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Cycling UK condemns "out of date" peers who claim cycling infrastructure causes pollution

Opinions on cyclists - and bike lanes provided for them - were polarised at this week's debate on air quality in London...

The charity Cycling UK has slammed “out of date” peers who this week blamed cycle lanes for increasing pollution in London during a House of Lords debate on air quality in the capital.

The debate, which came ahead of the latest challenge in the courts to the government’s Draft Air Quality Strategy, was called by the Tory peer, Lord Borwick.

Opening the debate, he explained that he spent almost two decades as chief executive then chairman of Manganese Bronze, the company that makes many of London’s black cabs, before launching a company that developed electric delivery vehicles.

He added that he has “been a trustee and was deputy chairman of the British Lung Foundation for 12 years and there I learned that lung diseases are mainly diseases of poor people.”  

But while he called for more research to be done into the effects of air pollution on London’s population and for more stringent measures to be adopted to tackle it, he said encouraging more people to cycle through creating dedicated infrastructure was not the answer.

“That would be great to improve the safety of cyclists but the population of London is increasing, with road capacity decreasing,” he insisted.

“By slowing down cars, cycle lanes are causing pollution that is now being breathed in by the cyclists themselves. While they are being constructed, traffic delays are caused. This means more pollution,” he claimed.

Similar complaints against cycle lanes were expressed by Tory peers Lord Blencathra, Lord Higgins and the Earl of Caithness, as well as and cross-bencher Baroness Valentine.

Lord Blencartha contrasted his experience of cyclists in Paris with meeting their counterparts in London, whom he branded as “Lycra-clad louts … with their bum in the air and their head between the handlebars.”

He maintained that “our dedicated cycle lanes are destroying [London] and completely jamming up traffic,” and that the Embankment “is now a no-go zone.”

But Labour peer Baroness Blackstone insisted he was “a bit unfair to cyclists. I accept that there are some dangerous cyclists, but many are far from dangerous and are doing the right thing in cycling to work or to meet friends rather than getting in their cars,” she said.

Other peers to defend cyclists and cycling infrastructure included the Green Party politician Baroness Jones and Lord Berkeley, who is vice-president of Cycling UK.

Baroness Jones said: “People often fail to understand that every cyclist is somebody who is not taking up a seat on public transport and is not using a car.

“We should be welcoming cyclists. The reason we have protected cycle lanes is because our roads are dangerous.”

Lord Berkeley meanwhile called for a system of presumed liability to be introduced, and for restrictions to be imposed on driving private cars in London and other cities.

Expressing support for separated infrastructure, he added: “The benefits of cycling start and finish with people not feeling frightened on a bicycle, and the segregation achieves that.”

Environment Minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble, responding on the government’s behalf, was among those who emphasised the benefits of cycle lanes.

He said: “It is important that we encourage cycling and walking as an investment. It is not only healthy but important to well-being.

“Those who walk and cycle are avoiding shorter journeys by other means of transport and … in the long term, the more people we can get cycling responsibly and walking, the better.”

Roger Geffen, Cycling UK Policy Director said: "The sort of attacks on cycle lanes we heard in the Lords is the same out of date criticisms that were directed at bus lanes 40 years ago.

"London and other cities are right to want to invest in more cycling lanes to make their streets cleaner, healthier and more efficient.

“To suggest they do the opposite is contrary to the available evidence and experience of other continental countries which have made long term investments in cycling.

He added: “Cycling UK is pleased and reassured to see the Government recognises that cycling is part of the solution for addressing our clean air problem, however we would urge them to listen to the experts and campaigners and accept the urgent need for a new Clean Air Act.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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