Ten years to waste

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 31.

By the time you read this, the Government will have published its ten year plan for transport. Sustainable transport campaigners across the country fear that it will make clear the extent to which the Government is back-tracking on its original transport objectives. Public transport may well get a boost, but all the predictions are that road schemes will also be resurrected, with huge sums being spent on the big capital schemes loved by car and oil companies, construction firms and the old school of highway engineers.

‘Cycling is given puny resources, resulting in a rash of bizarre punctuations on the road network or unwelcome intrusions into pedestrian space’

And cycling will barely get a mention.

Already we have seen the dismal signs. The Government’s response to a singular lack of progress towards the National Cycling Strategy target of doubling cycling by 2002 has been to drop the target – how easy!

The recent speed and road safety reviews have been extremely timid. Local measures which could have made a huge difference to people’s cycling and walking confidence are no further forward, and it seems unlikely that the ten year plan will make significant provision for traffic calming, home zones, or safe routes to school. In the words of a recent Slower Speeds Initiative briefing:

Cycling is given puny resources, resulting in a rash of bizarre punctuations on the road network or unwelcome intrusions into pedestrian space.

Sadly, policy seems more concerned with not upsetting the voting motorist than with making any real progress towards the ideals spelled out in the White Paper of only two years ago. The rise in oil prices and tax on petrol has had only a small effect on the total cost of running a car, yet the calumny thrown at the Government over this seems likely to stifle attempts to address environmental concerns, and to sway an already wobbling policy.

In a recent speech Tony Blair distinguished between ‘froth’ and ‘real’. I rather think that for the Government, local transport in general, and cycling in particular, is ‘froth’ and that big business and big money are the ‘real’ in transport decision-making. Maybe in the next issue I will be able to report a pleasant surprise in the ten year plan – but do not hold your breath.

David Earl