The UK Needs to Expand Its Bicycle Network

Hannah Fuchs discusses the benefits of increased biking networks across the UK.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to urgently rethink and change our current transportation system. As crowded subways should be avoided, many worry that increasing numbers of people will use their cars, like what happened in Wuhan, China.[1] If this happens, UK cities and highways will grow more congested, polluted, and noisy than they already are. All these issues also present wider impacts, as road congestion, pollution and noise are proven to harm our physical and mental health.[2] In 2017, UK drivers spent the most time in road congestion among all EU countries[3], indicating that there is room for the UK to improve. The pandemic presents an opportunity to develop and encourage a transportation system that tackles these issues. Despite Senior Transport Adviser Andrew Gilligan’s recently proposed walking and cycling programme that gives residents more say[4], it is time to implement a coherent and large-scale cycling network and introduce policies that encourage people to use bikes as their main form of transportation.

The transport sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector in the UK.[5] By cutting down the sector’s emissions, the UK can build a more sustainable environment, reduce health risks, and have a more efficient transportation network due to less congestion. Even though the government has been updating its Walking and Cycling Investment Strategy[6] and the Department for Transport introduced a £2 billion package to improve cycling and walking across the UK in May[7], there has been no focus on creating a nationwide cycling lane network that is inclusive and easy to use for both citizens and industry. No clear results will be reached if people and companies do not have the infrastructure to use their bikes on a daily basis, safely and efficiently connecting the places they need to go to.

The Department for Transport’s £2 billion package, for example, separates cycling responsibility between councils even though most major bike lanes would go through multiple localities. Instead, widely connected cycling networks should be introduced, that allow people to commute to, for example, London’s city centre from all over Greater London. Secure, wide enough bike lanes need to be established in order to create safe options for people riding bikes not living in the city centre. As part of this, showers should be available wherever possible. Part of the already existing Cycle to Work scheme[8] should therefore include a government fund for employers to build showers in office buildings to encourage their employees to cycle to work.

The amount of delivery vans on the UK’s roads has increased, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic.[9] The Department of Transport’s £2 million eCargo Bike Grant Fund was distributed to 18 local authorities in England following a bidding competition.[10] As a public service, the funding should be available unconditionally and to all regional governments. The shared public bike scheme run by Transport for London (TfL) and sponsored by Santander has been the primary supplier of shared bicycle rides. Its service focuses on the city centre, and its range barely exceeds zone 2 in London. While this is helpful for tourists and people already living in urban cores, this service and others like it should attempt to attract people who might use it to cycle to the train or ride a bike to drop it off by their workplace.

Critics might say that if you have to share roads between vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, then congestion will only increase. However, bikes need less space than vehicles and if fewer vehicles were on the road, there would be enough space for everyone. In 2018, 60 percent of 1-2 mile trips in England were made by car[11]; this could easily be replaced by bike rides.

If the UK wants to tackle the climate crisis, its congestion issues, and improve its citizens’ mental and physical welfare, national and regional governments need to establish a more efficient transport system. Constructing a coherent nationwide bicycle network is a step in the right direction.

Hannah Fuchs graduated with an MSc in EU Politics from The London School of Economics. She contributed to this year’s Young Fabian pamphlets “We, Robots: Writing a New Social Contract for AI-enabled Britain“ and “Next Gen Econ”. She has written for several leading publications, including Policy Network, Euractiv, and Cicero. Currently, she is the communications officer at the tech and children’s charity Lifelites.”
She tweets at @hannahlrf_.













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