Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What do other parents think of this Conservatives official response? Parents with young children would be penalised if cycling is made safer and more convenient. The mothers of Guildford disagree.

I wonder why more people don't cycle with their
children here?
I wrote last week about how the Conserative party in London does not want to favour cycling or walking by giving those people who travel on foot or on a cycle any greater priority than they have at the moment. I talked about how many people who cycle and walk think that London's roads are not fit for purpose unless you travel in a motor vehicle. I also talked about how the Conservatives and Transport for London are making the roads more motor vehicle-friendly and less friendly for walking and cycling. They're doing this in Richmond, where TfL refuses to give people protected space to cross the road on foot or on a cycle; they're doing this at Elephant & Castle where keeping fast motor speeds is considered more important than escalators for tube passengers and a safer and more business and people-friendly square could be built if it weren't for the obsession with not upsetting the 'motorist'; and, of course, they're doing this at Blackfriars.

Several people wrote to Richard Tracey about why the Conservatives would take such a strange view of London's roads. Richard Tracey is the Conservative group transport spokesman.

He sent a considered response, the full text of which is below. For now, I want to focus on a couple points that he raises in that response. Leaving aside his assertion that "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax" (they don't. For an excellent demolition of that fallacy, read this), the following points stand out:

Mr Tracey states quite correctly that: "If people are given the choice between cycling and driving, a great many people will choose the former." Absolutely true.

However, he then states something very curious indeed, namely this:

"Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling."

What I think this implies is that parents of young children are unable to cycle their children to school or to the shops or to the nursery and would be penalised by better facilities for cycling and walking.

I asked my sister, a mother of two young children, what she thought. She asked her friends. Her friends drive SUVs. They live in Guildford, hardly a bastion of left-wing alternative thinking and a city where cycle use has entirely flatlined for a decade (see appendix 3)

They couldn't disagree with you more Mr Tracey. Their personal circumstances are perfectly well-suited to cycling. They can afford to cycle and many of them have time to cycle. And a lot of them would actually prefer to cycle. But the thing is they don't and they won't. Why not? Because the roads don't feel safe enough to cycle on. That's why cycling has flatlined in their city. And they're dead right not to cycle there.

Mr Tracey concludes by saying "In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy [whereby roads are designed to prioritise safety for people on foot or cycle rather than the de facto reality of current practice which is that London's roads are prioritised for the speed and convenience of people in motor cars], we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves."

As another Londoner put it to me what Mr Tracey doesn't acknowledge is this: "In central London we currently have a road-user hierarchy. It’s one in which a disproportionate amount of road space is given over to people who choose to use motorised vehicles as their primary means of transport, as opposed to lower-impact forms of transport, such as bicycles, motorcycles, buses, the Tube and their own feet. To protect the status quo is in effect to protect an illogical and unfair hierarchy that offers a slower, dirtier and less safe experience to a majority of users of the road network (including pavements and road crossings)"

I read this letter as saying one thing very clearly. Cycling is for people in lycra who can keep up with motor traffic and don't mind ducking and weaving between HGVs. We, the Conservative party, believe in freedom of choice in how you travel around the capital but we will not make significant strides to give normal, everyday people the choice to travel by cycle to do normal, everyday things because that might mean denying some people who travel by motor vehicle a little bit of their freedom to choose the car. And if you're a mother with children, we are telling you to travel by car please. We're not going to make it possible for you to cycle your kids to school.

I'm very curious to know what other parents think about this. If you felt the journey was safe enough, would you like to be able to cycle your children to school rather than get in a car every morning?

Letter from Richard Tracey, Conservative group transport spokesman, London Assembly.

"Thank you for your e-mail. As the Conservative Group's Transport Spokesman, I am replying on behalf of my colleagues.

The numbers of people cycling in London has increased markedly under Boris Johnson. Since this has come on top of strong growth under his predecessor, this is a superb and very welcome achievement. By measures such as the introduction of Boris Bikes, Cycle Superhighways and an increase in the provision of cycle parking, more Londoners are cycling than ever before. There is certainly more that can be done. However none of these improvements has come about via a policy of deliberately hobbling other road users. Rather, they have been successful by making it easier and more convenient for people to choose to cycle.

If people are given the choice between cycling and driving a great many people will choose the former. Indeed the number who choose to cycle is increasing all the time. For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise. Our view is that the more people consider the various alternatives in those terms, the more people will conclude that cycling is the best way to travel in London .

However it is important to be clear that many Londoners do not have unlimited choice over which mode they use to travel. Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling.

The Conservative Group strongly believes in localism and allowing decisions to be taken as close to the people they affect as possible. In many cases, this will mean that individuals themselves should be free to decide how they wish to travel around our city. In others this means that local councils should be free to make decisions within their own borough. It is important to remember that London is a vast city and a report such as this has to reflect that. The very size of London also means that different parts of it will benefit from differing approaches. What is right for Bromley or Barnet, may well not be right for Westminster or Southwark.

