When the government wants to announce something quietly, it has several weasely methods for ensuring that the media is looking the other way. It can issue the announcement on the Friday just as Parliament is closing, it can issue it when the Prime Minister is out of the country and unable to be questioned, or it can wait for an opportune moment like a terrorist attack to distract attention. What news could possibly be so bad that it uses all three, but even worse than issuing the news when Parliament is rising, it issues it on a bank holiday weekend?
The answer is the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) which was finally issued over the Easter weekend (background). The first three words of the title, cycling and walking, are accurate, but the final two words, investment and strategy, are so economical with the truth as to make austerity look like a generous uncle handing out tenners to all and sundry.
The case for investing in walking and cycling is inarguable, and many studies, including that of the Parliamentary All Party Cycling Group, called Get Britain Cycling, show that it is many times better value for money than any other transport spending, with staggeringly high payback of at least ten to one. Compare that to road schemes which are regarded as good value with a payback of 1.5 to one, but only if you make some dodgy assumptions about the value of drivers’ time. More cycling means better health, reduced obesity, less congestion, less pollution, less danger, improved environment and sustainability, and according to NICE, getting more people cycling would be the best way of achieving the government’s health targets. The same is likely to be true for walking. There is no better transport investment than active travel, walking and cycling, so, being acutely aware of their fiscal responsibilities to the nation, the government has decided on this strategy, and the Prime Minister himself has said that he will be starting a “cycling revolution”.
They are “investing” £42bn into HS2 and £15bn on the roads strategy, neither of which have an economic case, with the latter increasing congestion, pollution and danger, so the investment into cycling and walking must be more than both of those put together surely? The answer of course, is no. Over a five year period, the government will be kickstarting the cycling revolution with £300m, which might sound a lot, but is, compared to other transport investment, not even a single peanut. The Get Britain Cycling report called for initial spending of £10 per person, rising to £20 per person, to achieve the target of 25% of journeys by bicycle by 2050. The amount proposed in the CWIS is £1.38 per person outside London, and it will take until the 23rd century to achieve its targets, according to CTC’s Policy Director Roger Geffen. This is kickstarting by a man with no legs.
If getting more people cycling and walking was anathema to government policy, then the failure to invest in them might be understandable, but the government is fully committed to increasing them, with any number of supportive statements, like that of Mr Cameron, but the investment still goes to schemes with vastly inferior returns on every conceivable criteria. To show their confidence that this strategy is so overwhelmingly, inarguably, impeccably correct, they issued it on a Bank Holiday weekend, when the Prime Minister is on holiday and when there have been big terrorist attacks. There can be no clearer demonstration that this government doesn’t care about the nation’s health, global warming, death and injury on our roads, congestion or basically anything apart from pandering to the car lobby and big business which gets the contracts for road and rail infrastructure.