The UK government is bringing forward ambitious £100bn infrastructure spending plans in a bid to boost a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Pop up cycle lanes could form the heart of a protected cycle path network in a call for 'shovel ready' projects to help boost the UK economy.
Green recovery and growth
In a letter to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and mayors across the country, housing secretary Robert Jenrick called for submissions of exceptional capital ready projects that could be delivered within an 18 month timeframe. Suitable projects would meet two overarching objectives, the letter outlined. The need to drive up jobs and economic growth and support a green recovery that would help the UK meet its net carbon zero deadlines for 2050. Projects must also meet the government's value for money standards.
Measured on those metrics, cycling infrastructure is a perfect fit. Not only does it deliver a raft of benefits that give plenty of value for money and fits the green criteria like a glove, but cycling also has the potential to be at the heart of modern transport networks built for the post-Covid world.
In a 2014 DfT report, cycling was found to deliver a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of anywhere up to 35 to 1. In real terms, that means social, economic and health benefits that equate to a £35 return for every £1 invested. The value for money guidance says an infrastructure project is high if it has a BCR of 2 or above, putting cycling infrastructure almost off the scale.
Much of the BCR from cycling infrastructure comes from health benefits, over 60% in fact. As the report noted, "A healthier population makes for a more robust and prosperous economy," which, in turn, benefits society at large.
With commuters currently reluctant to return to public transport, a robust network of cycling and walking paths to encourage alternative forms of transport makes sense. Now that the spotlight is firmly on our ability to cope with another pandemic, a public health approach to infrastructure gives the once-ignored benefits of cycling infrastructure investment a new economic impetus.
A cycling infrastructure project takes on average two years in comparison to up to twelve years for larger procurements. That means that cyclists will be spending in the local economy, with cycle parking delivering a fivefold higher retail spend than the equivalent area of car parking. And local businesses where cycle infrastructure has been successfully implemented experience an increase in trade of 49% according to a DfT review.
A new 'golden age'?
On 6 May, PM Boris Johnson announced that the post-lockdown period would be a new golden age for cycling in the UK. So, will we see the implementation of cycle infrastructure shovel-ready projects designed to deliver a greener two-wheeled future?
According to Brian Deegan, adviser to Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman now turned cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester, many city regions have ambitious cycle network plans ready to go. There are even plans in place to hook up a cycleway with HS2, a project with a BCR of 8 to 1.
That was mothballed in 2018 but now could be the time for the Northern Powerhouse to greenlight the post-pandemic cycling revolution.