Finding happiness on public transport

Last week I told a taxi driver I was considering selling my car. He was incredulous. Despite the fact he’d benefit from people selling up, he urged me not to. ‘You’ll regret it,’ he said, pointing out a car not only gives freedom for movement but also separation. ‘I never get the bus anymore. I hate all that noise, all the people, all the screaming children,’ he said. It turned out he was a loving dad to three noisy children of his own. He just didn’t want to encounter anyone else’s.

I was hardly surprised a taxi driver believes in car travel. But I was struck by the difference between our experiences of public transport. What he hated about it was exactly what I loved: the people, the noise, the life, even the effort of getting a train or bus.

This taxi driver is not alone. I’ve discussed our trial with many London friends, who despite being comparatively heavy users of public transport, always resort to the car for longer trips across the capital, especially with children. The alternatives, they say, are just too difficult or uncomfortable.

But I am beginning to question whether their car nirvana is real or imagined. The taxi driver insists his car brings freedom. But does it? Is it really liberating to be trapped and blinkered, crawling along the Euston Road on a wet Sunday evening? It is hardly the Pacific Coast Highway.

Families presume trains are too awkward. I have written about the trials of taking trains beyond the capital, but our experiences in London have been positive. Even last weekend in snow and sleet and with parts of the London Overground suspended, we returned from a trip to Richmond, on the other side of London, in a much better mood than if we had been stuck in a car.

The difference is that the journey isn’t dead time, but part of the life and experience of the day. A train ride is essential research for my son, a transport enthusiast. It’s chance to study maps and explore new interchanges. It’s time to read school books, do homework or the grocery shopping online without feeling carsick. I love to people-watch and enjoy the views as we soar over the rooftops of London on the brilliant elevated London Overground line.

But I think the main reason we return happier is because we’ve used some energy walking to stations and running for trains. A 2014 study by University of East Anglia of 18,000 British workers, using 18 years of data, found that a commute that involved some physical activity improved psychological health including feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness, and sleepless nights.

The issue with car travel, said researchers, is that it is a ‘non-passive travel mode that requires constant concentration [that] can give rise to boredom, social isolation and stress’. Whereas public transport, walking or cycling is ‘active travel’ that provides both exercise and time to relax.

Of course, the experience could be a lot better for active travellers. We’ve taken the train a few times now to Barnes Bridge station and the welcome there is horrific.  Pedestrians are side-lined onto a tiny strip of pavement, their view of the Thames completely marred by a fast-moving, noisy stream of cars. It’s as if the council doesn’t expect or want anyone to arrive by train.

I was happy to see a policy included in the Mayor’s draft transport strategy to improve the experience around stations in order to make active travel the default option. As it proposes, ‘the first things passengers will see on emerging from the station will be walking directions and maps, cycle hire facilities, bus connections and an attractive public realm, rather than car parking and pickup’. This sort of welcome sends a strong message that you don’t need a car to navigate this city.

It’s going to be hard jolting my taxi driver out of his auto world. Drivers have been sold the dream for too long. But small encouragements such as better facilities and experiences for transport, walking and cycling, plus more pushes like congestion charging and road filters, might wake him from the dream. And the new reality he wakes to might not be that bad after all.

Sharing my way out of car ownership

I’ve always enjoyed a trip to the tip. Clearing out the rubbish, piling it into the boot, driving 20 minutes and sorting it into ordered containers, I seem to leave with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

So I was a little disappointed this week when I remembered I couldn’t use our car to take a few broken items to the dump in Islington. But I wasn’t ready to give up on driving just yet and, given a trip to Ikea was also due, I decided to try out a car club instead.

Car clubs provide access to shared, pay-as-you-drive vehicles, usually clustered on residential streets in cities. We used a car club for years before we had our first child. Aside from the annoyance of having to check and log damage (I once had to pay a large penalty for damage I hadn’t noticed) it was generally straightforward. We decided to get our own car because we assumed that lugging a baby, its paraphernalia and car seat to a vehicle a few streets away would be too troublesome. Looking back, we probably could have coped with a baby, but as more children came along and as the car seats got bigger and more awkward to store, a private car became increasingly useful.

