Cycling still not a priority

I have just spent a couple of days in Aylesbury, one of the Cycling Demonstration Towns sponsored by Cycling England on whose board I sit. We had a very pleasant welcome and the presentation by the council officers working on the scheme was excellent. They proudly pointed to the fact that there had been a tripling in the number of people cycling regularly to work, though this was from a base of just 3 per cent!
The focus in Aylesbury has been to raise awareness of cycling through marketing and, specifically, through the branding of a series of routes into the town centre with the names of gemstones. It is a great idea, and clearly has raised the profile of cycling in the city.
However, there is a big problem: the routes themselves are pretty basic and mostly put cyclists on pavements alongside pedestrians. While the routes are excellently signed, there are strange ‘end of cycle route’ signs on cross roads, presumably trying to indicate that the route is not in that direction, but in fact, such signage creates confusion.
Worst of all, there are ‘cyclists dismount’ signs which not only will be universally disobeyed but, more important, reinforce the impression that cyclists are secondary road users subservient to everyone else. You would never get a ‘drivers turn off your engines’ sign, would you? Moreover, there are few cycle parking spaces in the centre of Aylesbury, apparently because it is a conservation area and the council is reluctant to put any in.
This goes to show the extent to which joined up thinking is needed to bring about that step change increase in cycling. Marketing is fine, and can bring some benefit. But until government agencies, whether local or national, really understand just what is needed to boost cycling, we will be tinkering at the edges.
Douglas Alexander, the previous transport secretary, did get it and he had started working with Cycling England to boost its income and profile. Unfortunately, with the arrival of a new minister, the learning process has to be started all over again. It is not looking good when one of Ruth Kelly’s special advisers is reported to have said that the money – all of £10m annually – spent on cycling must have been wasted as the transport statistics on usage did not show an upward trend! With that type of boneheaded stupidity, what hope is there?