A pro-cycling MP, Ruth Cadbury, says the UK could be at a tipping point with everyday cycling as air pollution and congestion crises reach critical levels, and urges people to get in touch with their MPs to encourage support for cycling and counter tabloid and anti-cycling voices.
At a Parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, attended by road.cc, the co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) said her cycling questions in Parliament are often met with ambivalence from MPs who believe cycle routes cause congestion and that cycling is a minority pursuit, rather than a viable everyday mode of transport.
The APPCG is a cross-party group of MPs who gather evidence on cycling and inform and advise Parliament, as well as lobbying for investment and legislation to support cycling. The group was responsible for producing the pivotal Get Britain Cycling report in 2013.
Cadbury, who is Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, said: “I explain to people here that I co-chair the APPCG and it’s like ‘ooh, well I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid’ or ‘I wouldn’t get on a bike because it’s too dangerous’ or ‘I wouldn’t let my kids cycle’, and that is a real issue in this place.”
“There’s the popular culture, there’s what the cabbies say, and that comes back to MPs,” she said.
She said she worries the response to questions on cycling from her, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP or Meg Hillier MP are “oh god she’s going on about that again”, while some in Parliament blame the fact they are stuck in traffic jams on London’s new segregated cycle routes.
Cadbury said: “Everybody, including me, can give an example of where somebody on a bike cycles badly. That becomes the narrative, we’re struggling here in this place [Parliament] to change that narrative.”
Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer who is the Secretary of the APPCG, says the problem is mirrored in the House of Lords. “We’ve got someone in the House of Lords, Baroness Sharples, who’s 87, every time any of us ask a question about cycling she says ‘I was run into by a cyclist on a pavement 40 years ago’,” he said.
However, Cadbury believes the UK could be at a “tipping point” with cycling, as a solution to the urban health and transport problems caused by motor traffic, and people should contact their MPs to build support for cycling and help counter local backlash against change.
She said: “Congestion and air pollution are coming up higher up the political agenda in urban areas than has been,” she says. “That is potentially an opportunity [to make a case for cycling].”
It was revealed in October four out of ten UK councils currently exceed air pollution limits.
She said: “Even in my patch in West London, the push back when the council proposes closing through routes to vehicles…
“We’ve already got pretty high congestion and any time there’s a traffic jam on the alternate road it’s all because of the closure of the road, and I see this in the Evening Standard on different nights and in different boroughs: ‘horrified residents opposing road closures’ but then you often see others saying ‘well my children have been suffering from asthma and I blame the pollution, and if this makes life better and it will be safer to walk…’ so we’re at that potential tipping edge where we have to keep pushing.
“I would say contact your MPs,” she said.
This week the latest figures from the East-West (CSEW) and North-South (CSNS) cycle superhighways in London showed huge numbers of people cycling in the morning and evening peaks - 3,608 and 4,695 respectively - or 20 and 26 per minute.
On CSNS, southbound journey times are at pre-construction levels, while northbound journey times have risen from around 5-7 minutes to around 10 minutes.
On CSEW, where there has been removal of a motor traffic lane, westbound journeys have increased by 3-5 minutes in both morning and evening peaks, while eastbound journeys have increased by 5-10 minutes in the morning peak and by 10-15 minutes in the evening peak.
This week the author of a report on how cycling infrastructure can reduce cyclists’ exposure to air pollution, Professor Simon Kingham, told road.cc: “I’d be surprised if anyone can find any evidence that cycle paths increase traffic pollution by slowing traffic down. On the contrary the presence of cycle paths is likely to increase numbers of people cycling that reducing traffic volumes.”