The Times has reported that “Bike sales fall to lowest level in 20 years” and the boom has become a bust. Bike sales have dipped to their lowest level in two decades. It suggests many people have lost their appetite for cycling, perhaps not surprising after a cold, wet winter. The boom during the pandemic has disappeared.
This is undermining the Government’s commitment to grow “active” travel and the hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on encouraging cycling has been a waste of money. However the Government did cut funding to Active Travel England by more than £200 million recently which was surely a wise decision when the Government is so short of money and there are big demands for money for the NHS, for defence and support of social programmes to limit the impact of energy price rises.
The money spent on cycle lanes is particularly problematic as they can increase traffic congestion and do not improve cycling safety. In fact the more people who cycle the more road traffic accidents involving cyclists there are, thereby increasing casualties. The increase in potholes has also had a negative impact on cycling.
There is another demonstration against the expansion of the ULEZ on this coming Saturday at Trafalgar Square (the 18th March at midday). Please attend if you can.
There have been a number of reports of another way people have been demonstrating their opposition to the ULEZ enforcement cameras that are being installed – by damaging them. This is what happens when legitimate protests are ignored so we won’t be condemning this activity.
It is of course now very clear that the additional cameras were ordered before the public consultation was even commenced which shows how Sadiq Khan and TfL never had any intention of listening.
Apart from the two legal actions being pursued against the expansion, the Conservative Party is also organising local protest groups in each affected borough and setting up Facebook groups. For example there is one for Bromley residents named “Bromley say no to ULEZ expansion” which already has over 2,000 members. Why not join?
The good news is that a legal challenge to removal of the Kensington High Street cycle lanes by Better Streets (they should be called Worse Streets) was thrown out in the High Court. See https://tinyurl.com/25c8dncv for details.
Transport for London (TfL) have published their latest report on Travel in London. It shows that Sadiq Khan’s Transport Strategy is a complete failure.
The Mayor has a target of 80% of journeys to be via active travel modes (which even includes bus journeys). But in fact the number or trips by walking and cycling was only 31% in Q3 2022. That is only slightly higher than the 27% in the pre-pandemic 2019 year.
People are still avoiding public transport because covid is still prevalent and more people have changed travel patterns to work partly from home or have flexible working hours which probably accounts for the small increase in walking/cycling. But it is clear that the overall use of active travel modes has not changed much in the last two years and any changes have been influenced more by the covid epidemic and higher taxes on private cars and higher public transport fares.
You can see the actual London mode share trends in the chart above.
The targets for active travel physical activity are not being met. The report says “results suggest that the proportion of Londoners achieving the target decreased during the pandemic, with quarterly estimates ranging from 33 to 37 per cent”.
These numbers did not stop some media reports claiming that cycling had increased by 40%. This is a complete lie based on using selective data. Cycling still only accounts for about 3% of all trips and is heavily influenced by weather conditions. The UK went through a very dry period this year but the last two months have been the exact opposite and is not in the above data.
Public transport use remains low and significantly below the pre-pandemic level which is a major problem for TfL’s finances as they rely on fare income particularly from buses. The Mayor was going to reduce the bus network to save money but has now taken a U-Turn on that idea which he will surely live to regret.
TfL are forecasting a greater shift to on-line shopping with people making fewer and more local shopping trips. They also foresee an increase in LGV trips associated with home deliveries except in central London and a drop in HGV trips due to reduced construction, general haulage and retail activity. The trend to have few private car trips in London will continue, replaced by the use of taxis, PHVs and internet shopping delivery vehicles.
The TfL report also gives some data on road casualties. Here again the Mayor’s “Vision Zero” policy is not working. The figures are distorted by the reductions in vehicle traffic during the pandemic but the report says: “2021 was an unusual year with large changes in the composition of people regrettably killed or seriously injured. This was largely due to new travel patterns in the wake of the pandemic. Motorcycling and pedestrian fatalities were significantly lower by historic standards but cycling fatalities and serious injuries increased”.