In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy, we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves.

On road user charging, there is little to add to the paragraph in the report. Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax. Whilst the concept of giving people the option of paying to travel on a faster road – such as the M6 toll road – may make sense, road user charging penalises those who need to drive. Richer Londoners may be relatively unaffected by charging, but poorer Londoners are literally priced off the road. In addition to this, charging has a negative effect on small businesses within any charging zone. A great many businesses within the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) closed as a direct result of the zone’s introduction. Finally it is worth noting that when the previous Mayor consulted on the introduction of the WEZ a majority opposed its introduction. Ken Livingstone then ignored the consultation and introduced the WEZ anyway. When Boris Johnson became Mayor he promised to hold a fresh consultation and abide by the result. The consultation showed an overwhelming desire to scrap the WEZ. As we made clear in our dissenting paragraph, unless there is strong local support for a local charging zone then road user charging should not be considered."


  1. "more Londoners are cycling than ever before". And this man is a transport spokesman?

  2. Strong recommendation for parents are child trailers (e.g. Chariot Carriers which are very popular in Germany and several north european countries - Sweden, Denmark etc.
    Best regards, RK

  3. Codswallops: decision makers should read all this… and especially 'Fairness in a car-dependent society' by SDC

  4. "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax."

    This argument always infuriates me. According to the 2001 Census even in Inner London close to half of households own cars and many, many of those who chose to cycle (including myself) own a car as well and *HAVE* paid all the same taxes as those choosing to drive on their London journeys.

  5. "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax."

    Almost all cyclists are motorists too, and they pay their taxes. A great proportion of pedestrians are motorists too.

    Cyclists want safer journeys. Pedestrians want safer journeys. Motorists want roads with less traffic on them, and presumably safer journeys too.

    Creating proper, safe infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians would IMPROVE the situation for ALL road users, making ALL journeys safer -- AND reducing the numbers of motor vehicles on the roads. It's not difficult to figure this out.

    Why are Mr Tracey and his colleagues so desperate to cling to the current situation that's bad for everyone, when they could improve things for everyone instead?

    It's baffling.

  6. It's worth scrutinising the role of TFL in all this. In Vauxhall, where I live, local residents and councillors are keen to get rid of the Vauxhall gyratory system which is a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians alike. They are thwarted by TFL who feel it would slow down traffic speeds too much. So all the Tories' fine words about localism are essentially rendered meaningless by the fiat of TFL.

  7. It's worth another look at what the Inspectors had to say about the user hierachy when they examined the London Plan - basically the GLA Conservative Group approach is at odds with their party in Government and their localist argument doesn't hold water:

    "... it seems to us that there is clear Government guidance encouraging a hierarchy in road use in order to give priority for the more sustainable forms of transport whether in PPG13 or more recent statements including publications since the formation of the Coalition Government, such as the endorsement of the Manual for Streets 2 in September 2010 and publication of the Local Transport White Paper - Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon: Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen by the DfT on 19 January 2011. As the Mayor does have strategic responsibility for Transport both in spatial planning terms and through the operation of TfL, we consider that
    there should be a place for explicitly recognising a hierarchy of roadusers in the over-arching transport policy in order to guide formulation of public realm as well as transport schemes. We do not consider that such a policy need inhibit adoption of appropriate localist solutions and with this insertion we consider that the transport strategy would be generally consistent with national policy."

  8. I have lived near Guildford for most of my life, so I know how much of a joke it is for cycling. If you look at the county council's "Cycle Route Map" you would see a straight line from east to west to the south of the town centre that comprises parts of two National Cycle Routes. What you would not know is, aside from the steep gradients that could have been avoided if a parallel A road had been used (but that would have meant making engineering changes that cost money, couldn't do that...), National Cycle Route 223 is closed to all vehicles including cycles during certain hours and is one way to all traffic the rest of the time.

  9. It seems there is a deep-seated belief in the Conservative party that cycling is left wing and anti-business, when nothing could be further than the truth. Although there is a strong hippy/green contingent, most people just want to get about their lives. More cycling means more local shops, and allowing a way of life that I thought Conservatives would approve of with more local connection, integration and interaction. Cycling also means less imports of fuel, which would help this county's largely deficitary international balance, again something you would think the Conservative party would be in favour of.

  10. There is definitely one, and possibly another, assertion implied in what Tracey says. The latter is that motorists pay road tax and that is of course totally exploded by the ipayroadtax site. The fact is that there is not one single "hypothecated" tax levied in the UK - not even national insurance contributions, thought of by most as a premium for insurance against illness, unemployment, and retirement. This too just goes into the general pot. When a politician says that (eg) a windfall tax on banks will fund the rebuilding of our schools, he does not mean that literally, he is just comparing quantums. (And, of course most cyclists and pedestrians also "pay road tax" because they also drive, or belong to families which drive, cars.)