So, for us, a car club deferred the purchase of a car. But could it persuade us to give up a car we already own?  The Carplus Annual Survey shows that across London in 2016/17 car club members sold or disposed around 26,400 cars. That’s great, but it’s a tiny proportion of the 2.6 million cars that are registered in the city. In 2016, 3.3 million additional vehicles were registered in the UK, which was the highest annual total ever recorded. If car clubs are to have a meaningful impact they must start winning over many, many more of these drivers.

My first test was availability and ease of use. It turned out there are a few car clubs operating in Hackney including Zipcar and Enterprise for round-trip bookings, plus Bluecity and DriveNow for one-way car sharing. Zipcar seemed to have the most cars near our house so I went for them.

Getting going was pretty straightforward. I started the registration process in the evening and by 8.30am the following morning my application was approved. Thirty minutes later I had booked a van and was on my way to pick it up. It turned out the van located on my street was busy, but there was another a 10-minute walk away, which didn’t seem too bad for a spur-of-the-moment booking (there were plenty more cars much closer to my house and more vans available the following day). Checking for damage was still an annoyance but once that was done and my phone connected via Bluetooth, I was off.

The car club didn’t fare so well on my second test: price. I chose a basic membership with a free joining fee. To hire the van (on a weekday) it cost £50 for five hours, plus a £15 monthly fee to reduce my insurance liability to zero. This seemed like a lot and matched the amount I spent in Ikea that day. (A Volkswagen Golf would have cost £9 an hour.)

Zipcar points out that the service is more cost effective than car ownership once you factor in the costs of repairs, depreciation, insurance, servicing and parking. I’m sure this is true. The difference is that when you hop in your own car to go to the dump it feels like a ‘free’ trip.

But the answer can’t be to lower car sharing prices. You wouldn’t want the same impact that Uber has had, dramatically cutting costs and thereby increasing the use of taxis in cities. In fact, I’d say the pay-per-use fee is the car club’s most powerful feature, forcing customers to justify each car journey and weigh up the alternatives. This experience forced me to accept that I don’t need to drive this sort of journey. I can pay the council to pick up my bulky waste, take a train to Ikea and hire a taxi back, or better still buy online.

Another option could be to encourage car owners to sell up with some serious, but short-term, incentives. Then once customers were registered and changing travel habits they’d start to enjoy the longer-term benefits of not owning a car.

A 2015 report by the Car Club Coalition suggested councils offer residents parking permit surrender incentives such as free or discounted car club membership or mileage. But why not six months, why not a year of free membership? This could be funded by the car club for gaining new customers and enabled by the council through better parking provision and promotion.

Other incentives suggested could be linked to public transport use; graduated parking permit charges for multiple vehicles in a household; and scrappage schemes. I’d love to know if any council or car club operator is offering such policies yet. I certainly can’t find any evidence of any.
Councils must also do more to enable car clubs to build scale in order to entice customers. They must allocate more parking spaces to car clubs and these spaces must be in convenient locations linked to the transport network and cycle storage facilities. Clearer signage will also advertise the service.

At the moment car clubs seem to be a relatively boutique service for those already sold on cutting car use. If they want to appeal to the driving mainstream, councils need to take them more seriously. Rather than be treated as a token, or an add-on, they need to be a fundamental part of a strategy to reduce car ownership and increase active travel.

Life beyond the road wars

It’s disappointing when plans to reallocate road space are reduced to a battle between two indignant and implacable sides: the cyclist (usually characterised as young, middle-class and male) on one side and the driving everyman on the other.

It’s disappointing because these schemes are about so much more than annoying drivers or pleasing cyclists. These clashes divert attention from the real benefits of a project promoting more active lifestyles; making public spaces more equitable and enjoyable; and making sensible plans for population growth.

One such fight kicked off in Waltham Forest when the council secured £27 million funding from Transport for London to create a Mini-Holland to make streets safer, more attractive, and easier to walk and cycle around. The battle raged in the press, on social media and in law courts. Yet it did get through, and the first stages have now been in place for two years.