The Mayor’s promotion of cycling has actually resulted in relatively small increases in cycling but large increases in KSIs involving cyclists. Cycling is intrinsically more dangerous than other transport modes but cyclists won’t listen. The Mayor is unlikely to reach the targets for KSIs in 2022.
The increase in cycling speeds promoted by cycling fanatics and supported by cycle superhighways together with increases in electric bikes and e-scooters are proving to be negative influences.
A very disappointing report showing the negative trends on mobility in London. Will the Mayor change his stance? We doubt it because his Transport Strategy was always based on dogma rather than rational analysis.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps has suggested that cyclists should be insured, required to have some form of identification (e.g. number plates) and be subject to a 20 mph speed limit. There was an interesting article in the Daily Mail by Melissa Kite on this subject. I quote from parts of it:
“The last time I rode my horse on the country lanes of Surrey, I nearly didn’t come back. All thanks to a gang of cyclists.Only a few steps from the gate of the stable yard, a racing club in formation swarmed downhill towards me, spread across the lane. As poor Darcy began to panic, I screamed: ‘No, please!’ But they kept on coming. The bikes swirled around Darcy and suddenly she was spinning in circles – right into the path of a car behind me. I clung to her neck to stop myself falling, and saw the look on the driver’s face. We were so close I think we both thought I was about to end up on the bonnet. To this day, Darcy trembles when she hears the faintest whoosh of a bike. Anyone prepared to hurtle past a woman clinging to the neck of a terrified horse is not safe to be on the roads unlicensed and uninsured.
Some cyclists flagrantly break the law: running red lights, ignoring pedestrian crossings, weaving in and out of lanes and mounting pavements.
As my experience shows, the situation is dire in the countryside, where weekend cycling clubs are increasingly using the public roads as a racing track. And it’s not just the accidents they cause. It’s their anti-social behaviour. The atmosphere in many once-genteel areas has been ruined by the arrogant mentality of cyclists, hurtling along with selfish aggression”.
Comment: There is certainly a big problem in London and other major UK cities. Cyclists ignore red lights and do not give way to pedestrians. Modern bikes enable cyclists to exceed safe speeds and their brakes are not fit for purpose. If they are involved in an accident, as they are often are, they can ride away as they know there is no way of tracing them.
It has been suggested in the past that registration of cyclists or cycles would be expensive and not justified by the benefits. But a modern electronic registration system would not be expensive and a small number plate not difficult to affix to bikes. It should not put off anyone from cycling.
Tougher laws about cycling behaviour would also be welcomed by many people. Riding on pavements is a major problem which pedestrians heartily dislike and now that we have users of electric scooters doing the same we need a review of laws in this area.
Unfortunately many cyclists now think they are competing in a race against other cyclists and this has been encouraged by the promotion of cycling events. Organised events on public roads should be banned.
The good news is that Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is proposing to drop plans for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) scheme that would charge motorists similar to the Birmingham and London schemes. But it depends on agreement with the Government. The charging scheme had already been “paused” until 2026 but now looks like it will be scrapped. Signs already put up for the scheme will need to be removed. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-61439444 for more details.
The bad news is that the Daily Telegraph have reported that the Government is to finance Mini-Holland cycling schemes to encourage people to ditch their cars in Britain’s major cities under government plans.
Nineteen local authorities, including Manchester, Hull and Nottinghamshire, are to get government funds for mini-Hollands with segregated bike lanes, traffic calming and residential streets blocked to cars.
Comment: I cannot understand why people think that Holland is a good example to follow. There may be more cycling in some Dutch cities such as Amsterdam but nationally there are more casualties to cyclists than in the UK and traffic congestion is also worse. There is no evidence that introducing such schemes increases cycling (or “active travel”) in the UK. Cycling remains a fair-weather transport mode only followed by young males in flat locations. If people calling for mini-Hollands actually bothered to visit Holland they would see a very different picture. The only good aspect is that Holland has encouraged more off-road cycle paths that separate vehicle traffic from cyclists.
Instead of spending £200 million on encouraging cycling the Government should spend it on improving the road network to improve road safety and cut traffic congestion.
