mike Penning: I am the Minister for road safety.
Norman Baker: There you are.
Q437 Chair: So who is in charge in terms of safe cycling?
Mike Penning: Cycling policy is my colleague.
Norman Baker: And the Secretary of State, of course, is in charge.
Q438 Chair: So neither of you. It is the Secretary of State, but you both have responsibilities.
What plans do you have to raise the profile and leadership in relation to cycling safety? This has been one of the key issues raised with us. I am asking that to both of you. I don’t know which of you feel is the one who should be replying to that.
Norman Baker: First of all, the profile of cycling generally has been increasing in recent years in a way that is very helpful. It has been increased, for example, through the Barclays bike hire scheme in London, through the provision of cycle superhighways and also by the very welcome Times campaign. The profile of cycling generally is higher than it was. That is something that I have been very keen to encourage. For example, I held an event with TfL just last month at which I invited local authorities from around the country to come and look at good practice and to give them the opportunity to exchange views. That was very well received by local councils.
We have to recognise that the provision of cycling infrastructure and encouragement for cycling is of course partly a role for Government. It has to be delivered on the ground, not by the Department for Transport but by local councils up and down the country. Therefore, if we are going to make real progress with cycling, which I want to do, we have to make sure that local councils are fully engaged.
Q439 Chair: One of the questions we received was "How is the Government directly supporting the Times Cycle Safe campaign manifesto?" Are you engaged in any of the issues in that manifesto? There are eight points there covering quite wide areas.
Norman Baker: We are engaged, and you will have seen the fantastic turnout at the Adjournment debate that Julian Huppert, the Member for Cambridge, called in Westminster Hall. I think 77 MPs in total spoke at that debate, and on that occasion I went through the eight points of the Times campaign and indicated what we were doing on each one. As it happened, we had already made quite a lot of progress on some of the points that The Times had raised before its campaign began, which I hope indicates to you and the Committee that we were already there. We were not simply responding reactively to what The Times had done, although we very much welcome the campaign it initiated. Where there were not points that had been addressed beforehand, we have sought to do so.
My colleague and I wrote on 28 February to the leaders and chief executives of each council across England in response to the campaign. We indicated what we were doing as a Department and what we thought they could help us with as well. For example, as part of the response to The Times campaign, I have encouraged each local council to consider whether they should have somebody in the organisation who would take a lead role on cycling-a cycling commissioner or a champion; whatever they want to call it-who could help drive these matters forward at local level. I think on each of the points we have responded.
Mike Penning: As well as many of the points that The Times campaign and others on cycling are making, it is fair to say that one of the disincentives for cycling is if the public perception is that cycling is not safe. Cycling is safe. It is a very safe form of transport, but we have to be careful-and it has to be a balance-that we make sure that we address, for example, some of the issues in The Times campaign, but at the same time encourage people not just to continue to cycle, but to take up cycling when they have perhaps not done it before.
Q440 Paul Maynard: One of the questions that you have just been asked to focus on is how the Government have responded to The Times’ cycling campaign. If I try to drill down one level lower, has any budget or money been reallocated as a consequence of the campaign?
Norman Baker: Because of the prudent management of the Department’s finances, we were able to find £50 million recently, £8 million of which I allocated to Sustrans to help to provide off-road infrastructure. It has already got lots of schemes that it has got worked up, and was able to bring those forward and deliver some of those earlier. I have also allocated £7 million extra to the Cycle Rail Working Group, which is designed to help end-to-end journeys and to provide extra cycle provision at railway stations to try to ensure that people access the train station, take the train and have, therefore, an entire sustainable journey rather than taking a car all the way. So that has been provided.
In addition to that, of course, the local sustainable transport fund is ongoing. There is £560 million in that particular fund, as you will know, which is a greater amount than all the various pots that the previous Government had for sustainable transport. There are 39 allocations of money so far from that, totalling £155 million. Of those 39 schemes, 38 have cycling elements. We are in a direct sense not only encouraging cycling through the terms of reference for that particular fund, but we are also seeing councils now responding very helpfully and sensibly to that particular fund and coming up with cycle elements for their local sustainable transport fund bids. They are now being delivered up and down the country.
