Wednesday 15 September 2010

why ‘The Campaign for Better Transport’ is no friend of cycling

Cycling in Nottingham

Nottingham has been named as England's least car-dependent city in a survey that exposes inconsistent planning across the country with one of the nation's newest conurbations, Milton Keynes, labelled the worst for cyclists and bus users.

Award-winning bus services, a European-style embrace of the tram and a bias against out-of-town shopping centres were cited as powerful incentives for residents of Nottingham to leave their cars at home, according to a report by the Campaign for Better Transport.

Nottingham's investment in 30 miles of cycle tracks, a nine-mile tram network and 230,000 miles of bus journeys per week made it the top ranking city overall. "It ranked highly for factors such as bus patronage, satisfaction with bus services and low car use for the school run. As well as having an efficient bus service, the new expanding tram system is now used by 10 million passengers a year," said CBT.

The green lobbying group judged 19 English cities by three criteria: accessibility and planning; quality and uptake of public transport; walking and cycling.

Dan Milmo, the author of this uncritically regurgitated press release, really ought to read his colleague Nick Davies’s book criticising journalists for failing to tell the truth by simply lapping up PR pap fed to them by vested interests.

In the first place The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT - formerly known as Transport 2000) is not a ‘green’ lobbying group. It exists to promote buses, trains and trams (and there is nothing remotely ‘green’ about buses). It has strong links both to businesses (Eurostar, Stagecoach and Arriva among others) and to trade unions (including ASLEF, the RMT, Unison and Unite-Amicus) and receives funding from them.

There is nothing particularly unusual or wrong about this, of course – the CBT is simply a lobbying group which reflects large and powerful vested interests. These businesses want government to subsidise them and protect them from competitors, and the unions want to look after the interests of the people who work in these industries. The CBT’s hostility to road haulage and car dependency is not rooted in environmentalism but in promoting public transport. And no genuine green organisation would have jet-setter Michael Palin as its figurehead:

A foreword by Palin for its annual report was edited to remove a reference to the individual’s “right to fly”.

The reason why the CBT is no friend of cycling is that cycling is a much better way of getting around cities than buses, trams or trains. But the CBT is not remotely interested in seeing Britain’s towns and cities restructured for cycling. It has no interest in campaigning for the only proven way of bringing about mass cycling.

Complete segregation of cyclists from motorists is what is actually required to make the masses feel that cycling is safe. It's also required to make cycling efficient and safe.

The CBT doesn’t have a clue about cycling, as its utterly ludicrous claims about Nottingham reveal. Nottingham is a car-sodden cycling-hostile city and cycling has been stagnating there for many years (ably assisted by the local collaborationist vehicular cycling sect, offering yet more proof for the simple thesis that among the biggest obstacles to mass cycling in Britain are self-appointed ‘cycling campaigners’). You only have to look at the photograph above to understand both the scope for the re-allocation of road space for safe segregated cycling and the existing conditions which are of the kind which will only ever attract a small minority of hardcore cyclists.

Cycling’s modal share in Nottingham in 1995 was 3.2% (according to this). In fact that figure is misleading as it almost certainly refers to commuter cycling’s modal share, which is invariably higher than modal share per se. If you want to exaggerate the amount of cycling people do, just cherry pick the figure for biking to work. Ironically, over the past fifteen years in the cycling paradise that is Nottingham, the modal share figure for commuter cycling has not increased but has actually dipped slightly:

Nottingham has a population of 274,000 with 45% of this population without access to a car. 23% of the population owns a bike however only 3.1% of these people use their bike to cycle to work.

In reality the overall situation in Nottingham is much, much worse

Basel and Nottingham: compared. Basel has 21% mode share, Nottingham has 1.6%. What is the problem? Nottingham is dominated by a car ideology.

Not such a paradise for cyclists, then, and not a place where car dependency is low, contrary to the fantasies of the CBT.

I sought advice for a randomly chosen cycling journey of 2½ miles in Nottingham. It turned out to involve roads with motor traffic and ‘shared’ use with pedestrians. I was cautioned:

There are some very busy sections on this route.

You are required to dismount and walk on some sections, (for 2% of the distance, 6% of the time).

For full details take a look here.

In Nottingham, the usual atrocious conditions for vehicular cycling are matched by joke infrastructure when it comes to such matters as cycle parking.

NEW bike parking bays at Nottingham railway station will make it more accessible to train users, it is claimed.

The Cycle Hub will provide 92 spaces for bikes – 38 more than previously catered for at the station.

Crikey, 92 places for the main station in a city with a population of 292,400. That’s awesome, is it not? Whereas

in the Netherlands a small city with just 65,000 inhabitants has 2,300 spaces at its station

There is also something very British about what happened next at the frabjous Nottingham station secure cycling hub:

We are very concerned to hear that a bike was stolen from the new 'Secure' Compound only a few days after the opening and have taken this up with Nottingham City Council and East Midlands Trains.

The CBT’s blind spot regarding cycling is exposed by this celebration of the recently published National Travel Survey, which ludicrously asks did Labour succeed after all?

On the contrary, as far as cycling is concerned, it failed, catastrophically. But the CBT is just another of those outfits which brings good news which is utterly bogus:

London has the lowest number of car commuters and cycling is growing dramatically.

That is fantasy campaigning, since London’s modal shares have been essentially static for many years. Where there have been slight shifts they have not involved cycling. Reading this sort of thing you would never know that the latest TfL figures show cycling’s modal share in Enfield currently registering at zero per cent, and in Newham flickering between zero and one per cent. The notion that there is a cycling revolution in London is utterly delusional. And the strange idea that there is going to be a surge in cycling in outer London boroughs is quite bizarre, for all the reasons regularly demonstrated on this outer London blog.

When the CBT does mention cycling it comes up with the usual bland generalisations:

Lower traffic speeds, for example more 20mph zones in towns and cities and 30mph in villages, would provide a better environment for walking and cycling.

No, they wouldn’t. Lower speed limits reduce the impact of collisions on pedestrians and cyclists and result in fewer fatalities, but they do not in themselves make a street cycling or walking friendly. A car-sodden street is still a car-sodden street and 30 mph and 20 mph zones still involve vehicular cycling.

Wackiest of all is the CBT's demand for

safe ways of carrying bikes on the front of buses

Oh, please.

But I suppose no one should be surprised that the CBT is clueless about cycling. Among those working for the organisation is a former Campaigns Coordinator at CTC

Nuff said.

Picture credit: the photo above comes from here.

(Below) Cycling friendly? A thrilling section of the iconic London Cycle Network running through a 20 mph zone, Church Hill, E17.