UK Government Launches Entirely Unnecessary Consultation Into Active Transport.

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Hannah’s had enough with Government transport planners. Again…


I’m going to scream. Actually, I did, though it was more of a desperate guttural groan of suppressed rage and frustration. Why? Because the Transport Committee of the UK Government has launched an inquiry into Active Transport. This might not seem like something worthy of hair-tearing, fist-balling anger, but it is.

If you make room for cycling, everyone wins. (Hannah and family enjoying a rare closed road).

For those unfamiliar with the machinations of government, Committee Inquiries can help set policy directions for future legislation. Following an Inquiry, a Committee will often make a series of recommendations which may then be taken forward and turned into legislation. Active Travel then, is surely something it would be great to see some legislation about? Some rules ensuring that bikes and pedestrians were given greater priority in new construction projects, perhaps? Maybe even relaxed planning rules to facilitate the easier building of segregated cycle lanes? There are all sorts of things that could be done that would transform our landscape from the current car-centric set up to one where cycling and walking are nice, normal and attractive modes of transport that appeal to everyone.

In launching the Inquiry, Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said:

“Walking and cycling are both extremely important modes of sustainable transport. The health benefits, as well as their contribution to cutting air pollution and congestion on the roads, are clear.

However, take-up of active travel is disappointingly low in this country, with significant variations from region to region. Overall, we compare very unfavourably with many of our European neighbours. So why are we so slow to get active?

Is local and central Government policy and funding appropriate? Is more needed than just building the infrastructure, such as cycle lanes? How can we promote behavioural change so that walking or cycling become the default for first and last mile journeys? Those are the key questions at the heart of our inquiry, which I hope it will bring renewed attention to this issue.”

The thing is, these key questions have been answered, time and time again. Renewed attention is welcome, but what we really need is action. Chris Boardman took to Twitter in response:

“My god, we have a sea of evidence about what is needed, we are drowning in the stuff.

We know exactly what to do:
– Sustained meaningful funding
– Strong cross-party leadership
– A real commitment to change

How about we get party transport leads in a room and AGREE TO DO IT?”

Chris Boardman – possibly the most reasoned, self controlled and well informed cycle champion on the planet – taking to block capitals, with an added ‘my god’ exclamation. I feel a bit better about my own screams now.

We need these next steps to happen. We need the consultations to stop, and the construction of proper cycle infrastructure to begin. Build it and people will use it. We need policy to be led by what is good for people, not cars (or the motor industry). We need this to happen to stop our streets being congested unpleasant landscapes. We need it to improve our air quality, keep us physically active, redress our sedentary lifestyles and reduce our CO2 emissions. We need it to save ourselves, the NHS, the planet.

The Committee does not really need our views on what can be learnt from the Netherlands, or Denmark, or Bogota, or any of the other pioneering locations where braver politicians have gone for it and taken the leap into actual action. The evidence is there – as Boardman says, we’re drowning in the stuff, but if you’d like an excellent review of it all, I highly recommend Bike Nation by Peter Walker. What the Committee needs is a groundswell of public opinion, for politicians to feel that being pro-cycling is a vote winner, to have the confidence to take some actual decisions. And it needs us to accept the loss of the odd parking space, respect the occasional urban 20mph zone, and embrace it all as a fair trade for a cleaner, healthier way of living.

It’s not enough to share links and tweets on social media – we’re in a bubble preaching to the already converted. Get your pen out, and make sure your political representatives know that you want the talking to stop, and the action to start. Better yet, get your bike out too, and ride it to the shops, to work, to school…

Comments (12)

  1. you only need to look at the almost brainless comments on any cycling-related story on any newspaper website or non-cycling social media page to understand why no politician has the appetite for recommending anything radical or acting decisively. Just more can-kicking-down-the-road, lip service, box-ticking stuff innit.

    “You red-light running cyclists get more cycle lanes than you deserve (but you don’t even use them) as it is. What about my elderly mother who needs her car? I have to use my car to get to work. I pay my a lot of money for my car and you’re telling me not to use it??? etc etc etc etc. “

  2. @terrahawk You forgot to mention road tax… 😉

  3. Another excellent piece from the ever thoughtful Hannah.
    Now, cast your mind back to the TV series Yes Minister. The whole point of Government inquiries and consultations is to not do anything, while perhaps making the gullible think that something is happening. Too much of the economy is tied up in making, selling, servicing, and generally catering for motor vehicles for governments to want to improve cycling and walking. In recent years I have cycled in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The facilities for cycling and walking are so much better there, showing that it can be done if there is a true political will.

  4. @fatoldman I used to work for parliamentary committees…Yes Minister is not a work of fiction! Sadly, neither are any of the articles I’ve linked to, though they read light post apocalyptic science fiction, farce and political satire. The NYT big read on climate change is worth your time (took me about 3 hours to get through it) but prepare to be depressed afterwards.

  5. “Get your pen out, and make sure your political representatives know that you want the talking to stop, and the action to start.”
    Indeed. The consultation link is below and took me 5 mins to respond:
    https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/transport-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/active-travel-17-19/

  6. The hours between this comment and my previous one have included some washing and ironing, but mostly have been spent on reading the New York Times article. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. More walking and cycling will represent a small step in the right direction. It is not just the politicians who must act, but all of us. We need to own less and consume less, and that will hit us mountain bikers very hard, with our desire for expensive toys, and our regular motorised drives to play with them. The desire we have to upgrade and replace make us as culpable as any. Perhaps we should think n-1.
    I fear for the world my two year old grandson will inherit from me.

  7. Ive been watching a box set of Yes Minister and YPM when using the turbo on the grim winter and spring nights. (Ie up to 2 months ago !). And it’s truer now than it was 30 or so years ago when written.
    Particularly that inquiries are there to avoid actually doing something.

    But Maybe however the MTB industry could do its bit.. by stopping making everyting obsolete and non-compatible with everything that went before, every 5 minutes… 8 speed… 9 speed, 10 speed, 11 speed, 12 speed, 13 speed.., different pull ratios with each different deraileur , axles at 9mm, 15mm , 20mm, hubs at 130mm, 135mm, 142mm, 148mm.
    Feck knows how many headset variations, BBs, 3 wheel sizes, blah blah blah. Etc etc etc.

    Just see how much half-used yet redundant kit each mountakn biker has in his or her garage and shed, in increasingly non-recyclable materials.

  8. Would someone mind posting the link to the NYT climate change big read.

    Thanks

  9. Sorry forgot to engage brain, found it.

  10. @fatoldman @robertajobb yes, I think less stuff, n-1, and more thoughtful consumption are all important. I’ve been trying to write about it, but haven’t found the right way through it yet. Many drafts have been discarded!

    Thanks to anyone who manages to read the NYT article. It’s left a lasting impression on me.

  11. Great piece Hannah. I have just spent two weeks riding in both Holland & Germany & unfortunately coming back to England you just get to see how flipping backwards our cycling provision is!!!

  12. NYT article was a great but sobering read. Have we left it too late as a species? In the last few years I’ve become detached from the political system due to the short sighted nature of electoral cycle. As a country we’ve turned our back on our neighbours when we need to stop squabbling about immigration, so called red tape and straight bananas and work as an economic block to levy influence in reducing harm to the planet. I can’t get excited about cycle infrastructure when the globe is heating up and fresh water wars can’t be far off the horizon.

    Off to rethink the next twenty years of my career. Might have to hound the current political class out of office… Anyone vote for a grumpy middle aged git who tries his damnedest to fix things rather than worry about public opinion? Hard sell here as most folk think tropical weather in the UK is a good thing…

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