Q441 Paul Maynard: A number of the Twitter questioners have focused on the practice in France and, I believe, the Netherlands, whereby the motorist is presumed to be at fault in any accident involving a cyclist. Do you know if any study has been conducted by the Department on that model?
Mike Penning: It has been looked at before. I am not saying there is a physical study. The legislation within those two countries you mentioned is different from ours. We have always steered away from presumed guilt in this country. It is something we are looking at, and we have looked at, but it is not something at the moment we are looking to proceed with. That is very much a Justice Department question, with all due respect, rather than a Transport question.
Q442 Paul Maynard: As we have just been hearing from our previous panel, there appear to be two broad philosophical camps in terms of improving the safety of cycling. One is focusing on trying to improve the behaviour of all road users, whether on two legs, two wheels or four wheels. Another is trying to design the danger out of the system. Just this morning we have seen in The Times how there is a strong correlation between a particular type of large roundabout dating from the ’60s and very high casualty rates. Do both of you, as Ministers, have any view on whether the emphasis of Government policy should be on trying to change behaviour, or trying to design risk out of the system in the first place?
Mike Penning: I will do the behaviour part because that is very much around my portfolio. I am sure Norman will agree with this. It has to be both. Everybody has the right to use the highway, but we have to make sure we use it safely for them as well as others. The infrastructure is predominantly in Norman’s portfolio and I am sure he will talk about it, but it has to be both. It is an educational process as well, which is vital if we are going to make sure that everybody enjoys the road, whether they are on two wheels-powered humanly, or motorcycles-the trucks that keep the country going and keep our growth going, or the person who just uses their car on a Sunday or who just cycles on a Sunday. You have to do that across the board to make sure we train them much better.
As for the road infrastructure, and I will pass over to Norman in a second, in the Highways Agency we are conscious-it is one of the things I was quite conscious of-that there is a full connectivity. Even as part of my infrastructure-taking the motorways out of it but on the trunk roads-you have cycle facilities that stop and then do not start again. That is something we were looking at before the Times campaign picked that up. It is something we are working on now to address where they are. I think I have the money within the budgets to address that as well.
Norman Baker: On the infrastructure point, there is a problem going back decades in this country, to be honest with you, where there has not been either an understanding or consideration given to the needs of cyclists by successive county engineers, or whatever they were called, up and down the country in different local authorities. We had a mindset, particularly in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that roads were designed for motorists and everybody else had to be pushed out of the way. Pedestrians were shoved underneath the road in underpasses. Cyclists were encouraged not to cycle there. You get places like Hyde Park Corner where it is almost impossible to get across the road other than in a motor vehicle. That is the inheritance we have to deal with. Now that we want to get people cycling, we have to deal with those points or encourage local councils in most cases to deal with those points because they are not user-friendly.
Even recent road infrastructure additions have not always considered cycling properly. I have seen traffic calming schemes, including in my own constituency as a matter of fact, where in order to slow the vehicles down, cobbles or pinch points have been created. The cobbles mean that cyclists cannot sensibly cycle over the road surface that has been put in place. The pinch points mean that they are pushed out into the path of the vehicle instead of having a little channel where the cyclists could go down beside the pinch point. Those sorts of design problems have been endemic in the country, to be honest. You cannot suddenly change all that overnight. What we can do, from the Department for Transport’s point of view, is encourage local councils, as we are doing, to take account of the needs of cyclists in the way they design their road infrastructure. When there is a particular problem at the moment in terms of any points where accidents occur on a frequent basis, we can try to look at what can be done to retrofit those particular points to try to make those junctions or roundabouts safer for cyclists.
Q443 Chair: Will that come out in specific guidance to local authorities?
Norman Baker: We have guidance already, but we are certainly happy to look again at what we are saying to local councils in terms of best practice and how they can best design their road infrastructure to take account of cyclists. I am very happy to engage, as I am doing, with local councils to try to make sure that the best knowledge that we have is imparted to them, and indeed that the experience they have is passed back to us.
Q444 Julian Sturdy: A number of tweets came in on infrastructure, which you have already touched on, Mr Baker, and the need to have more engagement with local authorities and new projects, and about why aren’t cyclists taken into consideration when planning new projects. Also, a number of tweets came in on the investment side about segregated cycle lanes, which was talked about a lot in the previous debate.
