Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spot The Difference

Over the last few days I've read a blogpost about current Under-Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill's attitude towards providing for cycling. I've also read a newspaper article in Glasgow's Evening Times newspaper about the 50th anniversary of Glasgow's M8 motorway. I'd like to compare and contrast.

Firstly, from the Evening Times (emphasis mine):

The 1960s was a time when planners looked ahead and began work on a network of motorways. Car ownership was on the rise, and the planners also recognised the importance of taking traffic away from old residential neighbourhoods. 
Some parts of the old A8 were unsafe. It had three lanes, with a shared overtaking lane, and the high number of fatalities and serious accidents made it clear that something more than just upgrading the road was needed. 
What was required was a brand-new motorway along a safer route.
"In Glasgow there was a massive building programme for a good few years," Stuart said.  
"There were even plans for more motorways, which, however, were cancelled. 
"The motorways were designed for traffic flows that were 20, 30 years in the future. Flows were projected as far as 1990 or 2000, which at the time was unknown in forward planning. 
"The planners were thinking ahead, but this made it difficult to justify the new motorways. People asked them, 'Why are you building this new eight-lane motorway at Townhead?' 
"The planners said the motorways would eventually get up to 120,000 vehicles a day, but the reply would come back - 'Well, we're only getting 20,000 a day at the moment.' Needless to say, a lot of justification was needed at the time." 
The planners got their way, and Glasgow now has some 50 miles of motorway within its boundaries.

We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK [as NL/DK]. Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they think they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see the increases in cycling that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.
Spot the difference? Let me spell it out.

In the 1960s, planners justified massive capital outlay, tearing apart large parts of a city and fundamentally changing Glasgow to accommodate motor vehicles. Not the motor vehicles of the day, but those of 30-40 years in the future. They won the argument of the day. This despite private motor vehicles being expensive, polluting, leading to air pollution, obesity... need I go on? And them being in relatively low numbers at that time.

In 2014, the government refuses to invest seriously in a mode of transport that would require a modest proportion of the transport budget, would result in more liveable towns and cities and is cheap, doesn't pollute and counters obesity and air pollution. Sadly, cycle campaigners in the UK, with the exception of London to an extent, are not winning the argument of the day. This despite the Scottish government's 'vision' of 20% of journeys being by bike.

In the 1960s we predicted and provided for something that's had a largely negative effect on cities. In 2014 we refuse to do the same for something that could have a very positive effect. What will it take for the argument to be won this time?


  1. Politics rarely involves logic or scientific reasoning. Politicians follow what they perceive public opinion is, to gain votes, and they follow their own personal interests to gain money.

    Public opinion, even now, is defined by the major newspapers. These rely to a large extent on motor companies paying for large full-page adverts. They have to keep these advertisers happy, so are biased towards motoring and against alternatives to motoring. Politicians, sadly beholden to newspaper editors, follow this up, leading to announcements for "the biggest road-building programme in living memory" as if that was a Good Thing.

    Politicians in the 1960's and 1970's were extremely closely allied to road building businesses, too. Beeching was blamed for the savage railway closures, but it was Ernest Marples who was the driving force: a man who had made his fortune building roads. It is highly likely that government is still rather too closely linked to the road building industry. Motor road building is extremely expensive, and there are billions to be made if the right contract is awarded to the right people.

    In contrast cycling is highly cost-effective and efficient. People buy more bicycles than they buy cars, and advertising is hardly needed at all. Newspapers do not rely on advertising from the cycle industry, so they have no need to keep cycling businesses happy. There is little money or fame to be gained from building cycleways, either, as they can be provided for at a tiny fraction of the cost of motorway building.

    We are seeing change, though, because "a bunch of bloggers" are proving that they have as much potential to change people's voting intentions as the old-fashioned newspapers. This is why London is starting to get some serious investment in decent cycleways, in the face of conventional political wisdom.

    I hope that the rise in social communication via the internet revives our tired politics, and forces politicians to consider real public opinions, and perhaps even logical and scientific thinking too. Keep blogging, and keep promoting those logical ideas!

  2. Excellent stuff Russell. I've re-posted your blog on the Glasgow City Cycling forum.