British Social Attitudes Survey 2012: public attitudes towards transport

The annual British Social Attitudes Survey covering attitudes towards transport was published last month. The report is worth a read in its own right, but there are are some very interesting details that deserve highlighting.

The Survey confirms what we already know from reports like the National Travel Survey – that a huge number of short trips continue to be made by private car in Britain. The NTS revealed that nearly 40% of all British trips under two miles are made by car.

Courtesy of Joe Dunckley

The Social Attitudes Survey tells us something slightly different, namely that

On average, respondents reported making five journeys of less than two miles by car in a typical week

This is an average figure, so some respondents will be making fewer than five trips of under two miles by car per week, and some rather more. Nevertheless it’s a pretty astonishing figure, one that reflects the lack of attractive alternatives for trips of this length. The cost in terms of congestion, public health, infrastructure repair, environmental damage, happiness, and loss of amenity that lies behind these kinds of figures is staggering, but the present government do not seem to have any interest in addressing this issue (indeed, they seem rather inclined to make it worse, judging by recent policy pronouncements from the Communities Secretary).

Unsurprisingly it is danger and lack of safety that play a significant part in keeping people from using bicycles for these short trips. The Attitudes Survey reveals that 65% of ‘non-cyclists’ feel it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads. Even 48% of ‘cyclists’ similarly agree that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads – presumably these are people who take their bikes on holiday, or who find places to ride away from roads.

Subjective safety affects females more than males, with 66% of females saying it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, compared with 53% of all males.

Screen shot 2013-08-08 at 23.52.35This figure is even worse for the elderly – 73% of those aged 65+ feel that the roads are too dangerous for them to cycle on. Indeed, the older people get, the less keen they are on riding with traffic. These figures are abysmal – the vast majority of females, and of the elderly, are simply excluded from British roads.

Screen shot 2013-08-08 at 23.54.34Another interesting detail from the Survey is that trying to persuade people to cycle on environmental grounds currently seems doomed to failure. The Survey reveals a steady downward trend in the degree of concern about exhaust fumes in urban areas –

Screen shot 2013-08-08 at 23.55.27… and although 78% of respondents agree that climate change is taking place as a result of human activity, only 39% of people said they would be willing to reduce the amount they travel by car. 62% of respondents did not feel that car users should pay more for the sake of the environment. (It is noteworthy, however, that there is increasing public support for making driving cheaper for those with cars that are less polluting). This evidence suggests that trying to price people out of their cars will meet with stiff opposition, certainly without attractive alternatives.

Likewise, the failure to make cycling a reasonable and pleasant option for short urban trips surely lies behind public resistance to making driving itself less easy. While the Survey demonstrates that people are increasingly in favour of 20 mph limits on residential streets (now up to 72% in favour), resistance to closing residential streets to motor traffic is at an all-time high. Only 31% of respondents were in favour of these kind of closures, part of a continuous downward trend from 51% in favour in the year 2000.

Make of that what you will!

This entry was posted in 20 mph limits, Car dependence, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, Subjective safety. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to British Social Attitudes Survey 2012: public attitudes towards transport

  1. Ian says:

    Those numbers suggest that the average car or van has 3 people in it (! driver and 2 passengers). Why do most of the cars I see have only one person?

  2. SirVelo says:

    A large pinch of salt, as ever, needs to be taken when analysing what respondents say as against their actual behaviour. I wonder how many of the respondents were aware of the irony in their view that the roads are too dangerous for cycling, given that the same respondents’ driving is a major contributory factor in the subjective perception of how dangerous the roads are? Or, to put it another way, if those who say they are deterred from cycling by how dangerous the roads are, drove with more consideration a large part of the perception of danger would be eradicated.

    The other “go figure” is the majority support for 20 mph limits. I don’t think I have ever seen a motorist adhere to this speed unless forced to do so, either by road furniture or other impediment.

    • paul gannon says:

      Umm, I’m not so sure about this apparent nice balance. Personally I’m not that worried about whether drivers are nicer or not. I don’t like sharing the road rather than having a dedicated space because I can see inevitable conflicts in view of the vast differences in speed, volume, weight and asymmetric effects of any collisions between bikes and motors. I don’t want to be dependent on getting drivers to be nicer. I want my own space – just like they are allowed to have elsewhere in the civilised world.

      As for drivers’ perceptions – perhaps it’s not so much that the respondents miss any ‘irony’, but that they too can see the inevitable conflicts and appreciate the dangers of mixing such different transport modes.

  3. Cussy says:

    I can’t find a reference to the 20 mph speed limit in the report. Can you cite the page number please?

  4. Steven Hope says:

    Good post (as ever). One observation. You say, “Even 48% of ‘cyclists’ similarly agree that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads – presumably these are people who take their bikes on holiday, or who find places to ride away from roads.” I cycle on the roads but if I’d been asked that question, I would have agreed – it’s too dangerous. I cycle on the roads in spite of feeling it’s too dangerous.

  5. rdrf says:

    I left a comment on: “Likewise, the failure to make cycling a reasonable and pleasant option for short urban trips surely lies behind public resistance to making driving itself less easy. ”

    Which seems to have disappeared…

  6. Of course, if all cars were powered by the guff of politicians, we would still have congestion, conflict, crashes, obesity, travel poverty etc

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s