Sweden invested heavily in segregated cycle lanes about eight years ago and that was seen to cut cycle deaths by 50%. Do you both think that the Government should invest more in dedicated, segregated cycle lanes? I know you have talked about £8 million going to Sustrans, but I am talking about much bigger sums than that. To be honest, that is potentially just a drop in the ocean. If the Government should invest more, which is what is coming through on the tweets, obviously that would have to come as a consequence. If you think they should invest more, where would it come from?
Norman Baker: There are a number of different answers to that question. First, I mentioned the historical legacy that we have. That is because councils up and down the country, of whatever persuasion, have not regarded cycling as important, which is why I think that part of the answer is to have somebody quite senior at local level-a cycling commissioner or cycling champion; whatever you want to call them-to ensure that a council or local authority does take these matters properly into account rather than being an add-on. There are plenty of very good cycling officers up and down the country who have no power and are very low in the organisation. They know what they are doing, but they do not have any clout to get things delivered. That needs to be sorted out.
In terms of infrastructure investment, I have mentioned the money we are providing to local councils and otherwise. There is a tension, as you will appreciate, in central Government seeking to intervene and direct too much at a local level. We are not in a position to do that. As a Government, we are trying to get away from that arrangement whereby we micromanage everything from the centre. The local highway authorities are the people who are best placed to ensure that the cycling provision is properly delivered locally. We can give help and guidance, and point them in the right direction, but, ultimately, if there is a particular junction problem in Kettering or Devizes, it is the local council down there that has to sort it out, not us.
Q445 Julian Sturdy: With that in mind-this was talked about in the last session and was part of the Times manifesto-could you see scope for investment in segregated cycle lanes from private sector businesses? If so, could they be incentives put in place from Government, and potentially local government, perhaps through business rates and so on, for those sorts of investments and sponsorship within dedicated cycle lanes?
Norman Baker: I personally think that we need to get cleverer about securing money for investment in infrastructure generally. The Times campaign referred to the idea of rolling out or encouraging the sort of Barclays bike hire scheme that we have in London. This example in London demonstrates how, with a bit of ingenuity from the local authority, you can attract business to provide some of the infrastructure you want.
Q446 Julian Sturdy: If I can butt in there, Minister, there is a fear, in that that although that works well in London and has been a success, and although that sponsorship of potential dedicated cycle lanes could really work well in London, how do we get that into our northern cities and should they be something given from Government-as I say, perhaps through local government on business rates-to try and incentivise that?
Norman Baker: I do not think that London is necessarily as different from the rest of the country as you think it is. There is a huge population in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham-in our great cities. As we are moving towards an era where we give more responsibility to these great cities, as I think we should do, I think they will step up to the mark. There are many ways in which you can get extra infrastructure other than directly providing it through the public purse. There is planning gain, of course, as part of any major investment process that takes place on a planning application. Rather than simply saying as planning gain, "We will have a kids’ playground", which often happens to be the default position of a local planning authority, why don’t they say, "You are creating big employment that we welcome in this particular part of your city. Here is where the employment is likely to be. We will have a dedicated cycle way, please, as part of the planning gain from that particular application."?
Indeed, if you look at some of the schemes that we are funding from the local sustainable transport fund, they are directly to help to create growth and cut carbon by linking up places of employment with places where people tend to stay. Local councils sometimes need to be a bit smarter than they have been at identifying potential sources of income to help to move this agenda along.
Q447 Mr Leech: Are there any plans to improve driver awareness, attitudes and behaviour around cyclists?
Mike Penning: Yes. As the Committee knows, there is ongoing work with the driving test, which we are changing on a regular basis. We are not only doing it at that level with new drivers, but we are doing a lot of work on the Think! Campaign-the Think! brand works very well. I am looking at what TfL has done in London. Some of its billboard advertising in London is exceptionally good. I do not intend to pay a lot of money for someone else to come up with the same idea; I am going to poach it, and we are going to run some of that out round the country through the Think! campaign.
Q448 Mr Leech: There is a particular issue surrounding the interaction between cyclists and HGVs, or cyclists and buses, for instance. Has any consideration been given to having a compulsory element of large vehicle training, forcing people out on to bikes so that they can appreciate how a cyclist has to interact with the HGV?
