my suspicion is that the Thatcher government, with its Great Car Economy, saw cycling as a mode of transport in terminal decline and saw no reason to modify policies that would have the effect of suppressing cycling. I understand the "cycle tracks" — that is, crappy shared pavements — that it introduced in the 1980 Highways Act were not intended to encourage and enable cycling, but to improve road safety by getting cyclists out of harm's way while the poor things saved up to buy a car of their own. The closest I've so far come to seeing this said explicitly is Christopher Chope, junior minister, in autumn 1990, quoted in the 1992 BMA cycling book, pp97–98:
However, a compilation of evidence on factors affecting cycle provision, its attractions, and therefore its use as a highly appropriate mode for a much higher proportion of the journeys that people now make, could lead to a view that the need to cater for cycling is, to say the least, not taken very seriously. Nor would this be surprising. Changes in the extent of use of cycles poses a dilemma for government. Whilst it acknowledges that 'cycling is a healthy and environmentally-friendly method of travel and that cyclists have as much right to use the roads as anyone else', cycling remains one of the least safe modes of transport and 'it cannot be the Department's role simply to encourage people to cycle'. The evidence suggests an unintentional outcome of policy, namely that it is preferable for cycling to be discouraged.
The first quote is a reference to Hansard, 22 Oct 1990, col 6.But the second is a reference to a letter from Chope in The Times of 15 Nov 1990, which I've yet to acquire a copy of the full text of on account of it not being online and it having to be looked up the laborious old fashioned way (how did anybody in the olden days cope?). I really need to see the quote in context, because I would actually agree that it "cannot be the Department's role simply to encourage people to cycle", because that's what Boris does with Skyrides, and it doesn't work and could be considered immoral. Anyway. Fortunately, Thatcher was gone before I was old enough to pay attention to such things. Is my characterisation of that government's position on cycling right?