Another good article in the Telegraph was entitled “Why Boris and the elite are determined to wean us off the car”. It said “Exasperated motorists are feeling pushed out of the picture with rising fuel costs, congestion charges, low traffic zones and speeding fines, and motorists, especially those who travel into cities, feel they are being hit from every direction. Dead ahead there are closed off roads in low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs); to the left there are automated cameras monitoring their every move; to the right low emission zones and 20mph limits. And all around are parking charges and fuel costs that put a hefty dent in your wallet”; “There has now developed in Government an anti-car attitude as opposed to car management, a hostility to the motor vehicle rather than how we can manage this, says former transport minister John Spellar. He puts this down to a London-centric approach to transport that focuses on the problems cars cause in congested cities and ignores different conditions in other areas. As Spellar points out, working Britons outside the capital – particularly manual and shift workers – often rely on their vehicles to get to work, unlike city commuters who can travel by train”. See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/features/boris-elite-determined-wean-us-car/ for the full article.
Grant Shapps, Transport Minister, has announced that he intends to introduce regulations for pedicabs, otherwise known as rickshaws. At present they are not regulated at all and local councils have no powers to impose regulations on them – for example in the interests of road safety, the safety of passengers or to avoid a public nuisance.
They are a big problem in some parts of London, particularly in the evening.
Mr Shapps said in Parliament that “There isn’t any legislation which accurately enables any type of licensing or regulation. It’s time – it’s high time – I know Parliament has expressed interest through a series backbench bills that for one reason or another…have not proceeded through Parliament. We will do that on Government time in the Transport Bill”.
Comment: some system of licensing is surely required and it would be a good idea to extend that to all pedal cyclists. There was a time when most cyclists used to adhere to the Highway Code but now they tend to cycle through red lights and if they are involved in an accident they just walk away knowing they cannot be traced. All users of vehicles on our roads should be traceable and insured. I would even extend it to the users of e-scooters which are proving to be positively hazardous for pedestrians with numerous reports of personal injury accidents involving them. There is very obviously a great deal of infringement of the current regulations that should stop e-scooters being used on pavements or even on roads unless they are rented as part of a regulated trial. The law is being blatantly ignored.
Former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman has been appointed to lead a new body to promote active travel to be called Active Travel England (ATE). ATE will be responsible for driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure and managing the national active travel budget, awarding funding for projects that meet the new national standards set out in 2020.
There will be funding of £5.5 million for investment in cycling and walking schemes, including £300,000 top-up to e-cargo bike schemes and £3 million to improve cycling infrastructure around train stations and to explore active travel on prescription.
But the concern is that Chris Boardman is involved in selling Boardman branded cycles through Halfords and other companies, and has a dedicated web site – see link below. It is surely inappropriate for a promoter of cycling schemes to have a financial interest in cycling.
Before Christmas Transport for London (TfL) published its 14th Report on Travel in London. It’s basically a collection of data on transport trends in the capital. At 263 pages I’ll only provide a brief summary of some of the key points here – see link below for the full report.
The Report includes data showing the impact of the pandemic. By November 2021 the demand for public transport overall was down to around 70% from pre-pandemic levels. London Underground was 65% and bus demand was about 75%. But road traffic only reduced to about 95% as people chose to avoid using public transport by using private transport (i.e. cars or PHVs) or walking.
Walking actually increased substantially and cycling did increase but mainly for leisure cycling at weekends. Weekday peak commuter travel is not recovering rapidly as there is more working from home, and this is particularly noticeable in central London.
The mode share proportion since 2000 is shown in the above chart. You can see that despite the encouragement for cycling in recent years and particularly by the LTNs of late, cycling has remained a very small proportion and any increase during the pandemic was mainly for leisure.
