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Cycling scores on all counts, says Johnson

07 August 2020

The Prime Minister is a keen cyclist and championed the mode when London’s mayor. Here is his foreword to the DfT’s new policy document, Gear change – a bold vision for cycling and walking 

“I have always known that millions more people in this country want to cycle, if the conditions are right, and the past four months have proved it. 

The joy of cycling is that doing it doesn’t just benefit you. It doesn’t just make you happier. It doesn’t just make you healthier. It helps millions of others too, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bike. It means less pollution and less noise for everyone. It means more trade for street-front businesses. It means fewer cars in front of yours at the lights. 

All of us, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, have suddenly found out what it is like to have streets where you can breathe clean air, hear the birds singing at noon, and walk or ride in safety. We have all noticed the new found safety on our roads with fewer cars hurtling down our streets, near our homes and our gardens and our schools. 

That is why this document aims to kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring. We announced in May £2bn of new funding for cycling and walking – representing a sixfold increase in dedicated funding, the biggest increase this country has ever seen. That will pay for first hundreds, then thousands of miles of protected bike lanes, so anyone can ride safely; low-traffic neighbourhoods to stop rat-running and make it easier to walk and cycle; bus and bike corridors on some main roads; and funding for a massive rise in e-bikes, all of which will open up cycling to more and different people and make places better for everyone. There will be vouchers to pay for bike maintenance, free cycling training for everyone who wants it, and parking changes to discourage the school run. 

I know not everyone can cycle, which is why we’re investing billions in roads, buses and railways too – but many more of us can and should. Vast numbers of car journeys are very short and could easily be travelled by bicycle. People often think that encouraging bikes and walking causes congestion – but it doesn’t, if you do it properly, and make the kind of changes we are proposing to streets to improve walking and cycling accessibility. 

Of course you can’t deliver a fridge-freezer on a cargo bike – but you can deliver plenty of other goods that currently come in diesel vans. I want bicycles to be part of an effusion of green transport, of electric cars, buses and trains, because clean air will be to the 21st century what clean water was to the 19th. 

This unprecedented pandemic has also shown many of us, myself very much included, that we need to think harder about our health. We need to think harder about how we can make lifestyle changes that keep us more active and fit – the way we travel is central to this. This strategy sets out our plans to start prescribing bikes on the NHS – with the bicycle in effect a giant, universal prescription, with our bike lanes becoming huge, 24-hour gyms, free and open to everyone. 

When I was mayor of London, one of the things I was proudest of was building some of the world’s best cycle lanes. It was often difficult and we faced opposition. But when the results of consultations and opinion polls came back, our opponents were often surprised to find themselves in a small minority. People want the radical change we are committing to in this strategy, and we politicians shouldn't be afraid to give it to them. 

I too am proud of this plan for unleashing our nation of cyclists – improving people’s health, the environment, and wider society along the way. This will mark a step change in how our towns and cities look, feel and operate for people across this country – I hope to see everyone soon on their bikes.”

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