Mike Penning: I am not saying that we can force people on to bikes, but I know exactly what you mean. Some of the trade associations are already doing that voluntarily and we are starting to get that through. There are some issues, particularly in London. We have had some terribly sad situations with tipper lorries in London where cyclists have been killed when tipper lorries have turned left. There is an investigation into that at the moment. I intend to extend that around the country into buses because TfL is doing that at the moment. We do not seem to have a problem with buses and cyclists here in London, but we do in other parts of the country.
Q449 Mr Leech: We heard some examples this morning about certain companies taking a very proactive approach to this with their drivers. I have also given the example of my writing to bus companies in Manchester suggesting, at a constituent’s request, that they should send their trainee bus drivers out on the roads so that they appreciate how cyclists feel next to large vehicles. The response was, "It is too dangerous to do that." Surely, if there is no level of compulsion, a lot of organisations and companies just simply are not going to do it.
Mike Penning: I understand exactly what you mean. Interestingly enough, 18 months ago, there were no drivers going out there on these schemes and the companies were not involved. That will increase as we go forward. If there are bus companies that have written back in such a negative way-and my colleague is the Minister for the bus operators-they have a responsibility as well. We must not take the responsibility away, whether they have been on a cycle or not. As a driver of a PSV or a HGV, you have a responsibility to make sure you drive that safely for all road users. If they are not doing that, they need to make sure that their training incorporates it.
Q450 Mr Leech: Do the Government have the option in the future, though, to have some level of compulsion if companies are not going to apply?
Mike Penning: At the end of the day, the Government can legislate however they want, but we are a deregulation Government. I will be honest-I am always honest to this Committee-that I think it would be very difficult to make it compulsory for all PSV or HGV drivers to go on a pushbike and learn what that is like. I think for some, medically, that would probably not be possible as well. At the end of the day, we must make sure that we do not take the responsibility away from the driver of a vehicle to make sure they drive it safely. Whether you have been on a bike or not, there is no excuse as to whether you drive safely-that is your responsibility.
Q451 Kwasi Kwarteng: I am not getting a very clear idea-this is probably my fault-of your goals for this area. How do you judge your success, in particular with regard to cycling by the end of this Parliament? Do you want more people cycling? What are your targets with regard to cycle safety on the roads? Could you give us some more information about that?
Mike Penning: Very simply, yes, we want more and more people of all ages to cycle. The figures are there to see how successful that is becoming. More and more people are cycling. I measure that against-sadly-numbers of killed and seriously injured per head of population. Earlier, for instance, my colleague was alluding to Sweden. Sweden has 0.22 per 100,000 population killed. At the present time we have 0.17. So, without the scheme that Sweden has, we are not at the top. Anybody who is killed is a loss, but we do very well considering how many people cycle on a regular basis. That figure needs to come down and the other figure needs to go up, but the more people you get to cycle, the more people you will, by logic-
Q452 Kwasi Kwarteng: Have you anything to add on that?
Norman Baker: To reinforce the point Mike was making, the average number of people killed between 1994 and 1998 in terms of cyclists was 186. It is now 111. That is 111 too many, but it is broadly going in the right direction. In terms of the number of people cycling, we do want more people cycling for all sorts of reasons-for health reasons. Some 50,000 people die each year from coronary heart disease, so not cycling is far more dangerous to your health than cycling is. The risk of dying from not cycling and walking is the risk of obesity and all the other health problems that occur. That is one of the reasons why I have been working with Anne Milton from the Department of Health to try and make sure that we are joined up across Departments.
It is also the case that if you get more people cycling-I cannot prove this, but this is anecdotally what I observe, as has happened in London-it modifies the behaviour of car drivers. Car drivers are more tolerant of cyclists when there are more of them around than when they are an oddity on the streets and they don’t see very many of them.
Q453 Kwasi Kwarteng: Just as a follow-up, do you see significant amounts of extra spending as a way of achieving the goals that you have outlined?
Norman Baker: I would be very keen to encourage local councils-not just through the local sustainable transport fund, but through the integrated transport block money they have-to think about cycling. Cycling is good for the environment, it cuts carbon emissions and it is good for public health in terms of the individual’s benefits from it. It is good for the driver of the motor vehicle who is still in his or her car, because there are fewer people in their cars and that eases congestion. So, in all ways, it is good.
