I was just thinking... about cycling schemes

Road cyclist, bicycle wheel in foreground (surface level)

Road cyclist, bicycle wheel in foreground (surface level) - Credit: Getty Images


… about cycling. There is great news that £300,000 has been granted to ‘de-diabolicalise’ the cycle path on the A10 between Shepreth Frog End junction and Foxton Bottom. The leg-propulsion lobby must be cock a hoop. Although it could be argued that the money has been granted to upgrade a route from halfway to somewhere to halfway to somewhere else. Neither fish nor fowl really. Surely it would be better to grasp the nettle and improve a more sensible stretch of cycleway. Having recovered my abacus from the attic, I set to working out what it would cost to upgrade the whole route from Royston to Cambridge. An eye-popping £2.5million was the answer. Possibly a great deal more. Can’t you already see conventional thinking mustering the evidence that such large amounts of money must be better spent on measures that would benefit more of the whole of the travelling public and not just a few fanatics who like getting hot and sweaty on bicycles?

In these times when the speed at which we live our lives grows ever faster, the combustion engine rules. It is the undisputed King of the Road. Cyclists, equestrians and pedestrians have been all but banished from those historic turnpikes and other routes that criss-cross our countryside. The Ermine Street and the Icknield Way, which intersect at Royston, are now nothing but tarmac scars which bear the ever-increasingly impatient motorist on his or her way to the next traffic jam. The political commitment to road building, to spending £34.2bn [oh no, sorry, it’s just risen to £42.6bn - plus £7.5bn for rolling stock] on HS2, to expanding both Luton and Stansted airports all demonstrate that the future is envisioned as a place dominated by hi-tech transportation. In this context, spending £2.5million on a local cycle route is the tiniest of drops in the ocean.

At a political level the transport debate is clearly a sophisticated one. It focuses, inevitably, on economics. The central case being put for HS2 is a financial one despite many of the objections being environmental. The dualling of the A11 at Thetford is a fait accompli as, once again, environmental considerations are sidelined out of expediency to the greater economic good. The same will no doubt happen with the expansion of the A14 in our region to become the country’s major East/West arterial route. Prosperity will be brought, we are told, to the North, to East Anglia, to Norwich. And with prosperity will come employment. And with employment will come a rise is the standard of living. And with a rise in that standard will come political popularity. And we all know what that leads to.

It begs a question, once again, about sustainability. Of course, it is just as impossible and undesirable to uninvent developing technologies as it is to uninvent the wheel itself but it is a question of proportion. The vast sums of money that are being invested in those developing technologies leave leeway for little more than token investment in measures that are not perceived as contributing to the economic wellbeing of the nation. The investment in the 1.7km of cycle path is certainly welcome but it feels like little more than a gesture, a bit of hush money.

“We’ll give you some nice new, high specification pathway, if you go away, stop bothering us and leave us to invest billions in more roads, more railway lines and more airports that this country really wants.” The trouble is what the country wants and what it needs might just be more divergent than our elected representatives are prepared to countenance.