The Department for Transport (DfT) have recently published a document entitled “Gear Change: One Year On”. It’s a celebration of the radical changes implemented by Government policy in the last year, with more active travel. It also contains a forward by the Prime Minister containing such phrases as: “Hundreds of new schemes have created safe space for people to cycle and walk, supported pubs and restaurants that might otherwise have closed, and allowed us to get the exercise we need. For decades we mourned that children no longer played in the street. Now once again, in some places, they do”.
That’s a very distorted view of what has happened during the pandemic. More people have walked and cycled partly because they have been working from home and hence have more time to do so, but also because they have been avoiding public transport.
The PM also says: “I know many people think that cycling and walking schemes simply increase car traffic on other roads. But there is now increasing evidence that they do not. We sometimes think of traffic as like water: if you block a stream in one place, it will find the next easiest way. Of course some journeys by car are essential, but traffic is not a force of nature. It is a product of people’s choices. If you make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, more people choose to walk and cycle instead of driving, and the traffic falls overall”. The latter comments may be true but there is certainly evidence that closing roads which is a typical element of LTNs does increase traffic on other roads.
The Gear Change document is a panegyric to the wonders of walking and cycling, but it totally ignores the needs of major segments of the population such as the elderly or infirm, or those who rely on vehicles to transport goods, tools or multiple passengers. It also contains some very misleading data on such issues as the take-up of cycling. It also suggests there is widespread public support for LTNs when independent surveys suggest the majority are against them. It depends on who you ask, the questions posed and who runs the survey.
Gear Change promotes a negative, downward move to local transport that will be opposed by many. It’s basically a propaganda piece exhorting us to change our way of life rather than the Government tackling the underlying causes of traffic congestion.
A good example of the kind of opposition to LTNs is the formation of a new group in Dulwich called “Age Speaks”. They say “We are a group of older people within One Dulwich who have banded together to amplify our voice. As individuals we are being ignored by Southwark Council and our views and needs are being drowned out by the lobby groups the Council is listening to. Together our voices will be louder and so we are uniting to make sure that older people are heard.
We want to make sure that the Council understands the difficulties the experimental road schemes cause us and how the Council could change things to make sure that we are treated equally. Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and the Council has a duty to protect older people from unfair disadvantage. This is particularly important now, as the Council will be making a decision on the road schemes in October, and so far has paid very little attention to the needs of older people”. They are particularly critical of an Equality Impact Assessment report from Southwark Council which is a typical example of such recent publications which tend to simply ignore many of the problems faced by the elderly.
Those who write such documents tend to be young and fit and simply have no understanding of how the elderly are impacted by attacks on the use of vehicles.
Gear Change report: https://tinyurl.com/yhc2fxkf
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