I was delighted, therefore, to walk around the area with Paul Gasson, local resident and member of the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign who was involved in the bid and implementation of the scheme. I joined members of London Living Streets, a pro-walking campaign group interested in lessons the project could offer.

The Mini-Holland scheme includes around 13 projects, now more than half complete. These include modal filters in four residential areas that allow residents to access homes but prevent rat running. A network of cycle routes is also being installed that provide dedicated space for cyclists. This includes a major new Cycle Superhighway on the Lea Bridge Road. New ‘Copenhagen’ or blended crossings prioritise pedestrians and there are big plans to upgrade and reorganise major junctions. Additional pro-cycling services include cycle hubs and hangars for bike storage; bike check-ups and maintenance classes; cycle training and improved way-finding.

Our tour ended in Walthamstow Village, the focal point of the scheme and the focus of the protests when it was trialled in 2014 and installed in 2015.

My immediate and lasting impression was how peaceful the area was with less traffic. Humans seemed to take over. At times, our group ambled in the middle of the road, hardly looking over our shoulder for cars. Gasson said he’d seen groups of families walking in the road on the school run, enjoying the space rather than hurriedly and anxiously herding their children.  He says more children are regularly playing on the streets and cycling on roads.

On Orford Road — the centrepiece of the Walthamstow Village scheme that closes to all motor traffic apart from a local bus between 10am and 10pm – there was a complete change of pace. People relaxed outside cafés; stopped for conversations; a group of mums we saw strolled side-by-side with their buggies.

Walthamstow Village has also become a great deal greener with new trees and ‘pocket parks’ that offer attractive planters, seating and community gardens. Gasson says these have brought the streets to life, not just with the plants, but by encouraging communities to maintain them.  Communities have taken ownership of their streets again and are joining together to invest in them.

But perhaps I am seeing things through rose-tinted, visitor spectacles. What do the residents think? Those opposing schemes like this want proof that the majority is benefitting and not just the cycling, latté-sipping gentrifiers.

Waltham Forest conducted a massive survey of local residents in Walthamstow Village in 2016. It’s safe to say that residents weren’t overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the Mini-Holland one year on. But they weren’t overwhelmingly negative either. In fact, the overriding impression I got from the survey was of indifference. One question asked residents how the overall perception of their street had changed: 28 per cent said it had got better; 28 per cent said it had got worse; and 45 per cent said it had stayed the same.

While this is hardly the ringing endorsement that campaigners would have hoped for, proof that residents were enjoying a sudden new love of their streets, it does show how people adapt to change. One result which I thought interesting was when asked what changes should be made, just 2 per cent wanted to go back to how it was, compared to 55 per cent said they’d do nothing. Gasson suspects many people had moved on; this was no longer a priority in their lives. He also believes that views would be more positive now two years down the line, once emotions had settled and people had longer to adapt.

But maybe dim acceptance, even a little annoyance with modal filters, is the best a council can ask for. What’s more important that people slowly make different choices about how they get around (and traffic counts suggest they are – see below).

Yes, it’s true that car journeys have got longer; that the modal filters are frustrating; and yes it’s true that surrounding main roads might shoulder extra traffic. But we need to offset these drawbacks with the benefits of a child riding a bike to school; of crossing a road safely; of someone walking instead of driving to a local shop; hearing birdsong again; of sitting out with a sandwich on the street.

It takes a brave politician to risk upsetting residents in the short term for long-term gain, but I hope councils considering similar schemes can do this and focus on transformation in terms of public health, road safety, air quality, and equality of public space. If they have the gumption to do it, they might find that residents soon forget about how things were before and enjoy new freedoms.

Key stats from Walthamstow Village Review, 2016

  • 19 per cent of residents said they were walking more following changes in Walthamstow Village
  • 8 per cent were cycling more
  • 28 per cent said their street had got better; 28 per cent said it had got worse; and 45 per cent said it had stayed the same
  • The number of vehicles decreased by an average of 44 per cent across Walthamstow Village
  • Eleven out of the 14 roads within the Village area saw significant reductions in the number of vehicles
  • But rat-runs did persist on three streets in the village – work is underway to reduce traffic on these roads
  • There was an increase in traffic volumes on the surrounding boundary roads including 4 per cent on Hoe Street, 11 per cent on Lea Bridge Road and 28 per cent on Shernhall Street
  • Only 1.7 per cent of residents would scrap the scheme and revert back to the former layout
  • All of the visitors surveyed had a positive opinion of the overall scheme with 84 per cent stating it was very good


Enjoying and enduring public transport

I knew it was going to be difficult. Taking a train to Gloucestershire and then relying on taxis and lifts to get five people to a wedding in the countryside would never be as easy as jumping in a car. But while we did enjoy parts of the experience, the majority of it was painful, forcing me to accept just how ill-prepared this country is for reducing car ownership.

