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Subsidies, Cycle Lanes and Bikelash – Where is the ‘Golden Age of Cycling’?

In Autumn last year, we spoke of the great steps British cycling had taken toward realising the ‘Golden Age of Cycling‘ – bike sales were at an all-time high and there was strong momentum behind the government initiative of providing subsidies to the purchase of bicycles and eBikes as well as opening new cycle lanes; with the public health crisis still ongoing, cycling was rightly pitched as having an important part to play in the nation’s recovery.

Since this time, there have unfortunately been many bumps in the road. Indeed, we mentioned back in September already the prevalence of bike lash: complaints from local people who were against the opening of cycle lanes in their area. This has not gone away and has in fact proved to be a significant obstacle.

Recent events in towns throughout the country have sadly followed the same trajectory: the closure of temporary bike lanes by local councils conceding to minority public pressure. Such has been the case in West Sussex, where Cycling UK is currently taking the council to court for unlawful decision-making, and most recently in Kensington, which last Wednesday confirmed its closure of the popular Kensington High Street cycle lane.

What had been important throughways for students and commuters returning to school and work were both removed following complaints of increased motor traffic, poorer air quality and slower journey times generally. However, not only has their removal not improved congestion, but has had the opposite effect. For example, data collected by Bike is Best, the bike awareness campaigners, from TfL traffic cameras and Google artificial intelligence tools has shown that the space previously taken up by the Kensington High Street cycle lane is now occupied by parked cars 63.6% of the time.

With the announcement last year of £2bn worth of subsidies for cycling, this roll back of essential cycling routes is concerning, especially in light of a report that this promised money falls far short of what is needed to meet the government’s own targets of doubling cycling and walking by 2025 anyway.

For example, the subsidies that were promised for eBikes last year still remain to be seen, although we hope the rumours of a spring announcement hold true. Perhaps to reveal something akin to the current scheme in Scotland, where an interest-free loan with a four year repayment plan from the Energy Saving Trust allows Scots to purchase two eBikes capped at £3,000 each, one family e-cargo bike capped at £6,000 or one adaptive eBike capped at £6,000, with a similar initiative just announced for Wales.

At the same time, the Government has reduced grants for electric car buyers by £500, arguing that this means the funding will last longer and be available to more drivers. We appreciate that the public health crisis has meant money is extremely tight, but if this electric vehicle renaissance is to be at the heart of the UK’s post-Covid transport plan, then deeds are needed over words.

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