March 2013

London v. Edinburgh

London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, has introduced a remarkable new cycling policy, backed up by serious funding.  How does this, and particularly the funding levels, compare to Edinburgh?

[Please note that the figures in this posting are approximate.  Ensuring exact comparable figures is a difficult task, but the rough figures are nonetheless illuminating].

The new London policy [pdf 1.66MB] marks a step change in approach and in funding.  It includes…

  • A 15-mile “substantially segregated” cycleroute to and through central London
  • In central London, a network of “high volume, high-quality routes, using a combination of segregation and quiet shared streets.
  • More ‘superhighways‘ but at a higher standard.
  • Between one and 3 outer London Boroughs will get intensive investment to create ‘Mini-Hollands.
  • Cycling will be promoted as “normal, a part of everyday life.  I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about,” says Johnson.

Whilst much of the media has given uncritical praise to the plans, a more analytic response, though still welcoming, has come from David Hembrow‘s View from the Cycle Path, and David Arditti‘s Vole O’Speed and from the Road Danger Reduction Forum.

Investment levels, Edinburgh and London

Strangely, the Mayor’s document does not include a table on funding, and so one has to deduce what is happening from various references here and there.   The following totals are mentioned…

  • Next 10 years:  ‘total £913m’  i.e. approx £91m p.a.
  • Next 3 years:  ‘almost £400m’ i.e. approx £133m p.a.
  • Year 2015:  £145m.

It seems likely therefore that 2015 will be the year of highest investment, at £145m, but that this will fall significantly to around £70m p.a. over the last 7 years of the programme.

The average of £90m p.a. over the 10 years is around £11 per person per year for London’s 8 million population, an amount which, if invested consistently, was found in the English Cycle Demonstration towns to raise cycle use significantly, though an amount still considerably below Dutch levels [David Hembrow article].

What has received much less attention is the enormous size of the total Transport for London budget – approximately £5000m per year.   Thus Boris’s cycling plan, hugely welcome though it is, represents less than 2% of his total transport budget.

In contrast, Scotland’s annual transport budget is around £2000m, and Edinburgh’s around £20m.  Clearly the budgets cover hugely different transport areas [and different population sizes].  For example, London’s includes the Underground and buses, Scotland’s includes ScotRail, whilst Edinburgh’s includes none of these.   Tram investment is not included in Edinburgh’s £20m annual total because the tram is largely funded by a dedicated government allocation which the city could only use for the tram (‘use it or lose it’).

Edinburgh’s decision to invest 5% (increasing annually by 1%) of its transport budget in cycling remains a groundbreaking one in UK terms, and was rightly praised in the London Assembly. Sadly, however, 5% of Edinburgh’s £20m is only £1m; whereas under 2% of London’s £5000m is vastly more.

Edinburgh’s investment allows it to raise significant match-funding from other bodies, notably Sustrans and the Scottish Government, bringing total annual cycling investment to £1.5m-£2m, a big improvement on recent years, but still far below the new per-head figure enabled by Transport for London’s huge total budget.

In order to raise the sums needed to install high quality cycle facilities on Leith Walk, for example, the council has said it can only do this by approaching Sustrans for Scottish government funding – the outcome being still awaited.

Indeed it is far more realistic to compare London’s cycling plan, budget and investment methods with the Scottish Government CAPS plan and budgets than with an individual Scottish Council, even Edinburgh, the capital.

  • Population  London 8m; Scotland 5m; Edinburgh 0.5m [1/16 of London]
  • Transport budget  London £5000m;  Scotland £2000m;  Edinburgh £20m [1/250 of London]
  • Cycling % of transport budget  London <2%;  Scotland 1%;  Edinburgh 6%.
  • Spending method   Transport for London works with the London Boroughs on cycling, somewhat similar to how the Scottish Govt works with Scottish councils.  Indeed many London Borough councils have bigger populations than many Scottish councils.

Clearly, the only realistic way in which cycling investment in Edinburgh (and in other Scottish local authorities) can be substantially increased, i.e. to reach or surpass the new per-head London figures, as outlined in our CAPS Refresh submission, is for the Scottish Government to start taking cycling really seriously as a form of transport, investing a minimum 5% of its transport budget [or 10% for active travel as a whole] rather than it’s present 1%.

It is therefore vital for concerned members of the public to keep up pressure on MSPs, both by individual lobbying, and joining events such as Pedal on Parliament.

Normalising Cycling

The London report is also refreshing in its intention to “normalise cycling – making it something anyone feels comfortable doing.  Hundreds of thousands more people, of all ages, races and backgrounds, and in all parts of London, will discover that the bike has changed their lives.

This intention is reinforced by the pictures in the document, which include a range of people cycling, with the majority, both adults and children, dressed only in their everyday clothes.

The report reminds us that…  “On a strict average, you would have to cycle in London every day for 900 years to come to serious harm.”  For those people who just use a bike for everyday errands in their own local area, keeping off the main roads, the statistics are almost certainly even better, as in the table on page 7 of Spokes 115.

The report continues…  “The dangers – and perceived dangers – of cycling are far outweighed by its health and happiness benefits. Regular cyclists have, on average, the fitness of someone at least 10 years younger. They are half as likely than average to suffer from heart disease, 27 per cent less likely to have a stroke, and will live, on average, more than two years longer. Cycling is an effective way of keeping a healthy weight and reducing anxiety and depression.”

Of course, these arguments carry little weight with someone who feels scared.  London will hopefully combine the provision of safe and safe-looking main direct routes with official publicity, like the pictures in the report, which no longer ‘dangerises’ cycling.




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