To quote from page 11 of the Report: “The overall active, efficient and sustainable mode share for travel in 2020 is estimated at 58.3 per cent, compared to 63.2 per cent in 2019”. That includes walking, cycling and public transport use, although why public transport should be considered “sustainable” is not clear. But clearly the effect of the pandemic has been to frustrate the Mayor’s objective to get us all out of our cars and increase “sustainable travel” modes to 80% by 2041. In fact, the active travel mode objective of 20 minutes per day (walking/cycling) for 70% of the population has instead fallen to 35% in the latest quarter probably due to less by those working from home.
The Report contains some data on air pollution some of which comes from road and other transport of course. But it shows how air pollution has been substantially reducing in the last few years. One interesting comment in the Report is that “The Mayor’s Transport Strategy set a target for London to be a zero carbon city by 2050. However, the Mayor has recently called for this to be brought forward to 2030, recognising the importance of the climate change emergency we face”. That’s news to me. So a diesel/petrol car bought this year might be banned in eight years time if the Mayor has his way!
The good news is that limited data suggests the population of London has decreased with significant reductions in international inward migration. The pandemic has deterred international travel while Londoners have moved out to homes in the country and there may have been some “excess deaths” from the pandemic.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods
The Report comments on the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) on page 123 but the data reported is very selective and biased. They conclude with this statement: “In summary, LTNs have a wide range of different and interconnected impacts but the evidence suggests that these are largely positive and that it is in the longer term where most of the benefits become apparent. Therefore, TfL shall continue to support and, where appropriate, conduct further research for a complete and thorough evaluation of LTN impacts”. It seems they have not yet accepted that the majority of residents do not support LTNs as is clear from recent surveys and public consultations in local boroughs, Lewisham being the latest one which we will comment on later.
A section of the Report covers traffic congestion (pages 143 on). It reports that over the last decade “A slow but generally consistent trend of reducing traffic volumes in central and inner London…”; “Traffic volumes in outer London have, however, grown over this period; and “Generally lower car traffic, higher freight traffic, particularly LGVs, and dramatic changes to the numbers of private hire vehicles”. But this comment shows the impact of the Mayor’s policies: “Continued reductions to the effective capacity of London’s roads, generally reflecting other Mayoral priorities such as reducing road danger, requiring enhanced operational management of the road network”. Yes as we all know, London has become more congested in the last few years due to damaging policies.
There has been an allegation widely reported that traffic on minor roads in London has increased substantially in recent years but the Report contradicts that. It says: “Notably, the volume estimates for London’s major roads remained broadly unchanged, and there was no evidence of an (observed) increasing year-on-year trend in minor road traffic from available independent data over the preceding decade”. It seems the claimed increase might have been an aberration based on misleading statistical data.
How do you measure traffic congestion? One way is by traffic speed but that can be misleading. The best way is to look at “excess delay” which compares actual travel time versus that under “free-flow” conditions. The Report actually shows some data on this which is the first for some time to my knowledge. The chart below shows congestion worsening from 2010 and particularly in the period 2015-2019, but a big improvement thereafter as travel generally was reduced due to the pandemic. But it is still worse than ten years ago!
In conclusion, the Travel in London Report does contain some very interesting data, albeit distorted by the pandemic as travel patterns and volume changed. But it shows how defective has been the Mayor’s Transport Strategy as people have resisted change to modes while road capacity has been reduced.
This article covers the news items that have appeared in the last couple of weeks that will be of interest to drivers:
Cycle Licensing. The Government has rejected a petition to introduce identification for cycle and e-scooter riders – in effect a licensing system. This was signed by over 10,000 people amid growing concerns about the behaviour or cyclists, particularly in major cities such as London, and the illegal use of e-scooters. The Government thinks it would be too expensive and licensing would deter cycling. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585474?reveal_response=yes#response-threshold
Comment: This is an example of where more signatures might have been obtained, and a more positive response from the Government, if the petition had been more carefully worded. Other countries have introduced registration systems for cyclists in the past but often abandoned them subsequently because of the high costs of administration. But an on-line registration system might be very low cost. There should be no qualification or ability test system, but the ability to identify cyclists after involvement in an accident is important.
