Gear change: the real legacy of the government’s cycling vision

Source: Department for Transport, 2020a

The government’s recently published vision for walking and cycling “Gear change” (Department for Transport, 2020a)  is a step up from previous announcements on cycling. I think it is a great vision for everybody who cycles and people who’d like to.  

Three elements of particular interest to allied health professionals include:

  • Piloting an approach for GPs to be able to prescribe cycling (this could already be implemented locally by joining up the dots between different organisations)
  • Increasing access to e-bikes by setting up a new national e-bike programme, with the possibility of financial support, and
  • New infrastructure assessed by a new statutory body, Active Travel England, which makes people feel safe to cycle. 

These are all incentives to cycle (and so gain the health and wellbeing benefits of doing so) but as ever, the devil is in the detail – or lack of it – and the budget – or lack of it. 

Source: Department for Transport, 2020a

£2bn is promised of which £250m has already been spent on pop up cycle lanes during the lockdown. Quick arithmetic (based on Taylor & Hiblin, 2017) suggests that even if all the remainder was spent on cycle lanes this would result in only about 1200 km of London-style “cycle superhighway” across the UK over 5 years. We don’t need this degree of protection everywhere but it demonstrates that we will need significant extra money to make the vision a reality. 

Cycle routes must be accessible to recumbents, trikes, handcycles, and other cycles used by disabled cyclists” 
Source: Department for Transport, 2020a.

As Isabelle Clement of Wheels for Wellbeing tweeted, there will be “a long term legacy’ for Disabled people, and especially those who ride non-standard cycles such as trikes or recumbents. It opens up cycling as transport for many more people.  Local authorities are in charge of most of the roads people cycle on and guidance – Cycle Infrastructure Design (Department for Transport, 2020b) – was published for them on the same day as Gear Change (Department for Transport, 2020a). Such guidance had not been updated since 2008. Disabled people are now recognised as using cycling as a mobility aid (see text box below) and their needs are better defined and more integrated into the guidance. For example, the earlier guidance did not mention parking for non-standard cycles, but unless people can lock their cycles safely they will not routinely use them to go shopping. 

Source: Department for Transport, 2020b

The implementation of this guidance will only happen as new infrastructure is built so it will take time for it to be seen around us. But at least there is now a positive vision for the UK and a legal underpinning in the cycling guidance.


Department for Transport. (2020a). Gear change. A bold vision for cycling and walking. UK government.

Department for Transport. (2020b). Cycling infrastructure design. Local Transport Note 1/20. The Stationery Office.

Taylor, I. & Hiblin, B. (2017). Typical costs of cycling interventions. Interim analysis of Cycle City Ambition schemes.

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