It has been two days now since the announcement about Boris’ new plans for Londons cycle network, and there seem to be two complaints being made about them. Firstly, that it will affect traffic flow. Most people, logically at first sight, assume that cutting down the number of traffic lanes will increase congestion. Secondly, people are objecting to money being spent that is ‘only going to benefit cyclists’. I’d like to discuss the issues around these arguments and explain why I think the positives outweigh the negatives for everyone.
To tackle the second point first – the government has to spend money to help people to move around. This has economic benefits in helping people to work and allowing businesses to function. For 2013, that amounts to about £9 billion/year in London – i.e on average, about £1100/head. The cost of the planned cycling budget is £0.9 billion over 10 years – 90 million a year, which comes to about £11/head, or about 1% of travel spending in London.
So how many journeys are made by bike? Well, the best data I can find shows 2%, from 2011 – I would speculate that this is a massive underestimate at current levels, there having been a big increase in the number of people I’ve seen cycling on the roads over the last few years. In any case, we can see that the % of transport spend is lower than the % of trips – cycling is still being shortchanged, even with this announcement.
To look at the first point, certainly, if we reduced the amount of road space for cars but kept the number of cars the same, then this would increase congestion overall. However, where good standard cycle lanes have been introduced elsewhere, we’ve seen massive increases in levels of cycling – the Netherlands, and Copenhagen in Denmark being the typical examples. We can expect the same here as the number one reason that people state when asked why they don’t cycle is that they don’t want to cycle in the same space as cars.
Less cars = less congestion, and we can fit an awful lot more bikes in the same space as they take up about 10% of the road space of a car. I think that this picture illustrates this quite nicely!
As an aside, I was giving a talk recently about what’s been successful in promoting cycling elsewhere, and mentioned Copenhagen – one lady piped up to say that ‘no wonder everyone cycles in Copenhagen – there’s no traffic – we went through at rush hour and we didn’t get held up in a single traffics jam!’ With 35% of their trips being made by bike and less than 25% by car – no wonder. They haven’t even stopped there, with a target of 50% of all journeys by bike. This has all been achieved in a city where at one point even the town squares were being used for car parking before a concerted effort to increase cycling. I believe similar levels of cycling can be achieved in London over time.
To summarise – Boris’ new plans go some way to evening things up, but cycling is not receiving more than it’s fair share of funding, in fact rather to the contrary, and these plans can be expected to deliver reduced congestion, as well as better air quality, reduced spending on health, and reduced spending on road maintenance (it should be clear that bikes cause breakup of the road than cars, due to lower weights).
Final thought – I know that there is a strong feeling against cyclists in some portions of society – but are these routes really for ‘cyclists’? I’d argue that ‘cyclists’ already cycle on Britains roads – they don’t need cycle lanes. Indeed, there’s a faction that object to the infrastructure being in place, worrying that they will be forced to ride in it, rather than on the road where they can currently make faster progress (they’re called ‘Vehicular Cyclists’ – look it up if you don’t believe me!). The people who this is going to benefit are just people who happen to think that using a bike could be a good way to get around – cheaper, cleaner, healthier and with the right infrastructure, easier. People, perhaps, like you.