A Tory peer has slammed what he terms “ludicrous” cycling infrastructure in London, claiming they lead to increased air pollution, and has questioned why lanes provided for people on bikes cannot be given over to motorists during quieter periods.
He was speaking in a House of Lords debate on air quality on Monday after it emerged that due to the forthcoming general election, the government was seeking an extension to a High Court deadline to publish its national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide, with his contribution spotted by BikeBiz.
He asked Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, whether he agreed “that the problem of air pollution is greatest in London, and that the reality is that Transport for London (TfL) has totally failed to deal with the issue?”
After claiming that TfL “apparently has no authority to limit the number of minicabs. In fact, the extraordinary position emerges that no one has any authority to limit the number of minicabs,” calling for “urgent action” to be taken on the issue.
He then turned to what he described as “the ludicrous way in which Transport for London has been building bicycle lanes,” claiming that “There is enormous congestion as a result of this, not only when they are being constructed but in the longer term.”
“It is an appalling policy,” he added. “I spend much of my time in Holland, where they do not have any problem with bicycle lanes operating properly without being blanked off in a way that prevents them being used in off-peak periods.”
In reply, Lord Gardiner told him that he would ensure that the points he made “are put to officials who meet fortnightly with GLA officials to discuss air quality,” adding, “I think that that would be the best way forward” – hardly a firm expression of agreement with his views.
The claim – debunked by official data highlighted by campaigners including former London Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan – that Cycle Superhighways lead to increased greater congestion and more air pollution, often used by opponents of the routes, is one that Lord Higgins has made before.
— Andrew Gilligan (@mragilligan) November 8, 2016
Lord Higgins made the same point in a December 2015 House of Lords debate best known for former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson expressing his opinion that protected infrastructure for cyclists “has done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz.“
Nor is Lord Higgins, aged 89 and MP for Worthing 1964 to 1997 and a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the first peer to demand that such infrastructure be given over to motorists outside peak hours.
In February, former Cabinet Minister Lord Tebbit claimed 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,” Boris Johnson.
The “barricades” he was referring to? Those “which have been put up in order to assist cyclists – who also get in the way on the main road.”
Similar opinions have also been voiced in the House of Commons.
In March, Conservative MP for East Yorkshire, Sir Greg Knight, asking when the government’s air quality plan would be published, said: “Is there not a case — I say this with respect — for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes?
“Someone said to me the other day that there are fewer cars entering central London but that pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. The Mayor of London cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.