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Minister defends protected cycle lanes in face of criticism in Parliament

Says they’re long-term measures and cyclists have to be separated for safety reasons

Transport minister Andrew Jones has faced down MPs questioning the wisdom of constructing protected cycle lanes.

BikeBiz reports that during a discussion on urban congestion, Jones responded to questions from Labour’s Rob Flello and the Conservatives’ Iain Stewart.

Self-proclaimed ‘cycle-lane sceptic’, Rob Flello MP, is chair of the all-party freight transport group, which receives administrative support from the Road Haulage Association.

Flello suggested three major causes of congestion. “One is road works, one is bus lanes and one is cycle lanes.”

Addressing Jones, and referring to both bus and cycle lanes, he said: “Do you not think there is a contradiction between gathering evidence that shows that something does or does not work and then perhaps funding schemes to just do more of the same that does not work, in terms of tackling congestion?”

Jones replied: “I am not sure that is right. I do not really agree with that, to be honest,” before going on to say: “I am aware that the cycle lanes in London have caused a degree of controversy. TfL can come and speak for themselves, but I would suggest that they are thinking a long way ahead in relation to how they can encourage modal shift. They are trying to provide the infrastructure, looking way into the future.”

When Flello claimed that his position on cycle lanes was “evidence-based,” Jones reiterated: “What I think they are seeking to do with cycle lanes is to encourage modal shift to public transport, or a more active mode of travel. They are thinking longer term.”

Stewart then questioned the “very hard barrier between the cycle lane and the road,” saying: “We have heard some comments that in retrospect that was a mistake and that, while we should have cycle lanes, they should not have that hard barrier. That is partly to reduce the construction time and cost, but also potentially to allow the space to be used for motor traffic at certain times when the cycle lanes may not be heavily used. Is that something you are reviewing?”

He later elaborated on this, suggesting: “The cycle lanes along the Embankment are often unused when traffic is sitting stationary and belching out goodness knows what emissions, damaging the atmosphere. If you did not have a hard barrier between the two, at a very local level they could at times decide it was better for the environment to allow some of those lanes to be used for motor traffic.”

Jones agreed to consider the idea, but seemed somewhat nonplussed. “My gut feel is that we should be trying to separate wherever possible for safety purposes. I understand your point. I think it would potentially be quite difficult to achieve. Some people have come to me with the suggestion that motorbikes could use cycle lanes. I have reservations about that, simply because of the speed differences between the two modes of transport.”

Last month Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight blamed cycle infrastructure for urban congestion problems – comments that followed a previoius claim by Lord Tebbit that the "cause of the excess nitrous oxide in the air in this area of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades which have been put up by the former mayor.”

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