If there is a war on Britain’s roads, the car just claimed another victory

Swearing, aggression and lots of angry road users featured heavily in last nights BBC documentary.

You can still watch it, if you want to grit your teeth at every close call here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01p7q2l/War_on_Britains_Roads/

It will only be available for about 5 days, at which point it will be banished in to the BBC archives. Which is where many cycle campaigners and indeed motoring leaders believe it belongs.

taxi driver confronts cyclist

I decided to watch it with the track “Why can’t we be friends” playing in the background, which rather brightened the bleak mood.

I couldn’t help but find myself wanting to say to the participants: “Come on mate, let’s calm down and chat this over with a nice cold pint and packet of crisps at the pub”.

Once you peel away all the layers of sensationalism, you find some very interesting interviews. Particularly heart breaking was the interview with Cynthia, the mother of a cyclist, Alex, killed by a Heavy Goods Vehicle on London’s roads.

The documentary did a good job of highlighting the dangers to cyclists, of cycling on the inside of heavy goods vehicles.

Cyclist on the inside of a heavy goods vehicle

This is a position you never want to be in and it’s where a large number of fatal accidents in London occur.

Perhaps the most important point to take away is:

“Many cyclists feel they are under threat, even when they are in the cycle lane”

Car passing by a cyclist

People don’t feel safe in the cycle lane. Time and time again, this is what they’ll report when asked why they don’t cycle.

A car passing you at 35mph at arms width, doesn’t feel safe.

The solution, and what campaign groups are calling for, is Dutch style, segregated infrastructure.

This would create the sort of conditions for cycling, that I’d be happy to tell my little cousin, my dad or my gran to go by bike.

Boris Johnson and TfL have just announced a plan to treble spending on cycle infrastructure in London to almost £1 billion over the next ten years. That is less than 2% of the TfL’s transport budget. (If it was 2% it would be around £1.5 billion).

There’s no doubt this is significant. However, there are two issues. The first is that a 5% modal share for cycling is being targeted by 2026. Yet, less than 2% of the budget is being spent on cycling.

There are also no firm commitments on exactly how that money will be spent. Will we see more cycle superhighways which when you reach a dangerous junction, the superhighways simply disappear?

The car wins the war

In the mean time, George Osborne handed yet another victory to the car.

Osborne announced a further £1 billion to be spent on upgrading the road network.

This follows an announcement of £20 million to be spent on cycling. If you add up all the money promised for cycling, it adds up to just 0.5% of the Department for Transport budget.

I.e. “We don’t care about cycling”.

1 – 0 to the car.

He also announced a further delay to the planned 3p a litre rise in fuel duty. Meanwhile, commuters who’d like to go by train, bus or underground, will continue to see fares rising by 1% more than inflation for the next ten years.

Public transport users are being penalised, while drivers are being rewarded:

“..the fact is that over the past 10 years the real cost of motoring has declined by 10%, while bus and train fares have increased by more than 50%.”

No wonder car use is up in the UK, with only London bucking the trend.

The governments message is clear: We want to make it as cheap and easy as possible for you to go by car, and we don’t care about the extortionate rail fares in the UK.

2 – 0 to the car

Wake up to the changing dimensions

I understand why George Osborne didn’t increase fuel duty. It would have been an incredibly unpopular decision. I can also understand that motorists contribute £27bn to the treasury by filling up their cars. I also understand that these are hard times.

However, we can’t keep going along our current path.

There’s a limit to fossil fuels, a limit to the number of roads we can build and a limit to the number of cars we can squeeze in to our cities.

My hope is that London can lead by example, and that TfL will invest this money wisely to increase cycling. We shall see!

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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