Speech

Le Grand Depart: getting Britain and France on their bikes

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

We want to learn from experience in France and Britain to help more people cycle more often.

Robert Goodwill MP

Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est un grand plaisir pour moi d’avoir été invité à prendre la parole aujourd’hui.

Le Conseil Franco-Britannique est une organisation extrêmement importante. L’événement d’aujourd’hui nous offre une excellente occasion de discuter et de nous enrichir mutuellement de nos expériences.

Comme Hemingway a dit:

C’est à bicyclette qu’on voit le mieux comment un pays est fait.

Il n’y a pas de meilleur sujet pour promouvoir la compréhension et la coopération entre nos deux grandes nations.

Today’s (3 July 2014) meeting is a prologue for tomorrow’s Grand Depart.

The world’s greatest cycle race has finally come to Yorkshire.

It’s a fantastic opportunity, for the best riders in the world, to see just what they’ve been missing all these years.

Cycle Yorkshire is committed to delivering a significant and enduring legacy of the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire.

The modern bicycle is actually a great example of what happens when France and Britain cooperate for mutual advantage.

You’ll know that there are many claimants to be the original inventor of the modern bicycle.

But one of the strongest is Pierre Michaux, a blacksmith from Bar le Duc.

He is credited with the invention of the ‘velocipede’ in the mid-1860s.

Bicycle manufacturing began in Britain in late 1868 when one Rowley B. Turner brought one of Michaux’s inventions to his uncle’s sewing machine factory in Coventry with an order for 400 velocipedes to be exported back to France.

But unfortunately the Franco-Prussian War intervened, so instead the company looked to generate interest in the domestic market.

And so it is thanks to France that cycling came to Britain. May I just take this opportunity to say: merci beaucoup.

Some twenty years later the company introduced a new model called the Rover.

Unlike any other bike on the market it had a triangular frame, the same size wheels and – most importantly - a chain drive. And so the template for the modern bikes we ride today was invented in Britain.

The unique selling point of the Rover at the time was its safety. In fact it was called a ‘safety cycle’.

It was much more stable, the riding position was lower so you were less likely to bang your head on a tree and because the riders’ feet were nearer the ground it was easier to stop.

The development of the Rover meant that cycling, which had previously been seen as an activity for daring young men was seen as much safer, and therefore became much more popular - especially for women.

And that sparked a cycling revolution across the world.

For the first time, most people in work were able to afford a mode of transport that gave them the opportunity, and the freedom, to travel for work and leisure.

Alongside the bus, tram and train, cycling was one of the most popular modes of transport in Britain and France until the 1950s. But from that point on the number of people cycling declined until it became once again, an activity for the young, fit and – mostly - male.

Despite an increase in cycling in recent years, in cities like Paris, Lyon, Edinburgh and London still only about 2% of all journeys are by bike.

There is a pressing need to reverse that trend.

In Britain, congestion on urban roads is costing the economy millions already. And, if we do nothing, the pressure on our streets is set to increase in the future with traffic levels estimated to be anywhere between 22% to 71% higher by 2040.

Cycling can and should play an important role in making our cities more attractive places to live.

For many urban journeys it is actually quicker than taking the car.

It is good for your health.

It is good for the environment.

And by taking car journeys off the road, it cuts congestion for everyone else.

The Prime Minister has said he wants to see a cycling revolution in Britain.

For that to happen, we need cycling to become an everyday activity once again. We need it to be seen as a normal mode of transport for work or pleasure. Put simply, we need to move beyond lycra.

But even though estimates show that, per million miles cycled, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the UK’s roads have fallen by 33% since the 1990s, two-thirds of women say the roads are too dangerous to cycle on.

For cycling to become a mass activity again these are the people we need back in the saddle. For that to happen, we need to learn the lesson from what happened with the introduction of the safety cycle in the nineteenth century.

To get more people back on their bikes, we need to make people feel that they will be safe when they ride.

That means providing high quality cycling infrastructure. Integrated networks where people on bikes feel they are not at risk of being run over.

I know that Paris and London have raised the bar with their ambitious plans and that Nantes and Bordeaux are already in the top ten global cycling cities.

We have more than doubled spending on cycling in Britain.

We are changing the rules to help councils put better cycling infrastructure in place. That includes making it easier to introduce 20 mile an hour zones. We will be piloting cycling streets giving cyclists the priority over other traffic. And we have provided cycling training for over 1 million people and intend to train a further 600,000 by 2015.

This government is determined to do more to increase cycling and we know real results cannot be achieved overnight.

This is why we are developing a Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan which will set out how the Prime Minister’s ambition to achieve a cycling revolution is to be delivered over the course of the next 10 years because we are determined that more people should benefit from cycling.

Pour résumer, nous voulons apprendre de vos expériences.

Ce qui fonctionne, ce qui ne fonctionne pas et ce que les priorités d’investissement devraient être.

C’est pourquoi l’événement d’aujourd’hui est si important.

Nous voulons voir plus de gens à vélo.

Cela est essentiel si nous voulons que notre circulation reste fluide, notre population en bonne santé et que la qualité de vie dans nos villes continue à se maintenir et à progresser.

Le meilleur moyen pour cela est d’apprendre mutuellement de nos succès, et - quand elles se produisent – de nos erreurs.

Merci de votre attention. J’espère que mon accent a été au niveau.

J’espère que vous apprécierez le reste de la journée.

Published 3 July 2014