    The other point, as in "motorists already more than pay for roads" is simply not true. Apart from the argument that roads are paid for from general taxation, the total taxes collected from motoring, including VED, duty and VAT on fuel, VAT on cars, parts, and servicing, insuranc epremium tax on motor insurance, etc, do not fully cover the costs of roads. These obviously include capital costs of roads and bridges, repair and maintenance, policing, but also health service costs for ambulances called to traffic accidents, healing the injured. And then what about other health costs such as asthma in children who live near major roads? Deaths due to respiratory problems in the elderly or sick, caused by traffic pollution? The list goes on.

    And so what if they did? Would that not mean that the government should return as subsidies for theatre the entire amount they collect in VAT on tickets and income tax on actors? Perhaps we should scrap our armed forces and police because there is no tax-raising source directly connected with those activities?

  11. Disgusted but not in the slightest surprised. I'm a parent to 2 young kids, don't own a car, live in Zone 3/4. We rely on walking, public transport and very occasionally black cabs for getting the children from A to B. I commute by bike but given the current infrastructure & traffic conditions I don't feel comfortable taking my kids places on a bike carrier (in any case, public transport is adequate enough that I don't need to). They'll have their own bikes when they're old enough though.

    I feel like the Conservatives are completely ignoring several user groups / concerns here:-

    - those of us who are car-free by choice (OK, so we're a weird minority for now.. every other house on my street has TWO of the damn things).

    - those on low incomes who don't have a car and travel by bus. There are always loads of mothers with young kids on the buses around here, most of them not well-to-do.

    - not having the moral courage to disadvantage cars has the inevitable consequence of disadvantaging pedestrians, /especially/ young children who are more vulnerable to road danger. So shopping on the high street becomes a worse experience than it could/should be - meaning, in turn, more people choose to shop at out of town shopping centers in their cars - and more people are put off walking, forced in to their cars, become less fit, are then even less inclined to walk. It's a vicious cycle which can only be broken by proactive use of transport hierarchies... or another massive spike in the oil price (bring it on, say I).

    FWIW, my house backs on to a primary school, with a catchment area only a mile an a half in either direction (not exactly an unrealistic walking distance, at least for the 6+ yr olds), and the jams and road rage every morning & evening are just nuts. I can set my watch by the car horns and raised, sweary voices as the kids are dropped off and picked up. I honestly don't understand why they drive! Maybe people can't imagine how much more pleasant the whole place would be without the traffic - though I'm reminded each time we get 6in of snow in the winter :o)

  12. I used to live in London. I got knocked off my bike twice (luckily at low speed) in relatively quiet neighbourhoods. I wouldn't feel safe cycling with my daughter there.

    I now live in Bath where I cycle my daughter to nursery twice a week. It is the highlight of her week but is only possible through an off-road river path and a quiet residential street. I still have to cycle on the pavement for a small section to avoid and cross a heavy junction (although going at 5mph this isn't dangerous). I also cycle to Bristol on the Sustrans trail which is always full of kids.

    The bottom line: only fully-segregated solutions feel (and are) safe.

  13. "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax."

    Road tax was abolished in 1937 - Know your facts mr Transport spokesman!


    Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists would pay the same as 'tax-dodgers' such as disabled drivers, police officers, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED.

  14. Quoting Angus Hewlett: "It's a vicious cycle which can only be broken by proactive use of transport hierarchies... or another massive spike in the oil price (bring it on, say I)."

    Alas, I fear the £20 gallon is the only thing that will knock any sense into the thick skulls of people like Richard Tracey, who appears to warrant the position of 'Transport Spokesman' as much as I (a practising atheist) warrant the position of Holy Pope of Rome...


  15. I think any party that favoured driving should actually ENCOURAGE cycling. Why? Because one of the biggest obstacles to driving is other cars, especially all those cars with one occupant travelling journeys of a few miles. Cars are a wonderful form of transport for carrying multiple passengers or large cargo over longer distances. Great for disabled and elderly users. Apart from the other benefits, every cyclist is taking up A LOT LESS ROAD SPACE than they would if driving a car. So lets have decent cycle infrastructure if for no other reason than to make all journeys easier.

  16. Have you been to Guildford lately? Cycling has increased massively in recent years here. So much so we have had at least two new Bike shops in the last six months.
    I have a friend who used to use bikes exclusively to transport her 5 children around Guildford, two in a trailer and the other 3 on their own bikes.
    I'm sorry but it is your sister in law in her Chelsea tractor who makes cycling to school less safe here, as on the narrow roads to school they can transform a safe road to a hazardous one.
    Yes it would be nice if the cycle lanes and safe routes didn't have hazardous sections, and some money to improve this would help.
    I also think (as a non-Tory) that this conservative government are doing far more for Bikes and greener transport than previous ones.

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