Funding Cuts Threaten London’s Cycling Infrastructure

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

If you are a cyclist living in London or planning to visit the city and see it by bike, you should know that cycling in the city may soon be more dangerous as planned improvements on the city’s bike infrastructure may have to be cancelled because there will not be any money for it.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that city roads will become more dangerous for cyclists if road safety schemes will be scrapped because the British government has cut funding for Transport for London (TfL), the local body responsible for maintaining the city’s cycling and walking infrastructure. TfL is facing a huge budget shortfall and has also warned of massive cuts to bus, Tube and road services if its funding is cut. The agency also said that discussions with the government were continuing in its attempt to secure long-term funding aid.

Cycling in London
Providing safer cycling conditions would help local authorities working to reduce pollution by getting more people to commute by bike. © Profimedia

One major reason for the TfL’s revenue shortfall is the reduction in revenues from public transport fares due to the Covid pandemic. This suggests that other cities planning cycling infrastructure improvements may suffer the same fate for the same reason. TfL’s current emergency bailout agreement with the government was due to expire on February 4 but the deal has been extended by two weeks. If there is no agreement by that deadline, TfL’s Healthy Streets budget, which is earmarked for cycling and walking projects, will suffer an enforced cut of £473 million and will have a £1.5 billion budget shortfall by 2024-25.

To keep its budget viable, the TfL has made emergency proposals that include abandoning walking and cycling projects, as well as ending its Direct Vision scheme to protect vulnerable road users from lorries. Khan said this would have serious consequences for planned road safety improvements and oblige the TfL to adopt a policy of “managed decline” as additional infrastructure projects will be scrapped. “The bad news is that managed decline means not only can we not make the pace of progress that cyclists want but we won’t be able to preserve those junctions that we have [improved],” Khan told the Evening Standard.

The failure to improve cycling infrastructure could also keep people from cycling for recreation or commuting. According to a recent Australian survey, a lack of proper cycling infrastructure, with bike paths physically separated from traffic, is keeping people, even those who own bikes, from cycling as much as they want to. Nick Bowes, chief executive at the Centre for London think tank, said encouraging walking and cycling was “crucial” if London was to have safer streets, cleaner air and less congestion. “If we’re to have a shot at reaching these targets, getting more people walking and cycling for shorter journeys is crucial,” he said. “But this will be all the harder if the Transport for London’s Healthy Streets budget is cut. Without a funding settlement, we will struggle to build safe, well-designed routes that support people to walk and cycle more.”