You have to sympathise with politicians sometimes. Yes, really. I wouldn't want to excuse any duck house purchases or lying about speeding points, but in how many other professions is continued employment reliant on satisfying the demands of thousands of bosses simultaneously? Whether on housing or Syria, the economy or HS2, before acting, MPs must consider the reaction of voters, political benefactors, allies, financial supporters and the views of campaign groups, all insisting that their preferred plan is the only popular, workable or affordable option. Pick a side, and they can lose votes, patronage, finances, support and even their livelihoods and gain the vitriolic enmity of the opposing side.
But as demonstrated by the Get Britain Cycling report, which was published this week following an inquiry by a group of MPs and Lords, there is no longer any such dilemma associated with helping people get on their bikes. Here are five reasons would lose nothing by getting behind cycling:
1. Cycling is popular
More and more people across the country want to take up cycling. Last year we published figures showing that the number of people using Sustrans' National Cycle Network had increase 18% in a year, and both the Olympics and the sporting success of British cyclists has ensured that an extraordinary interest has developed across the UK. Sadly, dangerous roads and a lack of decent local routes ensure that much of this interest cannot be currently satisfied.
2. Cyclists are politically organised and influential
Sustrans and other cycling groups have been fighting on behalf of cyclists for decades, and The Times' Cities Fit for Cycling campaign has upped the ante in the last year. Last year's London Mayoral battle saw cycling take centre stage as a critical election issue with manifesto commitments made by all four of the major Mayoral candidates. As we approach a general election, astute political parties would do well to pay attention to the cycle vote, growing in size, influence, self-awareness and appetite.
3. Cycling saves the government money
At present 36,815 lives are lost in England every year because of physical inactivity. The growing obesity crisis - as well as high levels of heart disease, cancer and other fatal illnesses - puts an immense but avoidable strain on the NHS. What is more, funding the infrastructure for so many journeys to be made by car is a major drain on stretched budgets. Encouraging walking and cycling provides the cheapest way of dealing with the immense public health problems caused by air pollution. Cycling does of course require investment, but the cash required dwarfs the figures being banded around for new roads - and the pay off is far higher.
4. There are no losers when more people cycle
The benefits to those who cycle are well established: longer, happier lives, better health and more money. But none of this comes at someone else's expense. Every new journey made by bike means one less car on the road, meaning less congestion and more parking spaces for those who must drive. The savings to government are of course shared among every taxpayer, and by freeing up resources and time in the NHS, everyone's health benefits too.
5. There is no controversy over what needs to happen
Sustrans, CTC, British Cycling, Cycle Nation, the Bicycle Association and the London Cycling Campaign all have different focuses to their work. But we are entirely agreed on what needs to happen to Get Britain Cycling. During the inquiry's evidence sessions our calls for political leadership, slower speeds, better infrastructure and meaningful funding were echoed by a host of others, from representatives of the media to transport experts, from celebrities to ministers themselves . The MPs' report reflects this consensus.
So popularity, electoral gain and government savings. No one loses out and there is no controversy over what is required - or what is at stake. There can be few political decisions that are so heavily weighted in favour of one course of action. The government simply must sign up in full to the report's recommendations.Suggest a correction