It is also good for the economy. The Department for Transport had some evidence to suggest that people who turn up in a town centre on foot or on bike actually spend more money than those who turn up in cars. I find that quite counter-intuitive, but that is what the figures tend to suggest. Certainly, when I was on holiday last year in Bavaria, the towns that I went to see had no cars in them-everyone was on foot or on bicycle. They were packed out. Every single shop was busy. They were selling lots of stuff and the economy was booming in these places, and that was without cars being there. So, there is an economic benefit to cycling as well. For all those reasons, we are very keen as a Government to support cycling, but that ultimately has to be delivered on the ground by local authorities rather than by the DfT. We can give a lead, but we cannot micromanage what happens in town centres.
Mike Penning: There is one extra point. If you are building something from scratch, there is no real extra cost in building into it that you are going to make sure that cyclists and pedestrians are in it. As was alluded to earlier on, it is the adaption from the really old networks that becomes the really difficult thing. We do not have the money to go and rip everything out. I have more people knocking at my door asking for new road programmes-I never knew I had that many friends. We have only a limited amount of money, but when we do adapt, especially within my network, one of the things I am very conscious of is that we must make sure that the connectivity is there. There should not be any extra cost if you start from scratch. A classic example of that, in many ways, is Cambridge. Going back to what Norman was saying, my daughter has just spent the last three years up in Cambridge. As a driver it is a nightmare; she cycles everywhere, and I can assure you that you will not find a busier town centre on a Saturday than in Cambridge.
Q454 Chair: But the strategic framework very consciously does not have targets, so how are you going to be able to tell if you have made cycling safer and if you have done as much as you could have done? If you have no target that you are aiming for, how are you going to judge what you have done?
Mike Penning: We have discussed this in other areas of my portfolio. The Government as a whole are not a fan of targets. As I have explained before, if you have a target, the easier bits get done first and the hard things don’t necessarily get done. The reason we will know is how many people are cycling-whether that increase comes-and whether the figures of killed per head of population continue to drop. You do not need a target to prove that; it will be there.
Q455 Chair: But if you do not have a target that says what would be a reasonable reduction in a given period of time, how will you know if you are making reasonable progress?
Mike Penning: Because any death is a death too many. How can you have a target on how many people you want killed? That is my view.
Norman Baker: Targets are superficially attractive but can produce perverse consequences. For example, any sensible target on the reduction in number of deaths among cyclists would have to take into account the number of cyclists out there and the number of miles that they cycle. That is the relationship that counts. It is the deaths per 100,000 miles or whatever way you want to describe it. That is quite difficult to tie down. As Mike rightly says, you could end up just getting to that figure and then sit back on your laurels satisfied and not thinking you need to go any further, but actually we want to go as far as we possibly can. It is better in a way to try to do the right thing and not to have a target that you meet, and then stop, but instead to try and continue forward. I want to get more people cycling. I do not want to quantify how many people that is, not because I do not want a target for it that is going to be difficult to meet or something, but just because I think it is an abstract that does not help. I want more people having Bikeability training-more children in particular. I want more children cycling to school.
Q456 Chair: But you do not want to have any figures of what you should be aiming for in a given time scale.
Norman Baker: I do not think it necessarily helps, Chair. I really don’t, and that is why I am reluctant to have targets for those sorts of things.
Q457 Iain Stewart: Our previous panel of witnesses highlighted the need for cross-departmental working on this issue. Mr Baker, you have already indicated that you work with the Department of Health. I would like to ask how you work with CLG on urban planning issues. It was suggested, for example, that provision for cyclists should be as formal a part of a planning process as the process-I think I am right in saying this-that the fire service has to be consulted on access for their emergency vehicles. I am wondering on that specific one, and more generally about how you see working with CLG.
Norman Baker: The workings of Government, as Tom Harris and others will know, involve Departments having to consult other Departments when they want to introduce new policies. Certainly there has been engagement with all the Departments in terms of a new planning framework that CLG has brought forward. The Department for Transport has clearly been involved in that process and we make our views very clear on that. As a consequence of the Government working reasonably harmoniously across Departments, our points are taken on board. That is the way we work. The mechanisms of government do ensure that you do not have one Department doing something that then has an unwanted consequence for another Department. We do have a process for engaging actively on that.
