, , ,

Bicycle Mayors


We cannot reduce overall carbon emissions and meet legislated national targets without addressing head on the UK’s biggest emitter, the transport sector. The main source of these emissions are the petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads. Currently we are taking one step forward, two steps back. Carbon emissions from road transport continue to grow because traffic volume is increasing faster than fuel efficiency gains can keep up. The solution is clear enough: we need to cut drastically the miles travelled by car.

From an urban transport policy, the principles are very simple. Avoid. Shift. Improve.

Firstly, avoid the need to travel in the first place through greater physical proximity in compact urban design and by making more services available within local communities. At the same time, switch to alternative means of connecting without travelling – as we have done remarkably well during the coronavirus crisis by jumping onto Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams and other online technologies instead.

Secondly, shift from private motorised modes of transport to public, shared and non-motorised transport. There are opposing forces that make this shift more difficult. As individual consumers, we fall for the advertising of car manufacturers who spend billions to make car ownership aspirational. Under the guise of stimulating the economy, national road building programmes further undermine any vision for scaling down car use. More roads tend to generate extra traffic by changing travel patterns and attracting new developments that contribute to dependence on cars. And then there’s the challenge of joining up different kinds of public and shared transport so that we are not stranded along the way.

Thirdly, improve the efficiency (in terms of energy and space consumption) of road-based vehicles. However, research shows that simply replacing petrol and diesel cars with electric ones will not be enough on its own to ensure the transport sector plays its part in meeting the government’s carbon reduction commitments. Changes in how people travel – or not travel – will be needed, too.

Although there is no silver bullet, the good news is that there are several potential tipping points in each of the three areas above. From the perspective of implementing a “People’s Green New Deal”, let’s focus on one initiative that is within the control of most local communities and can shift more people who have the choice away from private vehicles.


From a national policy perspective, encouraging people to cut their car use and change their travel behaviour – by walking and cycling rather than driving for short distances – has typically been an afterthought. However, the Emergency Active Travel Fund is something new and an opportunity to accelerate more significant changes. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund has supported local transport authorities in expanding cycling and walking facilities. Whether these installations are temporary or longer-term is in the balance and local residents have an important say in the decision.

In many towns and cities across the UK, a surprisingly high number of car journeys are short enough that they can be biked instead. London is a great example, writ large. Londoners take a staggering total of almost twenty million trips each day. A policy analysis report by Transport for London discovered that of these trips, thirteen million are made by motorised transport and over half of these are short enough that they could potentially be cycled instead.

Enter, centre stage, your local Bicycle Mayor. Mediator, spokesperson, innovator. These independent volunteers act on behalf of all local stakeholders, listening to and uniting them to improve the state of cycling in their town or city. Their aim is to make cycling more accessible and inclusive as well as champion active transport more generally.

New to most people in the UK, the world’s first bicycle mayor was elected over four years ago in the Netherlands to act as an ambassador for cycling in Amsterdam. Today, there are over one hundred Bicycle Mayors in cities across the world. BYCS, the Dutch social enterprise that runs the bicycle mayor scheme, has a much bigger goal however: to make 50% of all trips by bike, in every city in the world, by 2030.

Bicycle Mayors can play a pivotal implementation role right now in the UK – at the nexus of three related macro policies – by ensuring cycling and active travel is a key priority in tackling the climate emergency declared by local councils; by consolidating the coronavirus crisis measures put in place locally under the Emergency Active Travel Fund; and by “joining up” with the anti-obesity strategies being advanced by Westminster and the devolved governments.

Almost 280 local councils have declared a climate emergency across the country and many more places now have “temporary” measures in place to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists on our streets. In contrast, we have two Bicycle Mayors in all of England – Richard Ingham in Cumbria and Adam Tranter in Coventry – and none in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Adam spoke about his role as a catalyst for change in Coventry at a recent Carbon Copy event (available on catch up here – From A to B: Carbon Free). Please have a listen and consider nominating your own Bicycle Mayor to hold power to account, build coalitions and help implement the People’s Green New Deal.

Photo by Oleksii Khodakivskiy on Unsplash

Recommended from Carbon Copy

  • Taking The Baton
    Taking The Baton

    Phew! So glad to have participated in a 24km stage of the climate relay from Ben Nevis to Big Ben,…

  • No Time To Waste
    No Time To Waste

    Britain’s biggest climate relay has had a tremendous start and it’s a joy to hear in our Carbon Copy Podcast…