Will the UK make space for cycling?
Proposals for cycle paths in UK towns and cities have been increasing, but opposition and complications regularly arise. Protest campaigns and petitions to local councils concerning the location of new cycle-ways, are being produced by local residents across the UK, and are often effective. A petition was created earlier this year for example, to block the building of a new cycle track in Derby. It was to be built on part of a nature reserve, but despite promising to rebuild and expand the nature reserve elsewhere, the plans for the cycle track were eventually abandoned.
In Yate, Gloucestershire, locals opposed plans for a 7ft wide cycle path to be built in a residential area. They expressed concern over its proximity to the front of their houses and the safety of their children. They were worried that the route would be used by commuting cyclists, who would endanger playing children or those on their way to the schools in the area.
While there is evidence therefore of valid concerns in some campaigns and petitions, others have been compared unfavourably to that of NIMBYism, (Not in my Back Yard), a term used to describe residents who oppose the building of a structure near them, but do not oppose the object in theory, if it is built somewhere else.
In Tyneside for example, plans have been made for a cycle-way to be built parallel to a road; residents are concerned with the resultant narrowing of the road, the loss of green space and the impact the path may have on available parking[i]. Similarly, a petition was created by residents in Hinckley in Leicester[ii] who opposed the construction of a shared cycle and footpath outside their homes. They argued that it would impact those who park on the pavements, and the residents would have to compete for parking spaces, resulting in a breakdown of community relations.
There has also been significant opposition to the plans to build an 18 mile superhighway in Central London, which, in its completion in 2016, will be the world’s longest urban cycle route. The plans involve a large cycle road to be built on the existing road infrastructure, and additional sections built at dangerous junctions. Various businesses and motoring groups in the city oppose, or have concerns with the plan however. Peter Walker, writing for the Guardian[iii], believes that it is significant that road space is being taken away from cars and given to cyclists, and the cause of the opposition is that this is seen as the priority being shifted away from motorists onto cyclists.
The RDRF (Road Danger Reduction Forum) however, believe the government to be anti-cycling, and criticise the localism of building new cycling infrastructure; local decision making means that the ‘responsibility and necessary support for sustainable transport is shifted away from those who have the real power and resources’. They also criticise the disproportionality in the funding given to cycling and motor vehicles, the steady funding to improve and expand roads, and the substantial donations the UK government make to the automotive industry. They believe the UK to have a car-centric culture, prioritising motor vehicles.
The results of a four month parliamentary inquiry from The APPCG (All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group) were released in April 2013[v]. The report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’, contained recommendations for the government to improve safety for cyclists. The called for more segregated cycle routes and an increase in funding for building cycling infrastructure. They are campaigning for MPs to agree to the recommendations laid out in the report.
The Transport Select Committee published a report in July 2014[vi], which called for more investment in cycle-ways. They found that government funding for cycling is fragmented, inconsistent and sporadic, and recommended an increase in the spending from £2 per person to £10. They also stress that a cultural change is needed to ease the tension between motorists and cyclists, and found there to be ‘limited evidence of a widespread culture that is supportive of cyclists as road users’. They emphasise that the increase in spending is needed to improve safety for cyclists.
The number of cyclists in the UK is not increasing, and obstacles to building an infrastructure for safe cycling is part of the problem. The protest campaigns are perhaps part of a larger anti-cycling sentiment across the UK, and will continue as long as cycle lanes are viewed as unnecessary; many people see cycling simply as an inconvenience. More government funding is needed to increase the number of segregated cycle paths, as well as efforts to change attitudes towards cycling, so it is presented as a cheap and viable alternative to driving or public transport.