Supporting cyclists in the Growth Corridor

Published: 10 Oct 2017

By: Andrew Gilligan

Tagged: ,

A portrait

Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes are some of Britain’s fastest-growing, most productive places – and a key focus for the Commission. They could be Britain’s Silicon Valley. But they are, quite literally, running out of road.

Unless we can find an answer to these cities’ often severe traffic congestion, their and our growth plans are at risk. The usual answers, however, do not work. In Oxford and Cambridge, at least, there is no possibility of building new roads, and no desire for them. Gone are the days when plans could be made for a highway through Christ Church Meadow. A metro or tram would also be destructive, enormously expensive, and fail to serve much of the conurbations. There isn’t even much room in the centres of these cities for more buses.

Luckily, one simpler, cheaper, and less obtrusive answer is staring Oxford and Cambridge in the face. It is something which already epitomises both places; which, in Cambridge, already has a greater share of journeys than any other mode, and in Oxford not much less. It is, of course, the bicycle.  

For the last two months, I have been preparing a report for the Commission on how the bicycle can help meet the transport needs of Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. If these cities cannot create new roadspace, they need to make better use of the roads they already have. Cycling is the cheapest, least disruptive way to do that.

Although Oxford and Cambridge are already Britain’s only true cycling cities, it has happened without much encouragement from the authorities – who often still treat cycling as marginal, and give it far less attention than it deserves. Those commuting in to the cities from outside still overwhelmingly drive, even though many of those journeys, too, are also eminently cyclable.

What that means is that there is still considerable potential for increasing cycling in both places. My report will suggest a number of ways to bring that about, and some policies to help people who do not want to cycle, as well.

In Milton Keynes, in many ways different from the other two, the issues are less pressing, but will end up the same. There is still capacity on MK’s roads. Not for long, however, given the growth envisaged. Cycling can keep it ahead of the congestion crunch – and the city has the basis of a reasonable cycle network if it can improve its currently neglected and difficult-to-use bike paths.

Almost wherever I went in these three cities, I found significant local political support and will to do more for cycling. But our plans will also need money, and a change in the national view that cycling is unimportant and unworthy of serious spending.

The case for the bicycle is not just narrowly economic, though. The way we travel now makes our cities, including parts of all these three cities, ugly, dirty, noisy and dangerous. More people cycling would make them safer, cleaner, quieter and more desirable. The way we travel now makes us miserable and ill. Every bike lane is a giant, free, outdoor gym, and most cyclists enjoy their commutes. More people cycling could be the single biggest way to improve the nation’s health and happiness.

None of this is complicated; it has already happened, years ago, in other countries. Given the head start which cycling has in Oxford and Cambridge, they are the best places to show how Britain, too, can make this kind of future.

I look forward to publishing the report next month.



Share this article


Recent Articles

Coming up in 2024
Thumbtack pins in calendar concept for busy, appointment and meeting reminder

Coming up in 2024

This page shows a calendar reflecting the latest expected dates for Commission reports, publications and events. You can also sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter by entering your email address in the box at the foot of each website page.

1 Feb 2024 By
Commission to explore capability of local electricity grid to support renewables push
electricity substation

Commission to explore capability of local electricity grid to support renewables push

Ensuring that the network connecting homes and businesses to the electricity supply can cope with the demands of a fully electric-powered economy will be the focus of a new piece of work by the National Infrastructure Commission. The government has today (27 February) published the terms of reference for the study, which asks the Commission...

27 Feb 2024 By
We’re recruiting – Senior Policy Adviser (environment)
Floodplain near Wollaston

We’re recruiting – Senior Policy Adviser (environment)

We’re looking to recuit someone with a particular interest in water management to join our environment team and help develop policies that enables our infrastructure systems to better protect and enhance our natural environment and safeguard important natural resources in the face of climate change impacts. Based in our Leeds office, the successful candidate will...

23 Feb 2024 By
Letter to government on business models for net zero technologies

Letter to government on business models for net zero technologies

Commission Chair Sir John Armitt has written to government setting out the need to accelerate efforts to encourage private investment in the energy infrastructure pivotal to achieving net zero and energy security. In a letter to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Sir John highlights the importance of...

23 Feb 2024 By

Evidence_Icon_Turquoise Created with Sketch.

Explore data used in the Commission's research, and gain insights from across UK infrastructure

Join our team of professionals supporting the Commission to provide evidence based and forward thinking advice on infrastructure strategy.