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The wheel of good fortune?

| Blog, Cycling Plus, Features | 05/01/2011 09:30am

Improved cycle lanes, better bike parking, more people on bikes…and a man in a chicken suit. With Cycling England to disappear in March 2012, Nicola Smith takes a look at its most ambitious project – Cycling Demonstration Towns.

Between 1995 and 2005 the average annual investment in cycling across England amounted to about 70p per head. In October 2005 this changed with the launch of a Government funded Cycling Demonstration Town project designed to boost community participation in cycling. Managed by Cycling England, a Department of Transport body now due to fold in March 2012 (see below), the project kicked off with six towns being given £5 per head per year, matched locally to total £10 per head per year. These levels of funding matched those in mainland Europe, where cycling levels have consistently grown. In 2008 a further 10 towns and one city were added to the programme. Each town has developed its own programme of activities, but is supported by existing Cycling England packages such as Bikeability training for schoolchildren, the Bike It cycle to school initiative, and Go Ride, a development programme aimed at improving young riders and clubs. The DfT claims that cycling has increased by 27% in the six original Cycling Towns, and that for every £1 spent, £3 has been saved. But what exactly have the towns achieved so far, and what is the word on the street?

THE SIX ORIGINALS

AYLESBURY

Launched: October, 2005 Total budget: Approx. £4.7m.

Objectives: Marketing the existing cycle network, and promoting cycling trips to schools, railway station, work and town centre.

Achievements: Nine dedicated cycling routes (the Gemstone network) are now signed using times rather than distance; and route-specific maps have been distributed.  In the first three years of the project there was an 11% increase in cycling levels, a 7% increase in cycling to school and a 234% increase in cycling to BikeIt schools.

Word on the street: “The worst of the initiatives has been that anyone who spotted a man dressed-up in a chicken outfit could call the local radio station and claim a £300 bike voucher – this lead to a lot of ‘free’ bikes being given to people who didn’t have any inclination of riding,” says Jeremy Mulkern, Secretary of Aylesbury Cycling Club and former employee of Buckingham Bikes. “There should have been a more strategic approach to the cycling network and people’s general perception of cycling and cyclists.”

BRIGHTON & HOVE

Launched: 2005 Total budget: £6.5m

Objectives: To focus on the west, principally Hove, with the first three years looking at four priorities: a Cycle Freeway Network, a large-scale Personalised Travel Planning programme, Bikeability training for 1,300 pupils annually, and infrastructure improvements.

Achievements: Since early 2007, 35 organisations have implemented cycle travel plans – involving over 24,000 employees. The Personalised Travel Planning Programme has advised 30,000 households on the health benefits of cycling; and secure cycle parking has been installed at 17 of the city’s BikeIt schools. Between 2006-9, Brighton & Hove saw a 27% increase in cycling.

Word on the street: “Cycling seems to be much more popular judging by the amount of work we have in our repair shop,” says Gordon Davey, Proprietor of Brighton’s G-Whizz Cycles. “There is a great range of cycle path maps, leisure and commuting. The cycle lanes have also improved greatly in some areas. We also now have lots of cycle stands in many high residency areas now, very welcome.”

DARLINGTON

Launched: October, 2005 Money spent: £5.4m

Objectives: To improve the existing cycle infrastructure, including a new crossing over the A66, and links to the railway station and town centre; and to install secure cycle parking at key locations. To increase trips made by bike from 1% to 3%.

Achievements: Seven radial cycling routes have been installed, doubling the length of the cycle route to 41 km.  1200 new parking spaces have been installed at schools; Bikeability training has been adopted by 96% of primary schools, and travel to school by bike has increased from 0.9% in 2005 to 6.1% in 2008. Overall, cycling levels have increased by 57%.

Word on the street: “The scheme has been great,” says Beverly Evans, manager of Bikesport cycle shop in Darlington. “Routes have improved, signage has improved and we have seen slightly increased sales, particularly from women who want to cycle after having the free tuition lessons on offer.”

DERBY

Launched: October, 2005 Total budget: £6.1m

Objectives: Encouraging cycling among those aged under 25, to ensure a sustained change in behaviour among young people.

Achievements: Cycle training takes place at all 54 primary schools; 36 schools have Bike It officer support; and all secondary schools have had permanent after-school clubs since 2009. Dropped kerbs and cycle lanes have been introduced, and the BMX track is now competition standard. Cycling and scooting to school has increased by 6%. The Cycle Derby website has had over half a million visitors in three years.

Word on the street: “It has certainly helped,” says Grant Mosley, manager of Mercian Cycles. “I have definitely seen more people commuting to work by bike, and we have seen a slight increase in business as a result. It is also being pretty well marketed with things like free cycle maps being distributed.”

EXETER

Launched: October, 2005 Total budget: £8.1m

Objectives: To achieve 20% of children cycling to secondary schools by 2008; a 19% increase in average daily cycle trips at key locations by 2008; and no increase in the rate of cycling casualties.

Achievements: By 2009, 22% of children regularly cycled to secondary school (National Average is 3%) and 15% cycled to Primary School (National Average is 1%). 40% of average daily trips are by bike, and this equates to an increase from around 800,000 average annual trips to 1.1million. 10% of people cycle to work; and over 45km of new or improved route has been constructed. There has been no increase in casualties.

Word on the street: “It has made Exeter a much safer place to cycle, and the streets are flooded with commuters and leisure cyclists,” says Jake Scoynes, Manager of Sidwell Cycles. “The cycle paths have definitely been the big player. Some of the routes need slightly re-planning as they aren’t in the best of areas, and more advertising is needed – some people had no idea that the scheme was even in order.”

LANCASTER & MORECOMBE

Launched: 2005 Total budget: £6m

Objectives: To improve infrastructure, including permitting cycling on the Morecambe Promenade, upgrading the canal towpath routes, and improving links to local employers, schools and the city centre.

Achievements: The cycle network has increased by 30 kms to 79 kms. Advance stop lines have been introduced on the A6 in Lancaster, and over 700 new cycle parking spaces have been installed. Lancaster also pioneered the idea of a virtual bike race, which sees the miles children cycle to school added to their school’s virtual ‘Journey Round the World.’  At the end of 2009 there had been a 17% increase on 2005 cycling levels.

Word on the street: “As an active person in the local cycling scene I have seen the numbers on the Lune RCC club runs increase greatly with a record number of new people, and a growing proportion of females,” says Kevin Hodgson, managing director of Lancaster-based online bike shop, Vanilla Bikes.  “Lancaster City Cycling Club has had record numbers trying their 2.5 to 10 miles time trials.”   

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