Four buses and a ship canal

This article was published in 1997, in Newsletter 15.

Integrated transport is the Government’s vision of the future. Whether in public or private hands, it should be possible for people to make choices about how they travel, so the consultation document poses questions like ‘what needs to be done to improve public transport?’ Yet the word cycling appears only three times, usually preceded by the words ‘walking and’ (everyone knows pedestrians and cyclists amount to the same thing) and ‘encouraging’.

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The deadline for contributions to this important document was 14 November, so I regret there was not time to tell you more about it, other than in the letter I sent to everyone in October. As I suggested there, the main problem from our point of view with what was otherwise something of a breath of fresh air in the transport debate, was the almost total absence of walking and cycling (oops, I’m as bad as they are).

Consider Question 20 (it’s set out like an examination paper):

In circumstances where demand exceeds road capacity at certain times, what priority might be given to scarce road space and how might that be delivered? It has sometimes been suggested that priority should be given to emergency vehicles; buses, coaches and taxis; goods vehicles; and disabled motorists – are these the right priorities ?

I might forgive them not including ducks crossing the road, but when the most dominant way of getting around – walking accounts for around half of all journeys – is not mentioned, and cyclists are apparently so insignificant that they don’t rate a mention at all, I start to get worried.

Of course, cycling is pretty insignificant in lots of places. Compared with around 20% of journeys in Cambridge (more than buses) and 30% of journeys originating inside the City, the national average is between 1% and 2%. Cities like Cambridge, Oxford and York must also make up a fair proportion of that 2%, so the picture elsewhere is worse than that On the other hand, it is in the urban environment where cycling is greatest, and where road space is at a premium.

The sad thing is that the Government has a ready-made cycling policy in the form of the National Cycling Strategy. Before the election the shadow transport minister Andrew Smith was making hugely supportive noises about it, but he didn’t get the job.

In our response for the Campaign, we answered all the questions pretty comprehensively, even where they had little to do with cycling at first sight. I took the view that public transport complements cycling, and fewer vehicles on the roads would probably be the biggest help cyclists could get. Therefore we do have a direct interest in a good public transport system.

At 13 pages, the response is too long to put here in the newsletter. Five of us were involved in preparing it (I wish it could have been more). Please phone if you would like a paper copy (it includes the questions asked of us, but not the whole discussion, of which I can also do copies of course), and both are also available on the Web.

Dave Earl