UK cycling revolution

The COVID-19 lockdowns had an upside. It caused us to rethink what is important and provided opportunities for trialling cycle infrastructure (tactical urbanism). The United Kingdom (UK) recognised the opportunity, as did many other countries. The ACT never got off the mark. We could learn much from the UK.


  1. The UK gets it, but Andrew Bar does not
  2. UK onboard on COVID cruise
  3. PM kickstarts £2bn cycling and walking revolution – GOV.UK
  4. Chris Boardman interview
  5. Good cycling infrastructure is Coherent, Direct, Safe, Comfortable and Attractive
  6. PCT: understanding why people cycle

The UK gets it, but Andrew Bar does not

Without leadership, cycling will flounder, but with it, can flourish. Anne Treasure wrote about this in Leaders around the world trumpet the benefits of bike riding (The RiotACT, 4 February 2017).

Leaders around the world trumpet the benefits of bike riding, The RiotACT, 4 February 2017

“Since his re-election last year (2016), ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has pledged $30 million to fixing Canberra’s bike infrastructure, and made a New Year’s resolution to ride more.

His government’s financial commitments have made it clear that bike-riding is important to the ACT, and Barr is putting his bike where his money is – posting photos and videos to social media of himself riding around Canberra.”

“But words can be as important as actions, particularly when your words set the agenda for a government and a city – and the Chief Minister has yet to make a strong statement regarding a vision for bike-riding in the ACT.

Leaders around the world have made a point of declaring their commitment to promote bike-riding in their cities. Many have pointed to the range of benefits active travel brings to a city, including a healthier population and friendlier streets.”

Leaders around the world trumpet the benefits of bike riding, The RiotACT, 4 February 2017

Leaders in Sydney and Melbourne have supported cycling, both Mayor Clover Moore and Mayor Robert Doyle. Boris Johnson has backed a cycling boom in the UK. Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed cycling in Chicago. Eamon Ryan, leader of Ireland’s Green Party, a former co-owner of the Belfield Bike Shop in Dublin, is a cycling advocate. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, is making Paris bicycle friendly.

2020 has seen worldwide great gains in cycling. The ACT is out of step.

“Here’s hoping that the ACT Chief Minister takes inspiration from the leaders of great cities around the world and makes it clear that Canberra wants to lead the way for bike-riding in Australia – for the benefit of all Canberrans.”

Leaders around the world trumpet the benefits of bike riding, The RiotACT, 4 February 2017
The two Mayors (Boris Johnson and Roger Gifford), London, UK
The two Mayors (Boris Johnson and Roger Gifford), London, UK

UK onboard on COVID cruise

Climate change and active travel are largely ignored – still. 2020 was the year of fires, smoke, hailstones, and a global pandemic. In between all of that, active travel somewhere and somehow. ACT Government did not take advantage of the opportunity that COVID offered to experiment with cycle infrastructure. COVID created a sense of urgency, and we need that for change. The UK, however, did not!

The following quotes are from “Why active travel is so important for communities“, Mark Kemp, 13 August 2020. Mark Kemp is the chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board, UK.

Active travel brings many obvious benefits to the environment – the Committee on Climate Change recognised that is an essential element of the transition to a net-zero carbon economy, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. Whilst this is true, it also generates health, economic, and social benefits, can contribute to improved wellbeing and help to prevent or manage a range of chronic health conditions. It can also contribute to economic performance by reducing congestion. Active travel is, therefore, a vital component of the transport solution.”

Why active travel is so important for communities“, Mark Kemp, 13 August 2020. thinks, put like that, it seems pretty obvious, but in the ACT we – like everyone else – have COVID-19 and therefore no time to think about active travel.

What is different about the UK? They have COVID-19, too, as well as climate change, and all the other challenges thrown at us in 2020. Same problems, different response. How can we make sense of this?

ADEPT had the following to say.

“Active travel is, and should continue to be, a top priority for policymakers and planners. Local authorities already have tools available to assist with this, including refocusing budgets, linking to climate emergency declarations, and leading by example… Local authorities have also introduced reduced waiting times at pedestrian crossings, installing temporary roadworks and signage, and reallocating road space. Despite the significant uptake of active travel during the lockdown and its relaxation phases, we know that our members also need to further develop their training and promotional work.”

“It is not just about physical measures and we need to encourage the public to select active travel more often. Working with behavioural change experts we can help to deliver enhanced project outcomes that help people make the appropriate travel choice for the journey they are making.”

“ADEPT recognises that a major challenge to active travel is public perception. We need to consider all groups of society, looking at barriers to active travel and consider how it can become the normal, accepted way to move around. However, there is an opportunity to tap into people who want to embrace this change – we need to provide facilities and infrastructure for this growing group of people, who want to use active travel more frequently.”

