Thursday, April 22, 2010

Low-Carbon Transport: A Greener Future

Low-Carbon Transport: A Greener Future - That's the title of yet another Government document on how we're going to reduce carbon emissions. And as usual it's especially short on detail about cycling. It does point out that 20% of road transport emissions are attributable to journeys of less than 5 miles, journeys that are easily cyclable.
But it doesn't point out that promoting cycling is one of the best, most cost-effective ways of reducing carbon emissions. Cycling is about as close to zero-carbon as you can get, so any increase in cycling has a big payoff in terms of carbon savings. Aside from eliminating journeys, all other carbon-reduction strategies involve switching to lower-carbon, rather than zero-carbon forms of transport such as buses and trains. Cycling also has other benefits: it improves health, reduces noise and atmospheric pollution, reduces traffic congestion and improves safety.

On Page 9, there is a picture of a happy cyclist on a segregated cycle path. P62 has a picture of a sign for the alluring 'Pebble Way' path. Sounds lovely and rural, doesn't it? P70 has another picture of a peaceful-looking segregated path. If this were representative of the real state of most British cycling infrastructure, a lot more people would be cycling.

Much is made of the Cycling Demonstration Towns. "These locations benefit from cycling funding more akin to levels of investment per head of population in other European countries". Exeter is one. From the cycleexeter website:
"For example, we have created high quality shared use cycle/walkways that give parents the confidence to allow their children to cycle to school."
All good, except that there are only 18 of these towns. If they are average-sized towns, this covers 1-2% of the UK population. What about the rest of us? What about London, which has a very high number of short car journeys, as well as 12% of the population? "We expect other towns and cities to learn from this experience and encourage cycling through their own transport plans". Oh yeah? So where's the money coming from? You just said "European levels of investment". If I'm a Councillor in Merton, why would I want to raise council tax and piss off motorists to benefit the 2% of residents who cycle? The answers to these questions isn't in this document, and it isn't in the 2010 Labour Manifesto either.

Maybe the answer is in the National Cycle Plan - "We are also committed to developing a National Cycle Plan to further promote cycling as a mainstream form of personal transport." Unfortunately there is sign of this document, and there's some indication that it's been merged into the Active Travel Strategy which I've already analysed here (it's more talk and no action in case you hadn't guessed).

I'm getting a bit sick of reading these things (and sick of paying through my taxes for them to be written). It's obvious to anyone who cycles that the lack of safe infrastructure is the main reason why people don't cycle, and this is backed up by surveys. We don't need 'Cycling Demonstration Towns' to tell us what to do: we know exactly what is needed and it's already been done in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and elsewhere.

We will never get significantly more people cycling without fixing the infrastructure problem. We might get them to try cycling, but unless they seriously restrict their journeys they'll pretty quickly figure out (after a couple of near misses) that they're safer in their cars.

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