As well as that formal process, there are all sorts of other processes. I have already mentioned discussions I have had with Anne Milton at the Department of Health. They are quite important. The Department of Health is represented on the cycle stakeholder forum, which I set up last September. It deliberately has a place on there to make sure that it is plugged into that. I have had meetings with Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, about children cycling to school and how they get to school. We do have these connections and we try to make them work, while recognising that each Department has its responsibilities, but that no Department should have a silo mentality.
Q458 Iain Stewart: But specifically on the point that cycling provision should formally be part of the planning process, is that something you have a view on?
Norman Baker: I am not sure we have made that specific point. I will have to check and come back to you. What we have done is to make sure that our CLG colleagues are aware of our commitment to sustainable travel. I think they are aware of it and support it, but we have made them aware of our commitment to sustainable travel. They need to ensure that there is proper provision in the planning regime to take account of that.
Q459 Mr Harris: Do you both cycle?
Norman Baker: Yes. In fact, as a former Transport Minister, you will be pleased to know that when I was offered a ministerial car on day one, I refused it and said I would have a ministerial bike so that I could get to the Commons to vote, because it is 10 minutes’ walk from DfT headquarters and eight minutes for the Division Bell. I now have a departmental Brompton, which I use to get from the Department to the House of Commons. I know Theresa Villiers is a keen cyclist as well, and indeed the Prime Minister is a keen cyclist.
Q460 Mr Harris: I think events have rather changed her mind on that.
Norman Baker: No, she has not changed her mind on that, I am happy to tell you. The Prime Minister and others are keen cyclists as well, so this is a culture change. When I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1997, one of the first things I did was to attend a county council establishment for a meeting. I arrived by bike. When I arrived by bike, there was a parking space allocated for me with a bollard in the middle and a sign saying "Member of Parliament". There was nowhere to put my bike. I wheeled my bike into the reception area because there was nowhere else to put it. The receptionist looked at me in horror and said, "You can’t bring that bike in here. We’re expecting a Member of Parliament."
That demonstrates the mindset that there is about cycling. Cycling is not a second-class activity. It is not something done by people who have no other alternative. Cycling is now a choice that many people of all strands of society now want to embrace and that is very good. You will find plenty of cyclists in the House of Commons and in ministerial teams up and down different Departments, and that is how it should be.
Q461 Mr Harris: Mr Penning.
Mike Penning: I do. Sadly-or not sadly-it is in the garage more often than it is out. I am honest about that. I get nagged to death by my daughters about it. Anybody who has had students at university will tell you that they cycle everywhere because it is cheap and the best way to do it. However, do I get out as much as I would like? No, because I would rather be out on my Triumph very often.
Q462 Mr Harris: I was not asking in order to give you an opportunity to say how great you are because you use a bike rather than a car. There is a very practical reason. When you are cycling in London, Mr Baker, do you go through red lights?
Norman Baker: No. I don’t go through red lights and I think it is very important that cyclists respect the law. We must have traffic rules-which apply to all road users, whether they are car drivers, bus drivers, cyclists or pedestrians-that we all respect. That is the way we should go forward. I condemn people who do not obey traffic signals.
Q463 Mr Harris: But do you accept the arguments that are made by some of the cycling organisations that there may be a safety argument that for some cyclists going through a red light makes them safer from a possible collision from behind?
Norman Baker: No, and I think it may also make pedestrians less safe because many of our traffic light arrangements in London and elsewhere have pedestrian phases. A pedestrian relies on the red light for the traffic to tell them that it is safe to cross the road. If you have a cyclist coming round the corner when pedestrians are crossing, that is not a safe arrangement. What I do think is worth looking at are arrangements where we have cycles placed at the front. We increasingly have that at junctions, where there is a space for cyclists so that they can get ahead of the vehicles and leave first. The vehicles can see them and that is very good.
You can also have a segregated cycle arrangement-I know TfL is looking at this at the Bow roundabout, and Mike might know more about this than I do-whereby cyclists are allowed to go first on a different light. Those sorts of arrangements are safe and recognise potential safety problems for cyclists, but allowing them to compromise a red light would not be the right way forward.