“We cannot rely on the emergence of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles alone, and we must win the argument that active travel is the most sustainable option, which will make a huge contribution to climate targets.”

Why active travel is so important for communities“, Mark Kemp, 13 August 2020.

Further work needs to be done.

“This needs to include working with other stakeholders and their communities to understand their needs and may include identifying key gaps in existing active travel networks, identifying areas where more generous facilities are needed, and delivering new infrastructure.”

“There is also a need for government to play a central role in championing active travel and provide leadership at a national level. Additionally, there is a need to put the right policies and long-term funding (both capital and revenue) in place to enable local authorities to undertake behavioural and promotional work as well as develop, deliver and maintain the supporting infrastructure.”

Why active travel is so important for communities“, Mark Kemp, 13 August 2020.

He concludes:

“We need to be brave now with our transport network and ensure these changes become a permanent, viable component of the transport solution.”

Why active travel is so important for communities“, Mark Kemp, 13 August 2020. thought, with the 2020 ACT Election at our door, we could be expected more. The Active Travel policy position can be found on the ADEPT website.

PM kickstarts £2bn cycling and walking revolution – GOV.UK

It is not just about more cycling infrastructure but the recognition that it must be done better. The ACT and the Federal Government should take note. Paris, Ireland, and now the UK show that good cycling infrastructure requires leadership.

“New, higher standards for cycling infrastructure have also been published in updated guidance today, in order to make sure that schemes are better designed around cyclists’ needs and to make sure they can support a larger number of cyclists in the future. These higher standards will make clear that schemes which consist mainly of paint, which make pedestrians and cyclists share the same space, or which do not make meaningful change to the status quo on the road, will not be funded.”

UK Government website, accessed 3/8/2020
Photo by Oleg Magni on
Photo by Oleg Magni on

Chris Boardman interview

The Chris Boardman interview by FareCity introduces cycling leadership, a main ingredient if we want to change our ingrained car culture. Chris Boardman is not the first to point out the challenges. In a cycling sponsorship void, achieving a safe cycling infrastructure anytime soon is unlikely. That is why the ACT needs an Active Transport Commissioner.

“Bringing people around in a car-centric culture isn’t easy.”

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

In May 2021, Boardman was appointed Greater Manchester’s first Transport Commissioner.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Not only is this someone who ‘gets’ why active travel is so important for cities, but he’s also a fighter and strategist. Boardman is someone who gets stuff done. Despite all this, I’m surprised and a little disheartened that after four years there isn’t more on the ground in Greater Manchester to show for Boardman’s tenure. What has been delivered appears piecemeal and varies dramatically across the region’s ten boroughs.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.


“I understand your frustrations,” Boardman tells me, “I’d have been doing this ten times faster.” But the former Olympian is upbeat. “This is the year when you will see stuff is happening.” This is confirmed in a video about the network by Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham, who states: “People have heard the talk, but will say, ‘Well, where’s the reality?’ Well, it’s coming.” 55 miles of segregated, safe, cycling and walking provision is to be delivered by the end of 2021.

I probe Boardman further on the long-term delivery of active travel provision. “It’s here to stay because it has to,” he says, “it’s not hyperbole to say the whole world is going to have to do this very soon because transport is a third of your carbon emissions, and we’ve got to tackle it.” Surface transport, he explains, has to be zero carbon because it’s one of the areas of the grid that can be decarbonised, compared to others that can’t.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Moreover, the government has started to claw back funds from councils that are not complying and not doing it to standard – standards which Boardman himself introduced in Manchester four years ago.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

This has started to happen to councils nationwide who prematurely removed cycle schemes introduced during the pandemic after vocal opposition from some drivers.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Boardman stresses that the government policy doesn’t dictate how it’s done, but it is responsible for setting the requisite standards.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

As a consequence, Boardman says, “I’ve told a couple of councils, including Liverpool [which removed pop-up cycle lanes], ‘Don’t bother bidding for any more [funding] and the implication inside the system is that people are realising ‘Oh, this is serious, this could be really embarrassing.’”

“The system” is a phrase Boardman uses several times throughout our conversation to refer to local government. In response to the new policy, he says “There are also people within the system who are saying ‘At last, we get to do this really bold stuff!’”

Boardman’s previous role as Walking and Cycling Commissioner was as much about politics as drawing up active travel maps and discussing the technicalities of road junctions.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Importance of transport

Boardman explains, but he had a few conditions that had to be met for him to consider the role. “I asked him right from the get-go, ‘Listen, I’ve got to have some semblance of control of the cash to have influence, frankly, and I must be speaking for you. Without hesitation he said ‘Yep’, and I thought, ‘Oh shit, I’m going to have to do it now.’” He laughs.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Within six months of his appointment, Boardman had worked with the ten councils to create a £1.5 billion plan for a 1,000 km network. “We had political consensus, we had standards that would make sure it’s usable and not a waste of money,” he explains. “I guess Andy liked that, so then I spent another few years putting in the processes to oversee the programme to get that going.”

