Dear Government

Whilst I am a firm believer in cycling being an ideal way for ordinary people to get from A to B, the various governments of the UK have either neglected or suppressed cycling over the past few decades. Promoting cycling to individuals as “green,” or “healthy,” is of limited value, most people simply choose the path of least resistance when deciding how to get from A to B. The various governments I have mentioned have gone to extraordinary lengths and spent extraordinary amounts of tax money on making the car the path of least resistance for most people. Promoting cycling rather than ignoring or suppressing it is good for the government.

1) Congestion: Every British government spends billions on increasing road capacity for motorists, either by building new roads, widening existing roads or implementing ridiculous computerised “traffic smoothing” programs into traffic light systems. The end result is always just a greater volume of congestion. Transport demand is a fluid thing, if you don’t increase road capacity then people will choose another method of getting around. If you increase rail capacity, more people will travel by rail, if you build Dutch-style segregated infrastructure more people will travel by bike. All the road widening and “traffic smoothing” in the world won’t solve the issue of congestion when people are encouraged to travel everywhere in a single-occupant living-room-on-wheels. Cycle infrastructure and rail investment will.

2) Health care: Whilst transport isn’t paid for out of the NHS pot of gold, the current transport system takes a huge amount out of it. Around 3,000 people a year are killed by motorised transport and another 27,000 are maimed. The cost of their care is paid by the NHS which is paid for by the same taxes which pay for transport infrastructure. A further 50,000 premature deaths a year are caused by air pollution, chiefly produced by personal motor vehicles, which costs even more money. Most British citizens do not get as much exercise as their bodies need, leading to expensive medical complications later in life. By making it easier and more pleasant to cycle and walk, fewer British citizens will choose to drive. Fewer drivers means fewer road deaths, injuries and lower air pollution. More walking and cycling will increase the amount of exercise each citizen gets on average. This is an ideal way to exercise because it forms an ordinary part of peoples’ lives rather than being a conscious decision like using a gym. Regular exercise will also reduce the average spend per citizen on conditions such as depression and reduce their economic burden. The reduction in congestion will reduce ambulance (and fire/police) response times. All of these things will reduce the cost of the NHS in the long run and save money.

3) Foreign Policy: The rate of consumption of oil by the UK is staggeringly high, yet we produce almost none domestically. Purchasing oil from overseas is costly, requiring the government to deal with and support undesirable governments who commit human rights abuses or are corrupt. The military cost of propping up these regimes, or replacing them with more friendly ones is huge, and politically damaging for governments. Purchasing oil from overseas creates economic problems with trade deficits as well. Encouraging walking and cycling through infrastructure will reduce our consumption of oil and reduce our dependency on undesirable governments and the political fallout of doing so, whilst also reducing our trade deficits.

4) Environment: In order to minimise the effects of man-made climate change, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Transport is a major source of these emissions, and reducing personal car usage will make a much bigger impact than electrifying the current fleet will. Electric cars are not environmentally friendly. Electrified railways and bicycles are.

5) Miscellaneous: Cars are expensive, most are produced overseas. Reducing our consumption of cars with pro-cycling, walking and rail investment will help balance our trade with car-manufacturing countries. The same infrastructural investment is a viable alternative to spending £5,000 per car in subsidy on electric vehicles. Reducing the volume and speed of motorised traffic will bring numerous social benefits, including parents feeling safe allowing their children to play outside and travel on their own as previous generations did. Building, maintaining and staffing new cycling, walking and rail infrastructure will create jobs. Bicycle traffic is much less destructive to road surfaces, swapping a lot of car journeys for bike journeys will reduce the road maintenance bill.

Most of what is written here may seem very obvious. I write it because despite the obviousness of it all, successive governments continue to ignore or suppress cycling whilst subsidising private car travel. The list of benefits to investing in cycle infrastructure are too many and too significant to be ignored.


