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Cycle superhighways: ruining streets to please a minority

Roger Lawson Campaign director The Alliance of British Drivers Chislehurst BR7
02 February 2018

I refer to the reported comments by Andrew Gilligan, the former Cycling Commissioner, in the last edition  (ibid).

If mayor Sadiq Khan has taken a somewhat different attitude to his predecessor on the issue of expenditure on cycling, I am not at all surprised. Apart from the mayor’s well-known budget problems due to his promise to freeze public transport fares so as to help him get elected, the impact of cycle superhighways has faced growing opposition from the public in London.

The east-west cycle superhighway along the Embankment has been particularly damaging to one of the key routes across central London for motorised traffic and has led to long delays on that route and caused congestion on other routes to which traffic has diverted. My namesake, Lord Lawson, rightly said that the introduction of the cycle superhighways was “doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz” and that remains the case.

Mr Gilligan is right in saying that the public consultation results generally showed a high percentage of respondents in favour of the proposals, but this was down to active campaigning by the very vociferous and well-organised cycling groups in London. 

But when you look at the figures in detail you see why they are so unrepresentative. For example, on cycle superhighway 11 (North-South) only 6,270 public responses were received of which 3,762 (60%) supported or partially supported the proposals. On that basis TfL decided to proceed with the scheme. But there were 3,873 objections submitted in a petition, which were ignored.

The numbers responding to the public consultations on the cycle superhighways have not been a representative sample of the population nor of those likely to be affected by these schemes. TfL have taken an approach that is anti-democratic and open to exploitation by minority pressure groups.

Nor does TfL publicise the cost benefit analysis of these schemes, which is a way to evaluate all major projects in a consistent manner. Why? Because the East-West cycle superhighway showed a negative net present value (NPV) of £200m. And that was even after valuing the “improved ambience” for pedestrians at £14m when pedestrians are actually hindered by the cycle superhighways and find them difficult to cross.

Of late TfL has given up even reporting cost/benefit justifications for new schemes and even tries to conceal the costs – for example on the proposals in the mayor’s transport strategy.

Where I would agree with Mr Gilligan is that the new “Healthy Streets” agenda is nebulous. The mayor’s policy is to turn roads that are essential for moving people and goods around London into places for exercise and social interaction. This will be enormously financially damaging and wasteful of people’s time when there are plenty of other locations for those purposes. And he ignores the high proportion of elderly and disabled in London who cannot cycle or who prefer not to because of the well-known risks.

But the current mayor is still spending enormous sums on cycling schemes while spending nothing on building a decent, fit-for-purpose road network in London. His latest budget proposals (‘DfT blamed for cuts to capital’s road spend’ and ‘TfL cuts borough LIP funds but Oxford Street and cycling get a boost’ LTT 05 Jan) indicate that road schemes, even minor local borough ones, are unlikely to get any funding until at least after he is due to be re-elected.

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