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

“In the meantime,” Boardman continues, “Andy’s realised that transport is everything.” Not only is it what links communities together, but it’s also an essential way to tackle a host of social and environmental problems that Boardman refers to throughout our interview, including congestion, pollution, health and car-related fatalities.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

The mission is to develop an affordable, integrated and accessible transport network across the entire region called the ‘Bee Network’. Boardman explains, “The vision is that you come out of your front door and within a few hundred metres there’s a bike hire station, you tap onto it with your card or your app and you ride to the tram stop, you dock your bike back in (or securely park it if it’s your own bike), you get on the tram and tap again.” The idea is for the fare to be capped and subsidised for young people and pensioners. “The whole thing is one system, and you mix and match depending on where you want to go.”

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.


Which cities is Boardman taking inspiration from, I ask. “London’s done great work with the buses,” he says, and also cites Barcelona’s buses and ‘superblocks’ which are effectively huge low-traffic neighbourhoods.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

However, Boardman is quick to admit that it’s not easily done: “Ideally nobody wants to be the first because it’s scary and it involves risk,” which is why he says, “I’m a big fan of taking things that are known to work elsewhere in the world and putting them together to make a new product if you like.” As an example, he refers to side road crossings, which are common in the rest of the world but not in the UK. “We’re very keen to have those.”

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

But if it were that easy to convince people of the need for an integrated transport system including an active travel network, there would be no need for politics. “It’s not easy,” Boardman admits and refers again to the system, “you get different people in the system who do not believe this is possible and a lot of them will not say that out loud, it’s in actions, but we’ve slowly worked our way through that. In government terms, we’ve actually worked our way through quickly.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Owning the advice

However, after presenting their findings, evidence, and recommendations to the team, 80% ignored them. Boardman realised that the 20% who agreed were those who had been in the wind tunnel. He needed to bring the rest of the team into the wind tunnel and have them learn for themselves and own the outcome. In this case, everyone came around to agreeing with the R&D team’s recommendations.

In Greater Manchester, Boardman’s version of the wind tunnel was sessions with councils where councillors drew up maps themselves of what infrastructure their area would need to facilitate walking and cycling. “Start with questions rather than statements,” Boardman advises. For example, “You said you would ride a bike on your street but not beyond it because there’s a busy road or a railway. What would need to be there for you to carry on on your bike … a bridge? Then draw a bridge.” By the end of the session, councillors had drawn themselves a map.

“The key thing that I learned in the wind tunnel is that I don’t own the outcome, I own the advice,” Boardman says. “And in Greater Manchester, I own the advice, and I give the best advice I can. I look at the individual I’m speaking to and ask ‘What do they need?’” He continues, “If I said ‘Everyone has to stop driving tomorrow,’ then no one’s going to do that because they can’t. So I have to think about how we can achieve what we want to in a way that you can sell on and you believe it can be done. That’s the politics of it.”

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

“I think it’s a completely useless role unless the powers that be want that person to do something. And I’ve seen several active travel champions and ambassadors and it’s just gesture politics. And I don’t do gesture politics.” He continues.

The Chris Boardman interview – FareCity, 7 September 2021, accessed 12 October 2021.

Good cycling infrastructure is Coherent, Direct, Safe, Comfortable and Attractive

Making Canberra a cycling city is not hard. It has been done elsewhere already. The UK Department of Transport explains how to make cities better for cyclists. We can learn from this. 🙂

Putting into words what makes sense for a cyclist for urban and transport planners.

Recommendations of the UK: Cycle Infrastructure Design Local Transport Note 1, 20 July 2020, UK Department of Transport, pages 30-31. 

4.2 Core design principles 

4.2.2 When people are travelling by cycle, they need networks and routes that are: Coherent, Direct, Safe, Comfortable and Attractive.

4.2.3 These design principles are further described below. 


4.2.4 Cycle networks should be planned and designed to allow people to reach their day-to-day destinations easily, along routes that connect, are simple to navigate and are of a consistently high quality. Abrupt reductions in the quality of provision for cyclists – such as a busy high-speed roundabout without facilities – will mean that an otherwise serviceable route becomes unusable by most potential users. Sections that do not meet accessibility standards, such as steps on a cycle route, will render a whole journey inaccessible for some people. 

4.2.5 Main roads are often the only direct, coherent route available to move between places, but these are usually the roads where people most fear the danger from motor vehicles. Consequently, the provision of adequately safe, attractive and comfortable facilities along these roads is crucial to creating a coherent cycling network. 

