British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman says that the temporary bike lanes that are being constructed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are a matter of “social justice”. Highlighting the urgent need for new infrastructure, the Greater Manchester cycling commissioner points out that without additional cycle space his region would need to find 12,000 extra buses to allow for social distancing, “which is clearly impossible.”
The government last month announced a £250m emergency active travel fund. Explaining the move, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the country needed far more people to cycle. “Otherwise, with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies.”
On Wednesday, a report from the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission found that people in lower income households make 2.5 times as many bus journeys as those in higher income households.
In a speech to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group yesterday, Boardman highlighted how the lowest paid could be hardest hit by public transport disruption.
“Social justice is a strong reason for change,” he said. “It helps politicians make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions, and it also helps the public understand and tolerate changes that might inconvenience them.
“In the UK around a quarter of all households don’t have access to a car, so they are reliant on public transport.
“On a standard day in Greater Manchester there are 300,000 trips on public transport of three miles or less, and for the next few months at least, those public transport options will be limited to less than 20 per cent of usual occupancy.
“That means every day 240,000 people will not be able to travel in this way if they are to comply with social distancing guidelines.
“We’d need to find 12,000 extra buses to accommodate them, which is clearly impossible, so 240,000 people – many without access to a car – must find an alternative or simply not travel to work, schools or the shops.
“Right now, this isn’t about pollution, congestion, inactivity, or cost – the usual arguments for investment in cycling. It’s about social justice, social inclusion, and making sure that those who don’t have a car have a safe travel choice.”
Echoing Boardman’s comments, Councillor Claire Holland, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Lead for Sustainable Transport, Environment and Clean Air at Lambeth Council, said: “Nearly 70 per cent of residents in Lambeth live in flats. A third of children are growing up in poverty and the majority of households do not own or have access to a car.
“If you put all of this together, for us in Lambeth this was an equalities issue, and this is fundamentally for me about social justice. For us, a car-led recovery is not an option.”