11 thoughts on “Dear Government

  1. Much as I admire the sentiment (and the realism of the 'build it and they will come' approach to Transport Planning) you should really draw on your science background when writing things along these lines.For instance, on Co2 emissions, the whole Transport sector is way lower than the Energy Supply sector (stats @ ) – with energy releasing 39% of Co2 compared to 25% in Transport.Statistics are the key to change. Particularly in re-evaluating the BCR of projects in favour of more sustainable options.

  2. @grimnorth25% is still a significant amount of total emissions. I ignored going into the energy sector, but the current policy trajectory is to electrify the national car fleet, moving much of the emissions from transport into energy production (with the associated overheads from loss added to it). The kind of infrastructure used in The Netherlands, instead of electric cars would remove the need for the energy sector to expand massively. It could instead devote its efforts into converting existing capacity to more sustainable sources, rather than having to couple this with a massive expansion at a time where a quite a bit of our generating capacity is set to be retired in the near future.A good start would be for Benefit to cost ratios to take into account the benefits to other public institutions rather than just the institution conducting the study, and a consideration for more qualitative benefits which these kinds of developments can bring.

  3. Well yes 25% is not insignificant though there are savings to be gained through use of electric vehicles, though possibly not personal automobiles. London's latest buses have a 2 litre diesel engine rather than 7~9 litres through use of hybrid technology.On the rail front, centralised power generation and distribution has both positives and negatives. The most reliable electric train is much much more reliable than an diesel one – in the order of 20,000 miles between failures! But of course there's energy losses and complexity associated with the additional hardware.From my own experience, it's very difficult to get people to consider anything but the benefit they will derive themselves from any money spent – much of the challenge of my day job is convincing someone that a project manager (etc) will actually contribute value rather than pure overhead! If it's not in your budget it's not your problem is the general rule… Still, it is possibly to start thinking along the lines externalities charges etc (a la congestion charging) in order to balance the individual's choices.

  4. Re: Londons new buses – tailpipe emissions may be reduced, but I don't imagine there is anything 'green' about the battery that comes with it!In the same vein, a very rarely quoted efficiency of the bicycle is the massively reduced material & energy involved in its production in comparison with any other form of transport – apart from a pair of shoes maybe ;>D

  5. @Ian yes you're right, it is mainly about the tailpipe emissions – however London's air suffers most from particulates so the reduction in engine capacity will help. What would probably help more is tacking the taxis, however the LTDA is a very big lobby. Boris has managed to push in an age limit of 15 years on taxis from 2012 (IIRC) but plenty more could be done.

  6. @grimnorthThe advantage of electrifying the railways is that if our generating capacity is converted to a sustainable source in the future, rail travel can become even more environmentally friendly. At the moment that is not necessarily the case. The same argument could be made for personal electric vehicles, but there are logistical problems with such an epic increase in demand on electricity generation which electrification of "1 x 5/7 person vehicle per person" would require, never mind making that increase in capacity come from sustainable sources.As you said, there is a culture of If it's not in your budget it's not your problem is the general rule which as an individual is understandable, but when you think of government as a whole it is surprising that more is not done to tackle this kind of thinking. I wonder if the overall losses from it could be quantified in any meaningful way…@ianNot many consumables on a roadster either, a good few thousand miles between chain and tyre replacements.

  7. For everyone living in GM have you seen that the new Local Transport Plan is out for consultation? Only few days left (24th of Dec).You may have seen it but if not Manchester FoE have put together a simple email, which can be modified to a personal message, info on the LTP is here's important to participate and voice our wishes at every opportunity, especially at local level, then all the things you listed perhaps, and hopefully, can become true over time. I am fearful that the love for the car and the status that come with car-ownership is very strong in this country, with the added problem that very few who drive also cycle, and so have no appreciation of others, on the road, who choose the bike over the car.Merry Christmas 🙂 Look forward to organise more on the Wheelers' Brunch in the New Year!

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