Scheme to increase number of bike parking spots forms part of wider plan to create more joined-up transport network
The government plans to significantly boost the number of cycle parking places at rail stations as part of efforts to persuade people to swap their cars for a more joined-up network of sustainable travel.
The train station scheme, which will increase the number of designated bike parking spots nationally from 50,000 to 70,000, will cost £9m, of which £7.5m comes from the Department for Transport (DfT) and the rest from rail companies.
The plan will be unveiled to parliament on Wednesday morning as part of what the DfT promises will be a wider “big announcement” on cycling policy, the other aspects of which have yet to be revealed.
“The intention is to join up different modes of transport, so people have a sustainable choice from when they leave their door to wherever they finish up. Part of that is to make sure people can cycle to the station and leave their bike there,” said Norman Baker, the junior transport minister with responsibility for cycling.
“What I’ve observed, all around the country, is the moment you put in new bike spaces they get filled up immediately. There’s clearly the demand.”
An expansion to secure bike parking at stations has long been demanded by campaigners as a way to help people travelling longer distances use a bike rather than a car as part of their journey.
Considerable early efforts were made by Lord Adonis, junior transport minister in the last government, which committed £14m to this in 2009. Such combined journeys are becoming increasingly popular, even if the UK remains some distance behind more established cycling countries – just one station in the Netherlands, Utrecht, plans to expand its bike parking to take 22,000 cycles.
The DfT announcement comes amid mounting pressure on the government to build on the momentum brought by Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France win and more cycling success at London 2012 to boost the tiny numbers of Britons who use bikes as their main transport. Just over 2% of people do this, placing the country lower than all but a handful of EU nations such as Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus.
Baker is among people due to give evidence to an inquiry into boosting cycling set up by the all-party cycling group of MPs and peers. There was, he told the Guardian, considerable top-level support for cycling in government.
He said: “There have been expressions of interest in cycling from both the prime minister and deputy prime minister. There is a recognition of a value of cycling at the very top. I wouldn’t tell you that if it wasn’t true. Certainly, when I’ve put forward schemes for funding they have been funded. People across government recognise the value of cycling.”
However, Baker said he did not agree with witnesses to the inquiry who have called for a concerted, centralised effort to build safe, segregated cycle infrastructure, rather than the current system in which DfT money is passed to councils to spend.
It would be difficult, he said, for ministers to decree how bike lanes should be built: “Ultimately a cycle lane is normally a local facility and there’s a limit to how far central government should be telling councils what they do in their own patch. We can set an example, we can provide funding streams, and we can hope local government does the rest.”
And while he said the government was ambitious about cycling, Baker said campaigners calling for Dutch-style levels – where around a third of journeys are made by bike – were unrealistic. “If we reached Dutch levels I’d be ecstatic, but I can’t see us getting there,” he said.
“I went to Leiden railway station and there were, I think, 13,000 bikes there that morning, which is just a different world from all other European countries. The Dutch have been fantastically successful. It is by and large flatter in Holland than it is in the UK, which is certainly an advantage, and it’s more compact, so there are differences.”