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The future of Britain’s transport? More roads

New Government paper sets out the Coalition’s stall for transport development; cycling and walking not mentioned even once.

It’s official: cycling and walking aren’t recognised as viable modes of transport by the current UK Government.

That’s the only possible conclusion from the HM Treasury paper Investing in Britain’s Future, presented at Parliament today by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. Alexander says that the coalition is the “greenest government ever” but there’s little to demonstrate that in the paper.

The Treasury’s plan is concerned mainly with private motor transport, with £28bn allocated to road improvements, and there’s no mention of the £1bn promised earlier in the year to establish an Office for Active Travel.

In fact active travel, in the sense of walking and cycling, can take a hike, it would seem. There are many pages – and a detailed appendix – on what needs to happen to the roads, and which schemes will be green-lighted.

Rail gets a section, although by ‘rail’ we mostly mean ‘High Speed 2 and Crossrail’ which will suck up the lion’s share of the funding. The ‘funding envelope’ for HS2 now stands at over £42bn.

Cycling, no pages

Cycling and walking don’t have any pages though. They’re not mentioned. Not even once. There’s no strategy for increasing modal share for other transport options for journeys into and across cities – even though the paper’s own congestion graphs show that’s the primary issue – and no commitment to include cycling and walking when roads are built or redeveloped.

The environment is given a paragraph by the “greenest government ever”.

“Reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is at the heart of Government’s vision for transport, and is a key component of sustainable economic growth,” says the paper.

Low emission vehicles

Good news, so what’s the plan? “As technology develops, ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVS) will increasingly be the way forward,” it says. Read: more cars.  There’s no commitment to promote non-polluting, active travel. We just need different cars.

The road programme will be delivered by the Highways Agency which the Government plans to morph into a “publicly-owned corporation” which could open the door for large-scale road privatisation at some point in the future.

Alexander said that it would be, “An organisation that will have the long term funding certainty and flexibility to deliver the best possible road network for the UK’s motorists”. He’s in no doubt who roads are for, then.

More roads = more congestion

Using expansion of the road network as the overarching mechanism for reducing car-based congestion isn’t going to work. Studies invariably show that expansion of the space available just leads to more journeys.

Putting it into perspective, the 221 lane miles of motorway included in the plan would add room on the network for around 80,000 cars, even if they were placed end to end. There are over 31 million cars currently registered in the UK.

Road building is also of no benefit to the quarter of UK households who don’t have a car, and the restriction of transport choice to just more roads will give no respite to the millions of UK drivers who put themselves into poverty through the need – due to lack of other options – to run a car.

And many of the improvements to the existing road network involve making existing A roads into dual carriageways, which effectively shuts them to cyclists without accompanying cycling infrastructure.

It’s not all bad news: £10bn of the road fund is allocated to fixing up the existing network, with £6bn of that available to local authorities; enough, we’re told, to fill the equivalent of 19 million pot holes a year; that Local authority money should at least improve the local networks.

But it is mostly bad news.

Dave is a founding father of, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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