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Cycling to the polls

View profile for Robert Dempsey
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As well as being an increasingly prevalent group of road users, cyclists are also amongst the most vulnerable.  With this in mind, Robert Dempsey, a personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors, has sifted through the manifestos of the main political parties in England to see what they may offer cyclists.  Throughout all of them, there is a general pattern of pledges that might affect cyclists directly and indirectly.  Directly - where cycling and cyclists are specifically referred to, and indirectly - within the wider context of transport policy.  In the interests of impartiality, the parties are listed in alphabetical order.

Brexit Party

Whilst this is a summary of the manifestos, the Brexit Party purposefully avoids the use of the word 'manifesto' but has a “Contract with the People”.

The Brexit document, manifesto or otherwise, is the only one that does not mention cycling or cyclists. There is also very little said about transport, other than a pledge to scrap HS2 and to “invest at least £50 billion in local road and rail schemes”. With so little detail there is not much to summarise in what is the briefest of all the manifestos.

Conservatives

Perhaps in an attempt to convince the electorate of their commitment to cycling, the Conservative manifesto features an image of Boris Johnson on his bike resplendent in woolly hat. Cycling is addressed under the banner of “A Transport Revolution”.

The initial focus is on pledges to improve public transport with the emphasis on moving away from the HS2 rail link and towards restoring local lines, thus reconnecting smaller towns. There is also a pledge to upgrade bus and tram services.   If drivers are incentivised to use an improved public transport system with fewer cars on the road, this could make the roads safer for cyclists.

There is also a pledge to “launch the biggest ever pothole-filling programme” as part of a National Infrastructure Strategy. This should be welcome news for cyclists. For drivers, a pothole could lead to a damaged wheel; for a cyclist it could lead to serious injury.

The manifesto does move on to specifically address the needs of cyclists by pledging £350 million for a Cycling Infrastructure Fund, with “mandatory design standards for new routes”. This requires greater scrutiny as to what it actually means. In principle, designated cycle paths create a safer environment for cyclists. In practice, it remains to be seen how effective these might be. Campaign groups have, in the past, highlighted the inadequacies of designated cycle paths which are sometimes no more than a white line painted down the middle of a narrow footpath.

The commitment to “working with the NHS to promote cycling” is a vague concept which, again, would need greater questioning to assess what it actually means in practice. The pledge to extend cycling proficiency “to every child” however, if achieved, is a welcome and positive aim.

Greens

The Green Party also looks at improvements to public transport which could, in principle, lead to fewer cars on the road.  There is a focus on improving local rail connections with the greater frequency of  train services, reduced fares,  the  reopening of smaller stations and the cancellation of the HS2 project as opposed to the Conservatives’ “review” of HS2. Their aim is to encourage bus travel through the improvement of the appearance of, and facilities at, bus stations.

As well as the incentive of enhancing public transport, there are also  proposals to apply a carbon tax on fossil fuels to discourage driving.

Turning specifically to cycling, there is a pledge to spend £2.5 billion a year on new cycleways and footpaths. There is also a pledge of “rapidly expanding bike-hire schemes”, which  is not something that will impact directly on regular cyclists (who will already own their own bikes) but again could in theory lead to fewer cars on the roads.

Labour

The Labour manifesto addresses transport within the context of a “Green Transformation Fund”, a pledged investment of £250 billion dedicated to low-carbon energy transport as well as “environmental restoration”.

As with the other parties, ambitions are set out to improve bus and rail services which Labour argues can be achieved via nationalisation. There are plans to introduce free bus travel to under-25s and reinstate local bus routes. Again, there are plans to reopen local branch lines. There are distinctions, however, on HS2 with plans to complete the route to Scotland.

Proposals are also put forward to promote the use of rail freight to reduce congestion on the roads which could be welcome news for cyclists.

With regard to addressing the needs of cyclists directly, the Labour manifesto perhaps goes into less detail than some of the other parties (other than the Brexit Party). The only specific reference to cycling is one sentence within the section marked “A Green Industrial Revolution” which reads “We will increase the funding available for cycling and walking”. There is no further detail as to what this means in practical terms but, instead, the focus appears to be on the environmental impact of transport and industry, rather than the benefits of cycling.

Liberal Democrats

There are three parts to the Liberal Democrat manifesto which have a direct and indirect impact upon cycling. These are “Improving Transport”, “Fixing Britain’s Railways” and “Reducing the Need for Car Travel”.

In terms of focussing on the needs of cyclists, like the Conservatives, there is a pledge to provide dedicated safe cycling lanes with spending on this and “promoting walking” being planned at 10% of the transport budget.

Whilst the other manifestos in general deal with public transport and cycling separately, the Liberal Democrat manifesto marries together improvements to public transport with the specific needs of cyclists by pledging to integrate rail, bus and cycle routes.There is little detail of what this means in practical terms.

Summary

The manifestos are arguably limited on detail.  In some cases it is difficult to separate one party from the other.  All parties support “improving public transport” but you would struggle to find somebody who doesn’t.

Depending on your views, you may see the manifestos as a list of empty promises and unachievable aims - or you may weigh up the various party pledges before placing your “x”.

Cycling may not be considered top of the agenda but, when considered within the context of the environment, the national infrastructure, the health of the nation and the safety of road users, it is as pressing an issue as many others.