Cycle racing relaxation – will it help?
Cycle racing relaxation – will it help?
Three weeks of a gripping Tour de France ended on Sunday, and for thousands of cycle sports fans across the land a gaping void will have opened up. If you’re one of the British sufferers, then don’t worry, our Government thinks it might have the solution to what ails you.
On Monday the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the publication of new plans to make it easier to host future Tour de France stages and other elite cycling events in England. It’s all part of the Red Tape Challenge which seeks to reduce bureaucracy, but the changes will apparently also: “…encourage more tourism, create a boost for the economy and give people across the country a chance to experience the buzz of world class sport in their area”.
All of which is great. However, far better would be to create the conditions where everyone could enjoy our roads, not just elite cyclists.
Far better would be to create the conditions where everyone could enjoy our roads, not just elite cyclists."
The news release attached to this announcement has considered this too. These plans are said to add to the “government’s wider commitment to double the number of cycle journeys”. Detail about how elite riding will help wean people off car dependency and onto alternative means, such as cycling is unclear though.
Lest you think I’m anti-sport and racing, I’m not. My interest in cycle racing has grown in direct proportion to my cycle wardrobe (ratio of merino to lycra is firmly in favour of wool). While I’m happiest reminiscing on cycling’s silver age of Bartali and Coppi, I do also occasionally seek out the sports pages of today’s cycle season and its riders (Tony Gallopin is a fave, if only for the name).
I just do not think the relaxation of antiquated rules which held road racing back can be considered part of a wider strategy to increase cycle use. If there's anything to celebrate about the changes in the regulations, then it should be for the overturning of a ban which was largely bound up in the class structure.
According to former frame builder David Moulton, cycle racing in the UK suffered from a self-imposed ban by the National Cyclists Union (who eventually became British Cycling) back in the 1890s. Ostensibly, the reason for this was down to landowners not wishing to see the “riff-raff” zipping around the country lanes and spoiling the peace and quiet of rural ways (far better for cars to do this following their introduction in subsequent years).
This was reinforced by law in the Road Traffic Act 1956, where in Section 13 cycle-racing was made illegal on the roads unless authorised by the Minister for Transport, with the regulations coming into place in 1958. Further amendments came through with The Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations,1960 which were then amended in 1988 under the Road Traffic Act of that year (please feel free to add to this in the comments below, should you know more).
I suppose you could see cycle racing’s return to the road as further evidence of the class structure, with the rise of the middle aged man in lycra (mamil) now seeking a relaxation of the rules initially imposed to counter the working class cyclist. Apart from the lack of evidence for such a call, the real reason is undoubtedly the opportunity to cash in on the interest.
2014’s Grand Depart of the Tour in Yorkshire generated £128m for the host areas over 3 days of racing, and netted a £102m economic boost. Money seems to talk first and foremost to this Government, and the change in regulations could well be down to this. Any increase in cycling among the rest of the country in lines with a doubling will be a bonus.
Should the UK start to host more elite cycling events, it is likely we will see increased interest in cycling. The post event report for when the Tour passed through in 2014, Three Inspirational Days published in December 2014 suggested as many as 30% of spectators - almost a million people - have increased their levels of cycling, with all of the benefits brings.
For those who were already regular cyclists - those who cycle once a week or more - 66% said that watching the race had had a positive impact on their intention to cycle more. There was a similar effect on those who cycle less often, with 58% inspired to cycle more. A quarter of those who never cycled said they felt encouraged to cycle.
However, while it is all well and good to increase interest, it is far more important to maintain it. With the current state of the UK’s roads, poverty in terms of cycle provision and high speeds, cycling interest gained will largely be interest lost unless something is done about it.
On 22 January 2015, the UK took a massively important step towards turning around the current impasse. After intense lobbying from CTC and supporters, the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) was included in the Infrastructure Act. The CWIS will effectively place investment in cycling and walking on a par with road and rail. This Friday (31 July) it will come into force.
For the CWIS to be effective, it needs two things. It must look to invest at least £10 per head in cycling, something the Government and Prime Minister claims it is committed to doing, and there must be decent design standards to ensure the funding is spent on infrastructure which will encourage cycle use not discourage it.
Cycle Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, has indicated he wants to make the CWIS as robust as the Road Investment Strategy. This is to be applauded and welcomed. However, with the Road Investment Strategy taking 18 months to implement, cycling in England outside of the eight Cycling City Ambition Grant holders is set to languish.
The Local Sustainable Transport Fund, an initiative introduced by then Lib Dem Cycle Minister Norman Baker, which has helped encourage cycling around the country is set to dry up in April 2016. Should the CWIS not be in place by April, and this is unlikely, then only eight cities (outside of London) around the country will receive dedicated funding to encourage cycling.
This potential loss is not just in funding, but also all the skilled staff based in councils who will undoubtedly be hunting for their next role. Training up new staff will bring further delays, and is symptomatic of the 'stop-start' funding which causes so many problems for cycle provision. This needs to be addressed, and CTC will be calling on supporters to bring this funding cliff to the attention of the Prime Minister, Chancellor and DfT in the near future.
So while CTC welcomes anything that opens up cycling on our roads, ultimately we feel there are far more pressing concerns for the Government should they really be serious about getting Britain cycling.