II’m starting to wonder if anyone will ever make an honest argument against cycling and walking infrastructure again. They exist. It used to be: “I want to drive and park where I like” or “Why should cyclists and pedestrians disturb my much more important car journey?”.
Those are still the basic objections, but these days most prominent opponents recognize that it sounds a bit politically incorrect. You need a higher public interest ground, however rickety, to pitch your tent on.
For Least Traffic Neighborhoods (LTNs) that use car restrictions to encourage walking and cycling, the first choice used to be the claim that they increase pollution. But that has now been debunked so thoroughly that it loses its magic.
For example, a new variant recently appeared in the Times, claiming that “counties that have adopted LTNs during the pandemic have seen greater increases in car use than counties that have not.”
This was based on adding the total increase in post-Covid return traffic in “10 inner London boroughs that have introduced LTNs in 2020” (11.4%) and comparing it to the total increase in “two inner London boroughs that have not introduced LTNs in 2020”. introduced in 2020” (8.9%).
In an editorial, the newspaper cited its “investigation” as evidence that LTNs were an “expensive and annoying failure.”
The two inner boroughs that did not introduce new LTNs were Westminster and Kensington. There’s a perfectly obvious reason, unrelated to LTNs, why traffic was lower on these two. You are central.
In the work-from-home era, central London’s office-based economy and transport has not recovered as much as elsewhere. The Times did not mention this. It didn’t even name the two districts, perhaps to prevent readers from finding out for themselves.
Look at each district, rather than selectively stitching together a small number of them, and the “investigation” seems even more problematic. The lowest post-Covid increase in traffic in London (4%) was in Newham, where five new LTNs were implemented. The second lowest (7.7%) was in this paragon of cycling crammed with LTNs, Waltham Forest.
In contrast, the third highest increase in traffic (14.4%) was in Bromley, where no LTNs emerged. The highest of all (16.1%) was at Harrow, where a handful were installed but quickly removed. Could that be why the paper missed all of these — 20 of the 32 counties?
There is good data that most, if not all, LTNs are reducing traffic – both within the regulatory area and, with a delay, on the roads immediately around it, because fewer people are making short local trips by car.
And as you didn’t read in the Times, the average increase in post-pandemic traffic across London in the wards that installed and operated LTNs was actually exactly the same as in the wards that never did or phased them out quickly. at 11.1%.
Such district-wide data is of limited use anyway – most programs have been implemented on a too small scale to have any impact on the whole. But to say all that would have damaged the claim the Times was trying to push.
The antis’ other popular pseudo-public argument is also under pressure. Anyone who argues that cycling is a middle-class conspiracy against the poor must ignore the fact that poor people drive less often – and that cycling is cheap.
But poor people (and of course many other people) use buses. Aha! Big! We can argue that bike lanes delay buses! Or we can claim, in the words of long-time anti-bike infrastructure activist Vincent Stops, that “the bike lobby has been allowed to ruin London’s bus service” and that segregated cycle lanes “have wrecked bus times”.
The article does not cite any evidence, again perhaps because the evidence says otherwise.
For the last three months of 2022, average bus speeds in Westminster and Camden – the boroughs with the most separate cycle lanes – are now exactly the same as they were for the same periods in 2013, before lane construction began.
If this is a wrecking ball I would ask my demolition contractor for a refund. The claim that 12 miles of segregated superhighway could have “ruined” a bus network on nearly 2,000 miles of road is also patently false.
The article gets one thing right: average bus speeds across London have actually dropped. But here’s what it leaves out. This decline is largely due to huge declines in outskirts without significant cycling infrastructure. Bromley and Havering, for example, have seen bus speeds drop by as much as 6.3% since 2013.
As I mentioned earlier, traffic in central London is still not quite at pre-Covid levels. Speeds fell midway through 2013 before recovering. But even in comparison before the pandemic (between 2013 and 2019), bus speeds in the outer districts fell more than in the central ones. So could it be that buses are delayed not because of bike lanes, but because of the increase in motorized traffic?
It is very instructive that opponents so often have to mislead to make their arguments. But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. And if left unchallenged, it can enter the political bloodstream.
So what active travel needs now is a network of people to scrutinize, quickly debunk and publicly refute false claims and bad journalism – and complain to the perpetrators, who are usually the same few people. This was quite effective in reducing propaganda campaigns on other issues and getting news outlets to think twice before publishing weird stories. How about it folks?