A lack of Goodwill

Back in 2012, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain received a letter from Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport. It contained the following passages.

With reference to the Netherlands and Denmark, McLoughlin wrote

We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Alongside high speed roads we encourage it but in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these roads cross routes regardless of whether cyclists have priority.

In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they might be suitable in a given situation.

If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.

Many of you may have seen the letter Stuart Helmer received from Robert Goodwill MP, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, circulating today on Twitter. It is eerily familiar, not least because the passages quoted above, are repeated, word for word, in Goodwill’s letter, sent over two years later – with a handful of very minor changes, as highlighted below. Goodwill –

We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.

In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they think they might be suitable in a given situation.

If we begin to see the increases in cycling [in the UK] that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.

A few questions present themselves, perhaps the most important of which is – where is this text coming from?

The other question is – for how long can this text keep on being recycled, used again and again to justify inaction on the basis of low cycling levels? Will Ministers in 2025 be writing

If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.

Or will they, by then, have begun to acknowledge that low cycling levels are their responsibility, flowing directly from their failure to champion safe, attractive and convenient cycling conditions in Britain?

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15 Responses to A lack of Goodwill

  1. onthebummel says:

    Sounds like some Civil Service monkey has been engaged in a bit of classic “copy and pasting”!

  2. fonant says:

    This clearly demonstrates the complete lack of any strategic thinking about local transport at the very top of government. It explains why we’re still stuck in the 1970’s, with politicians thinking that the solution to everything is to build yet more roads for yet more motor traffic.

    Our towns don’t suffer from lack of road space, they suffer from complete lack of investment, or even thought of, alternatives to motor vehicles for local transport.

    Private motor cars must be the least efficient mode of transport known to man for local trips. Especially when each tonne-and-a-half vehicle is carrying a single person, as is so often the case in our twice-daily rush hour traffic.

  3. Brandon says:

    Priority is not actually a necessity is it? As long as there’s a beg button (is this an American-specific expression?) that changes the signal FAST, as at auto-priority intersections in The Netherlands.

    The physical changes are really non-negotiable though and a pre-requisite for increasing modeshare. Pretending that there is a “chicken and egg” question here is a major problem with planning for cycling throughout the Anglosphere.

    • andreengels says:

      I think there is a “chicken and egg” question here. But given that the situation is that:

      * chickens make eggs
      * eggs make chickens
      * we want chickens
      * we can make eggs
      * we cannot make chickens

      The logical step would be to make some eggs, rather than to wait until some chickens happen to land on our property.

      • Paul says:

        Good one !

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        Let’s make some omelettes! And you know what that requires…(or is that too un-British)

        Presumably, the target of doubling of cycling by 2025 in the Cycling Delivery Plan keeps within whatever threshold for reconsideration that they are implying. Maybe the DfT can be pressed to tell us what criteria and what levels of cycling* would constitute the threshold for adding protected bike paths, so everyone can work towards that. Such an estimator should be included in the finalised Cycling Delivery Plan.

        * (or cycling KSIs – Boris has recently hinted that’s important, and TfL have occasionally been explicit that it is significant for individual junction interventions)

  4. “desirable but in many cases not always practicable”

    So what about all the roads where it plainly is practicable? It’s pretty clear most politicians just want cycling to go away.

  5. IT Department says:

    z:\transport\letters\cyclists_fkuc_off.doc

  6. Terry Clark says:

    “there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way.” Really what rubbish. In the Netherlands motorists give way to cyclists where the cycle lane has priority because it’s the law that they must do so. It seems that Britain somehow assumes people have a divine right to do whatever they want once they get behind the wheel of a car.

    • Har Davids says:

      It is a matter of chicken and egg, as in Holland most motorists are cyclists as well. So, you need to invest in infrastructure to get people out of their cars and motorists and their elected representatives will not let that happen. Total grid-lock may help people change their mind in the end. I don’t own a car myself, living in the centre of Rotterdam I don’t need one, but whenever I drive, I envy the people who don’t need to be stuck in traffic, cyclists and pedestrians. The rest of the time, I walk or use one of my bikes. Surely, many urban dwellers in the UK could do that as well.

  7. A comparison of Robert Goodwill’s attitude shown here to those of Glasgow in the 1960s. http://jacwab.blogspot.com/2014/11/spot-difference.html

  8. T.Foxglove says:

    When cycle paths are constructed with cyclist priority, & even if there aren’t any incidents, the mere concern that motorists might not give way allows for morons to successfully campaign that the markings should be removed:
    http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/cyclist-priority-markings-outside-school-removed-by-local-councillor/017138

    Too dangerous to put the onus on the adult trained in operating machinery to recognise road markings, much safer relying on the small child cycling to school to spot them instead.

  9. zedek666 says:

    Cycling in kensington gardens, London,
    with a sticky surprise at the end

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