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.
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.
This 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.
Another 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 –
… 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!