The government has rejected a petition calling on funding for schemes aimed at reducing motor traffic, including Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), to be withdrawn, with the Department for Transport (DfT) saying in its response that most local residents want to see more road space given to people cycling or walking.
The petition has been published on the Parliament.uk website, meaning that the government was obliged to give a response once it reached 10,000 signatures.
Initiated by London resident David Tarsh earlier this month, it has so far attracted a little over 23,000 signatures. Should it reach 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee, though there is no guarantee that one will actually happen.
The introduction to the petition reads: “Road closures, ‘school streets’ and new cycle lanes are creating severe congestion, long traffic delays and severe frustration across the country. Although well intentioned, the experiment has failed. Government guidance supporting such measures, and funds for them, should be withdrawn immediately.
“Many councils have introduced schemes touted as encouraging walking and cycling, but their real impact is gridlock. They've been built without proper consultation, illegitimately justified by the Covid crisis and backed by central government direction and finance.
“Congestion and pollution have increased, people are inconvenienced, local businesses have lost trade and lives jeopardised with emergency vehicles stuck in traffic. Cycle tracks are often empty, while the roads alongside are jammed.”
A number of the points raised are typical of those often made against schemes designed to promote cycling and active travel generally.
Cycle lanes do often appear empty, but that’s because they are efficient at moving people around, for example.
With private motor car use now higher than it was pre-lockdown, increased congestion is an inevitable result.
Consultation is happening, often while temporary schemes are in place allowing them to be fine-tuned, and the emergency services are involved in the planning process.
LTNs have been around for decades but in recent months they have been increasingly employed by councils across England using emergency funding from the DfT to encourage active travel during the coronavirus crisis.
In London in particular, however, such schemes have met with vociferous opposition from a minority of people, with planters used to block off roads moved and even vandalised.
In its reply, the Department for Transport said that “the government is committed to delivering a step change in levels of active travel.
“We know the majority of people support giving more road space to cycling and walking in their local area.
“Local authorities have a duty to manage their roads for the benefit of all traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians. The more people that cycle and walk, the more road space is freed up for those who really need to drive. Encouraging more cycling and walking is a key part of the Government’s efforts to reduce harmful emissions from transport, as well as to help make people healthier.”
It said that LTNs “deliver a wide range of benefits – a safer and more pleasant environment for residents, more walking and cycling and better air quality,” and that school streets “can reduce the number of people driving their children to school by up to a third.
“There are often concerns that reallocating road space will have a negative impact on business,” the DfT’s response continued.
“However, evidence shows that people who walk and cycle take more trips to the high street over the course of a month than people who drive.
“Making access to high streets easier by walking and cycling has a proven economic benefit. Well planned improvements in the walking environment can deliver up to a 40 per cent increase in shopping footfall and high street walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30 per cent.
“Evidence also shows that investment in cycling and walking is supported by the majority of people in local communities.
“Although some schemes have attracted negative attention, this is still only a small minority of the people living in those areas.”
It added: “Different types of intervention will be appropriate in different places. For example, what works in urban areas may not be suitable in rural areas or smaller towns, where people are more reliant on private vehicles.
“Schemes must balance the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road users, including motorists and local businesses.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.