Comment: Of course the recent reduction in bus journey times might have been down to overall traffic reduction as more people worked from home and avoided shopping during the epidemic. Bus lanes are discriminatory in that they favour one transport mode over another for no good reason and do not necessarily maximise the use of road space or the number of people carried. The photograph from the TfL Press Release above shows how underutilised are many bus lanes.
Driver Distraction. There is growing concern about the number of accidents caused by driver distraction. This is not just people using their mobile phones to call or send/receive text messages but using other in-car devices such as satnav systems. An extreme example is the ability of passengers to use touch-screen displays in Tesla vehicles for “gameplay” which is now being investigated by US safety body NHTSA – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59760366
Comment: As in-car electronic devices have proliferated and more control options have been provided, it’s become more complex over recent years and inexperienced drivers are the most easily distracted. This certainly requires some investigation because “failed to notice” is a big cause of accidents according to police reports. It may be worth considering whether satnav and infotainment systems should be controllable only when a vehicle is stationary.
ABD Ejected. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been thrown out of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) apparently due to the issue of an injudicious tweet. The ABD claims this is down to pressure from “anonymous extreme cycling lobby trolls” but that is a typical unwise comment from ABD Directors and was one reason why I tried to get some changes made in the ABD and am no longer connected with them. PACTS may be an ineffective organisation in promoting transport safety with poor leadership but association with the extremists at the ABD is becoming something no responsible organisation wishes to be linked to.
Car Insurance Costs. One positive change in the New Year for car drivers is that insurers will no longer be able to charge a different rate for new customers to old ones. So renewals should not automatically rise as they have done in the past.
Comment: This should ensure that we do not have to waste time looking at alternative quotes to avoid being stiffed by insurers reliance on our apathy. However despite Willis Towers Watson claiming that insurance rates are at a six year low, my quote to renew insurance was increased by 7% this week. That’s despite my 22 years of no claims bonus and nothing of significance otherwise in recent years. I will be shopping around for an alternative quote. I expected my insurance to fall as I have been driving less in the last two years due to the pandemic and that is generally true of the wider population so accidents have fallen.
Postscript: I got an alternative insurance quotation and managed to cut the cost by £99 from the proposed renewal cost so switched to Saga who I have used in the past. A most efficient on-line quotation system. The moral is that it still pays to shop around.
Croydon Streetspace Schemes and Governance. The London Borough of Croydon is pushing ahead with its Streetspace schemes despite very strong local opposition – see https://news.croydon.gov.uk/next-phase-of-walking-and-cycling-schemes-approved/ . But Croydon residents have also voted to move to a directly elected Mayor which shows the dissatisfaction with the way the borough has been run recently.
Comment: I am not sure this will make a big difference. In Lewisham who have a directly elected Mayor we still see extreme and unwise policies being promoted by the Mayor.
Conclusion. What does the new year hold for private motorists? Probably more prejudice as extreme cyclists continue to dominate policy and the Government’s net zero policies prejudice all private transport. Irrationality continues to be rampant with no proper cost/benefit analysis of new policies or projects.
There is unfortunately a decline in moderation in all politics so we see rushed decisions being taken about responses to the pandemic including using it as an excuse to close roads. We all need to return to sanity and not let the extremists dominate debate.
The Freedom for Drivers Foundation is trying to promote rational and moderate policies so please support us in doing so.
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Cllr Vincent Stops posted this comment on Twitter on 9/12/2021: “Whatever London’s Cycling Czar, Will Norman tweets, this is what TfL’s statisticians told their Board meeting yesterday in public about post-pandemic cycling. Unsurprisingly, neither he nor the cycle bloggers, academics nor journos have commented. Please note: percentage changes”:
Cycling as a leisure activity clearly increased during weekends, but overall the level of cycling did not increase during the pandemic despite numerous exhortations to do so and measures to encourage it. Cycling actually fell along with other travel modes. Clearly cycling as a regular mode of travel did not prove any more popular despite claims to the contrary.
Cllr Vincent Stops is a Hackney Councillor who chairs a Planning Committee. He told the Hackney Post in December: “It’s better to create safer roads for everyone. I think cycle bloggers have too much influence.”
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