NIC calls for £200m injection in cycling infrastructure to prevent cities “seizing up”

The latest report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has highlighted the need for more focus on cycling infrastructure to ensure traffic problems in cities like Oxford and Cambridge are solved. 

The NIC commissioned paper which was been undertaken by former cycling commissioner for London Andrew Gilligan examines how cycling could tackle chronic congestion in Oxford and Cambridge and growing congestion in Milton Keynes, as part of the independent evidence base for its report on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Growth Arc.

It suggests that new protected bike lanes are urgently needed and the government should inject an extra £200m for the work, if both cities agree to the plans and take other measures to cut traffic by 15% in the next four years. 

Money within the pot should be allocated towards creating five high-quality new routes in Oxford and three new routes in Cambridge while rebuilding problem junctions and constructing better "last-mile" cycling from park-and-ride and the railway stations so people who live outside the cities need not drive the whole way.

The Running out of road report says that roads in the two cities - where up to 43% of commuter journeys are made by bike - should be reshaped to reflect how people in them actually travel, with new separated cycle tracks on main roads, new off-road routes and re-modelled junctions to make them safer for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Despite the high proportion of cyclists in both Oxford and Cambridge, policymakers treat bikes as essentially marginal, according to Gilligan with the author asking people to imagine what cycling could do with the attention it deserves.

Some key recommendations of the report include the fact that roads of Oxford and Cambridge are said to be “close to a tipping point” with the levels of growth planned, congestion in these cities risks soon becoming unmanageable. The report’s author also stresses how growth cannot succeed without addressing transport but the usual approaches do not work with both cities’ centres already clogged with buses. 

Commenting on the report, Gilligan said: "Without transport improvements, Oxford and Cambridge will seize up. But none of the usual improvements work. New roadbuilding within these cities is impossible. Light rail is expensive and slow to deliver. There isn't even room in the centres of these cities for more buses. But one simple answer is staring Oxford and Cambridge in the face: the bicycle. Getting more people to cycle is the quickest, cheapest and least disruptive way to relieve pressure on their roads."

Milton Keynes is also earmarked within the report and while issues are described as “less pressing”, Gilligan claims the city could easily end up the same. Although there is still said to be capacity on roads. cycling can keep Milton Keynes “ahead of the crunch” as growth inevitably follows, the report adds. £10m of the money should be used to upgrade Milton Keynes' neglected "redway" cycle network and provide a new city-centre link.

Chief executive of the NIC, Phil Graham added: “Creating thriving and liveable communities supported by the right infrastructure is essential to safeguard the prosperity of one of the most economically important regions in the country. Maintaining its global lead in science and technology means retaining the brightest and best and providing them with new places to live and accessible routes to work. This report highlights the important role cycling could play in connecting communities. We hope local leaders consider its recommendations as part of their development of an integrated transport strategy for the Arc.”

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