4.2.6 A cycle route may vary in nature along its length, for example a signed route along a quiet street may continue as a motor traffic free route through a green space, but the connection between successive sections should be obvious. Similarly, a route through a complex junction should be clear to all road users. Direction signs, road markings and coloured surfacing in combination with physical design features can all help to provide coherence. 


4.2.7 Directness is measured in both distance and time, and so routes should provide the shortest and fastest way of travelling from place to place. This includes providing facilities at junctions that minimise delay and the need to stop. Minimising the effort required to cycle, by enabling cyclists to maintain momentum, is an important aspect of directness. An indirect designated route involving extra distance or more stopping and starting will result in some cyclists choosing the most direct, faster option, even if it is less safe. 

4.2.8 To make cycling an attractive alternative to driving short distances, cycle routes should be at least as direct – and preferably more direct – than those available for private motor vehicles. Permitting cyclists to make movements prohibited to motor traffic, allowing contraflow cycling, and creating links between cul-de-sacs to enable cyclists to take the shortest route, should be the default approach in traffic management schemes and new road networks. Area-wide schemes and new developments can enable filtered permeability, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to take more direct routes than motorised traffic. 


4.2.9 Not only must cycle infrastructure be safe, it should also be perceived to be safe so that more people feel able to cycle. 

4.2.10 Safety and environmental improvements for all road users can be achieved by reducing motor traffic volumes and speeds, for example by introducing filtered permeability or traffic calming. Reducing motor traffic may also release space to enable the construction of separate facilities for cyclists on links and at junctions.

4.2.11 On busy strategic roads where a significant reduction in traffic speeds and volumes is not appropriate, safety will need to be achieved by providing dedicated and protected space for cycling, which may involve reallocating existing space within the highway (or providing a parallel route). Reallocation will typically involve moving kerb lines and street furniture, and providing well-designed crossings and facilities at junctions where most casualties occur. The potential for conflict between pedestrians and cyclists should be minimised by keeping them separate except in low speed, low traffic environments (see Figure 4.2). Where pedestrians and cyclists share surfaces, sufficient width should be provided to enable users to feel safe by allowing them to see other users and to avoid each other when passing. 

4.2.12 Cycle routes remote from roads may have other risks relating to crime and personal security. The risk of crime can be reduced through the removal of hiding places along a route, by providing frequent access points, by providing lighting, and by passive surveillance from overlooking buildings and other users. 

4.2.13 Maintenance to address surface defects, overgrown vegetation, fallen leaves, snow and ice will all help to reduce the likelihood of falls and crashes for all people and preserve available width and sight lines for cyclists. Cycle parking should be sited where people using the facilities can feel safe from traffic and crime, and away from pedestrian paths.


4.2.14 Comfortable conditions for cycling require routes with good quality, well-maintained smooth surfaces, adequate width for the volume of users, minimal stopping and starting, avoiding steep gradients, excessive or uneven crossfall and adverse camber. The need to interact with high speed or high-volume motor traffic also decreases user comfort by increasing the level of stress and the mental effort required to cycle. 

4.2.15 Adequate width is important for comfort. Cycling is a sociable activity and many people will want to cycle side by side, and to overtake another cyclist safely. It is important that cyclists can choose their own speed so that they can make comfortable progress commensurate with the amount of effort they wish to put in.

4.2.16 Designers should consider comfort for all users including children, families, older and disabled people using three or four-wheeled cycles. Families are more likely to use off-carriageway facilities. Young children may need additional space to wobble or for an accompanying parent to ride alongside. 


4.2.17 Cycling and walking provide a more sensory experience than driving. People are more directly exposed to the environment they are moving through and value attractive routes through parks, waterfront locations, and well-designed streets and squares. Cycling is a pleasurable activity, in part because it involves such close contact with the surroundings, but this also intensifies concerns about personal security and traffic danger. The attractiveness of the route will therefore affect whether users choose cycling as a means of transport. 

4.2.18 The environment should be attractive, stimulating and free from litter or broken glass. The ability for people to window shop, walk or cycle two abreast, converse or stop to rest or look at a view, makes for a more pleasant experience. 

Understanding why people cycle

Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) is an online, open-source transport planning system from the UK for improving cycling infrastructure. They researched why people cycle to identify the factors that most likely to get people on bikes.

“The PCT was designed to assist transport planners and policy makers to prioritise investments and interventions to promote cycling. The PCT answers the question: ‘where is cycling currently common and where does cycling have the greatest potential to grow?’.”

About the Propensity to Cycle Tool,, accessed 25/8/2020

“The work was initially funded by the English Department for Transport (DfT) to create the National Propensity to Cycle Tool for England (2015-2017, with further funding in 2018-19).”

About the Propensity to Cycle Tool,, accessed 25/8/2020
Photo by Tommy Milanese on
London, UK. Photo by Tommy Milanese on

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