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“Why bother about evidence?” Cycling UK responds to Tory MPs’ call to end emergency active travel funding

“So-called War on the Motorist is a myth,” says national cycling charity as it urges opponents of active travel measures to heed experts

“Why bother about evidence?” That’s the question posed by Cycling UK in response to a letter from 14 Conservative MPs, including former minister for cycling Robert Goodwill, as they appealed to transport secretary Grant Shapps to withdraw emergency active travel funding for initiatives such as pop-up bike lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods.

The letter, which we reported on earlier today – our previous story appears in full below – was also supported by anti-cycling lobby groups Fair Fuel UK, the Association of British Drivers and the Motorcycle Action Group, as well as the Road Haulage Association.

With the Department for Transport last month responding to a petition that also called for the end of funding for such schemes by reiterating the government’s commitment to active travel and highlighting that the majority of people support them, there is little chance of the backbench MPs forcing a change in policy.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, told road.cc: “The so-called War on the Motorist these MPs are shouting about is a myth promoted by organisations spouting fiction rather than fact, determined to turn a blind eye to the telescope whenever evidence is presented to them.

“If they listened to the experts, which is perhaps a big ask for some of them, they’d discover that investing in cycling and walking initiatives is incredibly cost effective; moves more people in less space, reducing rather than causing congestion; and boosts the local economy. Or perhaps they do know this, but the facts just don’t suit their narrative.

“They claim this policy is indefensible, but whilst the policy may not have been perfectly implemented, what’s indefensible is the short-sighted do nothing attitude these MPs are displaying to measures designed to enable more people to move around our towns and cities more efficiently, in a healthier socially distanced manner, whilst reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.

“But why bother about evidence, the environment and longer term solutions to endemic problems when you can blame everything on a cycle lane?”

Cycling UK also highlighted expert opinions it sourced recently, which warned that British cities risk being overrun with motor traffic unless the government intervenes through taking measures such as making it easier and safer for people to travel on foot or by bike.

Our original article, published at 1415 hours today, appears below.

Former minister for cycling Robert Goodwill is among 14 backbench Conservative MPs who have written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to withdraw support for emergency cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods, claiming that the policy is “indefensible.”

The letter, dated 5 November and headed “The Uncalled-for War on the Motorist,” comes from the All Party Parliamentary Group Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and Hauliers, comes ahead of the expected announcement this week of the second tranche of funding for emergency active travel infrastructure.

It claims that “millions of constituents across the country are feeling victimised by draconian charges and road restrictions initiated by local authorities and funded it seems, by the Department of Transport,” adding that “the anger out there is palpable.”

The MPs call for a halt to the roll out and the withdrawal of “the plethora of new road narrowing, blockades and dedicated cycle lanes eating into our town and city roads,” describing the funding being spent on such initiatives as “simply a high-priced idealistic formula for even more congestion and the associated increased pollution that comes from resultant slower moving or stationery vehicles.”

They also call on plans for the London Congestion Charging Zone to be expanded to the entire area within the North and South Circular roads to be abandoned, and for the public to be consulted on schemes affecting the roads.

The letter is also endorsed by the lobby groups Fair Fuel UK, the Association of British Drivers and the Motorcycle Action Group, as well as the Road Haulage Association, each of which regularly oppose measures designed to promote active travel and curb motor traffic and associated air pollution.

There is little prospect of the core demand of the government pulling support for emergency cycle lanes and LTNs being met.

Less than a fortnight ago, in response to a petition posted on the UK Parliament website that called for a halt to funding for such schemes, the government reiterated its support for them, with the Department for Transport emphasising that “We know the majority of people support giving more road space to cycling and walking in their local area.”

> Government backs Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and cycleways in reply to petition calling for withdrawal of funding

The Department for Transport said: “Local authorities have a duty to manage their roads for the benefit of all traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians. The more people that cycle and walk, the more road space is freed up for those who really need to drive. Encouraging more cycling and walking is a key part of the Government’s efforts to reduce harmful emissions from transport, as well as to help make people healthier.”

It underlined that LTNs “deliver a wide range of benefits – a safer and more pleasant environment for residents, more walking and cycling and better air quality,” and that school streets “can reduce the number of people driving their children to school by up to a third.

“There are often concerns that reallocating road space will have a negative impact on business,” the DfT’s continued.

“However, evidence shows that people who walk and cycle take more trips to the high street over the course of a month than people who drive.

“Making access to high streets easier by walking and cycling has a proven economic benefit. Well planned improvements in the walking environment can deliver up to a 40 per cent increase in shopping footfall and high street walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30 per cent.

“Evidence also shows that investment in cycling and walking is supported by the majority of people in local communities.

“Although some schemes have attracted negative attention, this is still only a small minority of the people living in those areas.”

It added: “Different types of intervention will be appropriate in different places. For example, what works in urban areas may not be suitable in rural areas or smaller towns, where people are more reliant on private vehicles.

“Schemes must balance the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road users, including motorists and local businesses.”

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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