Mike Penning: As the road safety Minister I share that view. We have not discussed this, interestingly enough, but my job is to protect everybody, including pedestrians. A red light is a red light, and, if any colleagues on the Committee go out in front of Carriage Gates at that crossing where you go across to Westminster Abbey, you will see, sadly, people jumping the lights, especially at this time of the year with the sheer amount of pedestrians trying to get across there, even when they should not be doing it. We have a law in this country and it is for a reason: because it is safer if you don’t go through a red light.
Q464 Mr Harris: Our earlier witnesses made the point that since traffic lights were introduced in the 1930s they have not really evolved in any shape or form at all. Are the Government considering any change to traffic lights-for example, allowing cyclists or other drivers to turn left at a red light, as they do in some states in America-or are we beholden to the status quo in terms of how traffic lights work?
Mike Penning: No Minister is going to sit here and say, "We are never going to look at that again." One of the issues about turning left on a red light for me, frankly, is cyclists. In the Bow flyover incident, sadly, a gentleman died. I have met his widow and they have been brilliant as to how they have complained. That was because a tipper lorry turned left on a red light. I cannot say much more than that because there is a police investigation going on. If we start allowing one, the others will think, "Well, I’ve got the right to do that." It is very difficult. I accept where we are on this. What we must make sure of is that people sitting at traffic lights are safe. One of the ways to make them safe is to put them in front of the traffic. However, I have also seen a situation where the motorcyclists also like to be at the front of the queue at traffic lights and you have this disparity in speed away and things like that. We will keep an open mind. You are right that traffic lights have not dramatically changed. One of the reasons they have not dramatically changed is because they do what it says on the tin. They actually do their job.
Q465 Mr Harris: Mr Baker, have you done your Bikeability badges?
Norman Baker: I have done my cycling proficiency. I am too old to do Bikeability; I did cycling proficiency.
Q466 Mr Harris: When I was a Minister I did all three Bikeability badges, so you should do it as well.
Norman Baker: I stand chastened. I have been out to participate in Bikeability but I have not done the badges.
Q467 Mr Leech: In our previous session I thought Mr Snow made a fairly unfair comment that the vast majority of people would not know who the cycling Minister was. Most people in this room would recognise that Mr Baker has been a fairly active and prominent cycling Minister, but I think it shows an attitude that most people do not recognise the importance of cycling and who the key players are. How do we raise the profile more so that your position as cycling Minister is very key in people’s minds?
Norman Baker: I think if you ask anybody who the Minister of anything is, you are unlikely to get a response that tells you who they are. Probably some people think Churchill is a dog that sells insurance. I am afraid we have got to that stage. I am not confident that we can ever get to a stage where the cycling Minister, the road safety Minister, the Education Minister or anyone else is known as a public figure.
In a sense that is not important. What is important is that there is a mindset change throughout the country about the value of cycling, and particularly in local authorities about how they approach cycling. That is much more important than concentrating on one individual. We are, for example, promoting the summer of cycling. We have allocated some help towards that from the Department. Obviously, with the Olympics coming up this year, there is a big opportunity to reinforce sport, healthy activities and cycling in particular. We are working with DCMS to try to make sure that happens.
Q468 Mr Leech: You advocated having a local person with a responsibility for cycling within local authorities. How senior should that person be?
Norman Baker: That is up to the local authorities, but personally I think it needs to be someone who has some clout. They are the delivery agents for some of the infrastructure in this country. There is a bit in the Highways Agency, but frankly most of it is done at local authority level. I would like to see someone reasonably senior in the transport team in each local authority to be able to do that. It would either be someone who is a senior officer or a lead member in their cabinets. I do not think it is for me to specify that, but it needs to be someone who is able to command the support of the local authority, and when they come forward with an idea, they need to be able to enact it rather than simply having it filed away somewhere.
Q469 Chair: Mr Baker, you say that whoever is responsible in local authorities should have some clout. Do you have enough clout to influence things such as planning policies, regulations for cycle lanes and the allocation of funding for cycle lanes?
Norman Baker: I think I do all right in Government terms within the Department. It is not difficult in the Department because I have two colleagues-Mike here and Theresa-who are supportive of cycling. Therefore I am pushing at an open door to get stuff done on cycling. When there has been spare cash identified through our prudent financial management of the Department’s finances, that has been made available on occasions for cycling. There is no resistance to that agenda.
