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A couple of very interesting meetings with Transport for London recently as part of its stakeholder engagement programme relating to plans for the East-West and North-South cycle superhighways.

One of the messages that came across was clear.

The proposals are not simply about getting people out of their cars in central London – the number of private vehicles in the middle of the capital is already relatively low and unlikely to get significantly lower without a major hike in the congestion charge, and according to TfL “motor traffic in central London has fallen by around 17% per cent since 2006/07” – but generating modal shift away from the buses and Tube.

Public transport is already under significant strain and likely to become more so as the population of London rises by 1.6 million by 2031, a point emphasised by today’s news via the Press Association:

“Transport for London (TfL) has announced that a weekly bus and Tube passenger journey record has just been broken.

“In the week beginning September 22 2014 a total of 76.1 million passenger journeys were made on London Underground (LU) and on London buses.

“This was made up of a record weekly total of 50 million bus journeys, while 26.1 million Tube trips were made.

“The combined total beat the previous bus-Tube record set in the week beginning December 9 2013 when many extra travellers came into the capital to see the Christmas lights.”

Officials recognise (as they’ve acknowledged on the consultation website) that there will be knock on impacts for other traffic, not just on the routes but also on the roads surrounding them.

As a way of mitigating these effects – and those created by 20 or so other road schemes being implemented by the end of 2016 – tens of millions of pounds are being invested to help prioritise buses at certain junctions to help keep bus journey times reasonable and passengers happy.

There are now some broad indications, albeit still provisional and based on an imprecise science, of potential casualty reductions.

Annual reductions of collisions involving injury to cyclists:

East-West      7 serious, 35 slight

North-South      2 serious, 11 slight

Total   9 serious, 46 slight, 55 overall

Approximate annual monetised benefit of reducing cycling collision:

EW      £1.84m

NS      £0.53m

Total   £2.38m

So far TfL not made an accurate assessment of what reduction there might be in fatalities, though say it is reasonable to assume a number of fatalities will be avoided over the full life of a business case, which they emphasise is still at draft stage. (It’s not clear over what period the business case is being made but for most large infrastructure projects it would be at least 30 years.)

The plans form a major part of delivering the Mayor’s vision for cycling. It is worth noting what the other four key points of the roads and street plans to 2020/21 are:

  • Ensure roads assets are fit for the future
  • Deliver a programme of major highway improvements to: unlock economic growth and regeneration; optimise use of road space (for all modes); improve pedestrian, cycling and bus facilities; enhance urban realm and ‘place’ function; deliver safety improvements
  • Deliver a further 40% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries on London’s roads
  • Keep London moving

The question is: how compatible are all these aims?

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The shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, has called for a proportion of the Government’s roads budget to be “reallocated to deliver a long-term funding settlement for cycling infrastructure”. Speaking in a Parliamentary debate on the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report, she said, “While there is a £28bn commitment for roads, we have only a one-off £114m from central Government for cycling, and that is spread across three years. It is time for a serious rethink of priorities within the roads budget.”

It is interesting that Ms Eagle talks only about diverting funding for roads to boost cycling infrastructure. If the £50bn HS2 rail project were cancelled, for example (no, we’re not obsessed with HS2 – it’s just a good example in this case), and this money diverted to funding cycling schemes, then the Government could buy every person in England a new Raleigh 700C bike (retail price £260), at a total cost of £13.8bn, and still have £36bn in change left over to build dedicated infrastructure for everybody to cycle on. All without touching the roads budget. Just a thought.

Another thought, of course, is whether there is or is not the significant latent demand for cycling infrastructure that the suggestion of much more spending on cycling implies. Here, a recently Parliamentary written answer suggested that nationwide only a tiny fraction of journeys are undertaken by bike, and that this is not expected to change significantly for at least a couple of decades, which suggests that spending lots of money on cycling infrastructure is not a good idea.

On the other hand, however, the recently launched DfT/TfL plan to improve cycling safety in London says that during the rush hour in central London a pretty hefty 25% of all vehicles are bikes. So there quite clearly is strong demand for good cycling infrastructure, but only in certain places. At the moment London is leading the way; if the right money is spent on the right schemes then will other cities follow? Only one way to find out.

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