An editorial in The Times has warned that politicians must stand up to “anti-cycling nimbys” if a “new golden age for cycling” heralded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April is to become reality. In response, Chris Boardman says it is a “moral imperative” to seize the chance to try out temporary measures to encourage walking and cycling “before we buy.”
The newspaper’s editorial, published yesterday, was written by Jawad Iqbal, who said that plans to get more people in the country cycling following the coronavirus pandemic risk “being strangled at birth” due to the opposition they attract.
“The culprits are the usual motley crew of vested interests, from vocal residents to motoring lobbies, supported by pusillanimous local politicians who go weak at the knees when faced with an online petition,” he wrote.
“This short-sighted resistance to change threatens to derail progress on tackling air pollution, which is estimated to cause up to 36,000 deaths every year.”
Iqbal said it was ironic that when asked, most people support schemes aimed at making the roads safer and reducing motor traffic and air pollution.
“The problem is that they often don’t want any changes in their own neighbourhood,” he continued. “Even fairly minor cycling schemes quickly encounter fierce opposition, with residents taking to social media, gathering names for an online petition and badgering their local councillor or MP. The disastrous results are all too evident.”
He highlighted examples of pop-up cycle lanes in Trafford, Greater Manchester and in Filton, South Gloucestershire, that we have previously reported upon here on road.cc that were removed days after opposition following complaints from drivers, as well as the difficulties of ensuring a co-ordinated approach in London where Transport for London, individual boroughs and even the Royal Parks could all be involved in a single scheme.
“The pandemic offers a once-in-a- generation opportunity to bring about lasting changes to urban transport,” Iqbal said. “Overhauling the layout of roads will create benefits for our cities and our quality of life in the long run.
“Study after study shows that cycling improves physical and mental health, yet far too many cycle schemes are abandoned before they have had a chance to bed down.
“Politicians at the national and local levels must start to treat cycling as a serious form of mass transport and face the anti-cycling nimbys down,” he added.
Boardman, in a letter published in the newspaper today, highlighted that reallocation of road space to create cycling infrastructure was not primarily aimed at existing bike riders, as opponents claim.
“This road space is not being given up for cyclists,” he said, “it is being made available for shop workers, carers, NHS staff and childminders. It is not even a transport decision, it is a moral imperative.
“This provision also offers us a unique opportunity to ‘try before we buy’: a trial lasting several months to see if we want to use our streets differently.
“One they experience it, I am willing to bet that people will want to keep it,” he added. “Ultimately, we have much to gain embracing these measures and little to lose.”
Another letter published in the newspaper today came from Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at the charity Cycling UK.
“The lockdown gave a glimpse of a cleaner way to live and travel, which we risk losing,” he warned, pointing out that councils need to give schemes aimed at encouraging active travel “time to bed in.”
With some temporary cycling infrastructure removed just days after being installed due to complaints from motorists, Dollimore said: “Behaviour change won’t happen on day one but it will happen with commitment and capital.
“The government will back those English counties with bold and ambitious visions for the future with the emergency active travel fund,” he continued.
“Councils have until 7 August to decide whether to maintain the status quo or build a better future,” Dollimore added. “It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision.”
AA president Edmund King – signing his letter off with the words, “also a cyclist” in parentheses – called for an end to divisive rhetoric that views motorists and cyclists as distinct, mutually exclusive groups, an issue he has highlighted regularly in the past.
“Many drivers are cyclists and many cyclists are drivers,” he wrote. “We are not tribes going to war.”
He outlined how in the early stages of lockdown, “one third of AA members said they would cycle and walk more after the lockdown” and how the motoring organisation had “asked ministers and councils to set up ‘park and pedal’ facilities for car drivers.
“Empty car parks and venues offered the chance of pop-up parking next to cycle superhighways. It will never be for everyone, but a commuter on a bike is not a commuter in a car and that means more efficient use of road space and less pollution,” he explained.
“It never happened and in many areas we have ended up with a piecemeal approach,” King added.
“People and planners need to cast aside prejudiced groupthink and work together.”
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.