As far as cross-Government is concerned, I have already referred to some of the links with other Departments. I have also engaged with the Treasury on the Cycle to Work Scheme, for example, and it has been helpful on that. I do not detect resistance particularly, either from inside the Department or from elsewhere in Government, to promoting the cycling agenda.
Q470 Chair: Has any money been specifically allocated for cycle lanes?
Norman Baker: Michael mentioned whether the Highways Agency has done that, but in terms of cycle lanes from local authorities, we would not get into doing that, in the same way as we do not allocate money for bollards. We just do not get involved in allocating at that micro level. We allocate a transport block to local authorities, which they are able to spend as they see fit for their transport priorities. I have supplemented that on occasions through either the local sustainable transport fund or the specific allocations to groups like Sustrans, but I do not think we would not ever get involved in allocating to that level. Our job is to try to get the right culture at a local council level to help that to evolve, rather than starting to specify to the nth degree in that way.
Q471 Chair: Are any changes being considered for heavy goods vehicles-compulsory sensors, additional mirrors that will allow them to see cyclists in their blind spots and things of that nature?
Mike Penning: Yes. The Trixi mirrors are fixed mirrors at traffic lights. We have trialled them in London and they are now available to local authorities. They do not need permission from central Government, which they used to have to do. We have signed the deregulation of the legislation and they can do that. As I said at the last evidence session, we are leading in Europe on the mirrors in particular. There was a meeting at the Commission only last week where we have moved to the next stage. It is like watching paint dry, but it is happening. New lorries have to have much better mirrors. I am still told that it is probably going to be the end of 2013 or 2014 before that legislation comes through. It is not just about the UK. We have to do this within Europe; the sheer amount of overseas lorries on our roads will tell us that.
Sensors are much more difficult. We are looking at that. We have asked the Commission as well. We are going to have some research done. For those who do not know, the difficulty with sensors is that they are light-reversing sensors, but on the side of the vehicle. They will pick up literally anything that is on the side of the lorry. Yes, if you are a cyclist, it could well pick you up there. If it is a bollard, a lamp post, post box or pedestrian, it will pick it up.
As I have said before, what really worries me-and what I want to emphasise-is that we must not take the responsibility away from the driver to do what the driver should be doing, which is observing around his vehicle. Some companies have looked at this and it has not worked for them, but we will do this through the European channels as we are doing with mirrors and come to a consensus on it. There is a degree of scepticism as to whether it will do what it says on the tin. In other words, the sensors will go off quite a lot, which means that the drivers will not look in their mirrors. That is a negative and then we will have more problems than we had before.
Q472 Chair: Can we learn anything on safe cycling from countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark?
Norman Baker: I am always happy to look for lessons from elsewhere. We should always be open to that. I have been over to look at cycling in Holland, which is very well known for that. Earlier on, my colleague Mike referred to the rate per 100,000 of the population in terms of cycle deaths. We actually come above the Netherlands. We have a better record on that.
Mike Penning: We are substantially above.
Norman Baker: What we can learn from the Netherlands, in my view, is probably not on safety issues particularly, but about how to encourage people to cycle more, to improve the public infrastructure in the public realm and to join up different modes of transport like rail and cycle. That is what we can learn from the Netherlands rather than safety. I went to the station in Leiden, which is a medium-sized town. I think I am right in saying that there are something like 13,000 bicycles parked there every day and no cars-or hardly any cars. We are never going to get to that situation, but we can make a lot more progress on it. They are the lessons that we can learn, rather than necessarily safety lessons.
Mike Penning: That is a classic example. As you massively increase the amount of people who cycle, your figures for deaths go up. On the European table I have here, the Netherlands is fourth from the bottom, with 0.84 per 100,000 of population, whereas we are seventh with 0.17. That is not because they do not care about cycle safety; it is because there are so many people cycling in the Netherlands, so you will get those ratios going up. I think the Netherlands might want to come and see us to find out how we are making sure that so few people are killed in cycling terms as we increase the numbers of people cycling, because the figures would indicate that we can perhaps do a bit better than them.
Chair: Thank you very much.