On funding for cycling (and transport generally)

Cycle commuting stockI was working on a few posts about driverless cars in cities, but now that our beloved Government has announced that it is chucking a few extra quid at cycling, I thought that I would bash out a few words about effective funding for cycling. This is something that I really meant to cover in my previous posts on what makes a good strategy, but this seems as good a time as any.

I should state from the outset that, as a practicioner and one who has worked with a Cycling Demonstration Town, any additional funding for cycling is a good thing. We will complain about how it is not enough to achieve real change and how it has all gone to the wrong areas (i.e. not us) in the office while we make a cup of tea. Even the winning bidders will be reasonable and won’t expect Dutch levels of cycling with this new funding. But we are practical and will try and use whatever funding we do get in areas and on schemes that we judge to have the greatest impact. That’s what we are paid to do after all!

But today’s announcement does underline two things how existing funding for sustainable transport infrastructure is woeful and inconsistent. For local authorities outside of London, the only consistent sustainable transport infrastructure funding we have is the Integrated Transport Block. This year’s allocation is £320m for England, about £6.46 per head. The ITB is not just dedicated to cycling, but to traffic regulation orders, walking schemes, bus stop improvements, safety schemes, and a whole manner else. Despite it being a pittance, this funding enables local authorities to plan their infrastructure workloads with reasonable certainty over 3 / 4 year periods, and certainty is a valuable commodity in transport planning!

There are of course other funds available like the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and Local Pinch Point Funding, but while the amounts are substantial (though still below Dutch-level cycle investment) they are time-limited and subject to a successful bid. Again, while this funding is welcomed, it is not condusive to good long term transport planning, though it is condusive to the electoral cycle and modern politics by press release.

What strikes me is that while campaigners and planners fight for consistent infrastructure funding only to see one-off investments in cycling announced by the Prime Minister, there is already a mechanism in place to provide consistent funding. It just needs boosting, and here is my suggestion of how to do it:

  • Cancel plans to merge 50% of ITB funding into the Local Growth Fund. It’s an insane idea.
  • Keep to your promise not create lots more individual funds for specific projects (I have counted at least 10 so far). At the end of this round, re-invest LSTF capital funding into the ITB and invite bids for 5 years of promotion money of which a critical part of the bid has to be substantial cycling investment through ITB and other sources.
  • On cycling investment through LTB, increase this gradually over time. While Dutch-levels of investment tomorrow is a laudable aim, the practicality is that many authorities do not have the capacity or skills to deliver. Give them the opportunity to gear up for this.
  • On ring-fencing cycling funding, ITB is not ring-fenced. Typically, a letter containing advice from Government on appropriate levels of each authorities’ contribution to spend on cycling should be enough. But if you want real teeth for this, advise authorities that their future ITB allocations are dependant upon their ability to spend on cycling infrastructure and their outcomes. If you fail, it gets cut. If you deliver or put in more of your own funds, you get more next time. Harsh, but effective.
  • Cut spending on road schemes which will not result in demonstrable and committed improvements for cyclists to pay for it all. But that goes without saying.

Any chance of this happening?

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