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“Silent majority” of Britons back active travel infrastructure – but vocal minority drown them out

Research for #BikeIsBest campaign finds massive support for measures to encourage cycling and walking

A survey conducted on behalf of the #BikeIsBest campaign, which unites more than 50 organisations and companies within the cycling sector, has found that a “silent majority” of Britons back active travel infrastructure – but they are being drowned out by a vocal minority who have managed to get some schemes overturned.

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The research found that 77 per cent of people support schemes to encourage cycling and walking where they live with 6.5 people in support for every one person who is opposed to such interventions.

Councils across the UK have been implementing temporary infrastructure to boost cycling and walking instead of using public transport and enable social distancing, but some schemes, such as in Filton in South Gloucestershire and Trafford in Greater Manchester have  have disappeared after complaints from motorists and some local politicians and, in the case of Reigate in Surrey, the town's MP.

Dr Ian Walker, Environmental Psychologist at the University of Bath who analysed the data for #BikeIsBest, said: “Perhaps one reason negative voices find it so easy to sway things their way is that people have a tendency to misjudge public levels of support.

“The survey showed that, while most people think Britain would be a better place if more people cycled, they also guessed that other people were less supportive, and more hostile, to the idea than they were.”

According to the survey, 3.26 people agree that “Britain would be better if more people cycled” for every person who disagrees. However, they also “drastically overestimated the negativity towards cycling” when asked what they believed were the attitudes of their friends and families towards cycling.

The survey, conducted by YouGov and with a sample size of 2,010, also found:

65 per cent (rising to 79 per cent, when people with no opinion are excluded) believe children should be able to play in the street without danger from cars cutting through. Many councils are planning ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ to enable this, but these have started to run into exactly the sort of vocal local opposition described above

66 per cent (rising to 83 per cent of those with an opinion one way or the other) disagree that there is ‘nothing that can be done to stop people from being harmed by motor vehicles’, showing the public do not see the problems of motoring as a ‘done deal’.

Similarly, 71 per cent (rising to 86 per cent of those with an opinion) disagree that there is ‘nothing we can do to stop people being harmed by air pollution caused by motor vehicles’.

33 per cent ‒ and 35 per cent of regular car commuters ‒ would use their car less if streets were designed to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe from motor traffic. These values rise to 47 per cent and 46 per cent when people with no opinion are put aside.

10.6 people support local measures to encourage cycling and walking to each 1 opposed in the 18-24 age bracket, whereas in the 55+ bracket this falls to 4.56 people in favour to each 1 against.

Young people want a future cycling nation: 5.1 people think “Britain would be a better place if more people cycled” in the 18-24 age bracket, for every 1 person opposed.

#BikeIsBest spokesman Adam Tranter, who is Coventry’s cycling mayor, said: “The small minority getting all revved up about their right to drive are having their voices heard through sheer volition.

“If the silent majority want to see this new, greener, better Britain, they need to act now or face going back to the old normal, with polluted and dangerous streets.

“When 20mph streets were first proposed, pro-motoring groups were whipped up into a frenzy, just as they are today. In 2017, data showed that the proportion opposed or strongly opposed to residential 20mph limits was just 10 per cent.

“The same is happening here with measures to enable more people to switch their journeys to cycling and walking.”

He added: “No-one is saying that all journeys can be cycled or walked but many of our towns and cities are experiencing congestion - not because of cycle lanes but because of people using their car for short journeys, often under 2 miles.

“Local authorities need to stand up and refuse to be bullied into a U-turn on plans to turn Britain into a better place. These are plans the public agree with, so people also need to speak up so their silence isn’t taken as consent to keep our streets dominated by motor vehicles.”

The #BikeIsBest campaign, which is supported by British Cycling, Cycling UK, London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans, The Association of Cycle Traders (ACT) and Wheels For Wellbeing, has launched an online petition to enable people to demonstrate their support for measures aimed at encouraging cycling.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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