Whether for transport, leisure or commerce, bicycles get people moving, and the British cycle industry makes, markets, distributes and sells a revolutionary product, as innovative in 2018 as the fledgling industry was in 1818.
From lightweight race-ready machines (with their carbon composite joints that are often more complex than that required for airliners) and muscular mountain bikes through to innovative folding bikes and electric commuter- and cargo-bikes, bicycles remain at the cutting edge of technology just as they were in the 19th Century.
And, yet, for all its modern flourishes (pedal assisted e-bikes ride as though the wind is always at your back) and hidden complexity (a typical bicycle is made up of more than 800 individual parts) the “humble bicycle” is still, in essence, what it was in 1818: an “Accelerator”. Many times faster than walking, and yet on congested urban streets, only 2mph slower than driving, riding a bike is the swift, clean, healthy way to get about in the 21st Century.
Cities around the world are recognising that cycling is a key way to unsnarl gridlock as well as a way for their citizens to get places on time while doing themselves good in the process.
And cycling is also the perfect family activity – children love riding bikes!
The future for transport
Cycling is obviously a wonderful leisure activity, perfect for the whole family and all ages, but it’s also a key form of individualised transport and one of the key solutions to losing weight, improving health, cleaning up the air, reducing traffic congestion and, amazingly, all whilst having fun. Cycle commuters are happy commuters.
Integrated transport is safe transport
Cycling and walking must be part of an integrated transport strategy to deliver safe transport for all. No single measure will reduce danger and perceived danger very much. Even massively boosting cycle facilities will not do that in isolation.
Transport strategy must be joined up with cycling and walking playing a key role.
For example, e-bikes and cargo e-bikes are practical alternatives to a second car for almost everyone. Properly catered for, they could reduce congestion and pollution, take the pressure of parking provision, and contribute to health and obesity reduction. They are the ultimate zero-emissions vehicle – and should be recognised as such by transport planners and bodies such as the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).
OLEV should subsidise purchases of e-bikes and/or cargo e-bikes as it does with other zero emissions transport modes. This will both directly address the cost barrier to ownership and also send a strong signal that cycles are an important element in the transport mix.
The Cycle to Work scheme should have its value ceiling raised from the current £1000 to at least £1500, so that employees can purchase good quality electric bikes for commuting purposes.
Cargo e-bikes have a particular role to play because they can displace small vans in urban delivery roles, and provide zero-emission, low cost transport for tradespeople. Research by the ECLF shows that up to 51% of urban motorised goods traffic could potentially transfer to cargo bikes and cargo e-bikes.
Taking a significant proportion of small vans off the road and replacing them with bikes would not only directly address the pollution, congestion and accident risk from those vans – it would also make cycling feel and be safer for all cyclists. Fear of ‘white van man’ is a significant obstacle to cycling right now. Cargo bikes can help remove that fear and danger.
Dockless bike share
Dockless bike share is another new development from the cycle industry which has the potential to be a major element of integrated transport planning.
It is highly accessible: anyone with a phone can access these bikes, even those without the money to buy and maintain a bike, or those without the space to store one securely.
It has the potential to reduce pressure on other forms of public transport, as well as to displace car journeys.
However, effective regulation is needed to ensure that the dockless bikes experience is positive for both users and non-users alike. The Bicycle Association is working with major players to explore self-regulation; city authorities are also often active in enforcing standards. This area must be kept under review.
An integrated approach is essential
None of these particular areas is sufficient. In line with ‘Moving the Nation’ we must address all aspects of the cycling and walking experience to make it feel, and be, safe. For example:
Cycle training must be provided to all schoolchildren across the UK, so that they will grow up as safe, skilled road users who are accustomed to active travel. Currently only about 50% of schoolchildren have access to training: the cost of rolling this out to 100% would be only about £10 million.
Adequate secure cycle parking facilities are needed at workplaces, transport hubs and other main destinations.
Planning policy at a national level must ensure that provision for normal people to use cycles for transport is built in to any new residential and business developments.
Integration with public transport must also be a priority. This means safe routes to/from train and bus stations and sufficient parking at these interchange hubs. It also means availability of hire bikes for travellers to complete the ‘last mile’ or more of their journeys.
Overall, it is essential to realise that short-term, limited initiatives will have little practical effect. An integrated, sustained ‘Moving the Nation’ strategy is needed. This must ensure that using cycling and walking for urban journeys offers an attractive alternative to using the car by being:
Only then will behaviour change happen.
The recently published UK Industrial Strategy flags up major issues for the UK economy, including the ‘Grand Challenges’ of future mobility, clean growth, and an ageing population.
For the economy to succeed post-Brexit, we must address these challenges need solutions. New technologies from the cycle industry must play an essential part.
Future mobility for both people and goods can be delivered by bike and e-bike at low financial and environmental cost, especially in urban centres where the issues of congestion and pollutions are currently most pressing.
Clean growth becomes possible when up to 25% of commuter transport needs from a new development can be met by bike. With a logistics infrastructure based on ‘last mile’ primarily by cargo bike, the online economy becomes much more sustainable.
An ageing population benefits strongly from the regular gentle exercise of active travel, reducing obesity and saving money for the NHS. Active older people also work longer.
Engagement and investment now to achieve and surpass the CWIS ‘doubling cycling by 2025’ target could make the UK the world leader in integrated mobility, with the (e)-cycle industry as a post-Brexit UK flagship. It’s already bigger than the steel industry, and on the wave of new technology it could grow fast.
According to The Value of the Cycling Sector to the British Economy, a report commissioned by the Bicycle Association, cycling contributes £5.4 billion a year to the economy, with the larger share of this coming from health impacts, particularly reductions in loss of life. Products associated with the cycling industry contribute £0.73b, while tourism attributable to cycling contributes, at least, a further £0.52b. Cycling generates over 64,000 UK jobs.