We took a total of 11 trains last weekend, hired three taxis, relied on family to provide lifts, spent around two hours waiting on platforms and depended on passengers on busy trains give up seats for our tired children. The taxis we used were mostly unreliable and expensive. One arrived far too early, which meant we changed for a wedding in a panic and asked to be left on a muddy layby down the road from our hosts’ house so we didn’t arrive obnoxiously early. Then train cancellations on Sunday meant we returned home annoyed, exhausted and well past our children’s bedtimes.

So it was difficult, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We have to accept that cars are essential for some journeys and either hire or share cars from London or, better still, take trains and then hire cars near our destination.

It’s sad that so few consider doing this. RAC data estimated that five million leisure journeys were made by car on the last August bank holiday Monday in the UK, up by nearly 1 million on last year. We now expect roads in London to be clogged every weekend as drivers pile out of the city. Reducing these traffic levels should be a priority for reducing gridlock in cities and on motorways, and improving air quality and emissions. Surely it should be absurd to send so many people in separate cars on such similar routes.

And we all stand to gain from getting out of cars on these long journeys. Sure you can tune in, zone out on the motorway, emerging from the trance only to visit a dull and formulaic motorway service station. But a train journey promises more fun, more life. On our journey to Lydney last Friday night we talked to more people, we paid more attention to the changing countryside, noticed the towns we moved through, we read books, shared drinks and actually looked at each other while conversing.

Of course, the reason most people don’t make the switch is because our rail system is so appalling: fares are too high and the service is unreliable, understaffed and overcrowded. Passengers in this country pay the highest fares in Europe, and the costs of public transport are rising at a dramatically higher rate than the costs of driving.

Our five train tickets last weekend cost £200. This wasn’t a last-minute fare. I bought these tickets ten days before we travelled, invested in a family railcard and spent a great deal of time fiddling with a confusing system to get the cheapest tickets. It couldn’t help but feel they were making it as difficult as possible for me to find the cheapest fare.

(It was telling that a taxi driver in the Forest of Dean said he’d drive our family to London for the same price as our train tickets– and he would drop us at our front door. Great Western Railway should be ashamed that a private taxi service could compete with its prices.)

Considering these exorbitant prices, you’d think you get an impeccable service. But we didn’t. On Sunday our train between Gloucester and London was cancelled, as were three or four other trains that day. Whatever the reason for those cancellations, whatever ‘staff shortages’ really means, it was clear that GWR handled the situation badly.

They offered no warning about the cancellation (even though they had my phone number and email address) and no assistance on the day, whether that was via train conductors, station staff, their Twitter feed (as if) or even their customer service phone line. And it’s not just us passengers feeling the frustration – as one member of station staff said to me with a sigh, ‘you’d think we’d be able to send alerts to passengers in the 21st Century’. In the end we had to work out an alternative route home ourselves using our smartphones – which we can’t assume all passengers have access to.

This level of service has come to be expected across our national rail service. There was an air of jaded resignation among the regular passengers on our trains, rather than the shocked outrage I was feeling as an infrequent passenger. I spoke to one woman — who stood for most of the journey with her sleeping daughter in a buggy — who told me both her outward and returning trains had been cancelled that weekend.

But this isn’t good enough. I support Labour’s policy to bring railways back into public ownership. Despite huge increases in rail fares in recent years, private operators have failed to invest in the infrastructure. If we ran services on a not-for-profit basis, we could ensure fares are kept down and investment is secured.

Time is running out. Unless we get people hooked on train travel now we will lose yet another generation to the car.

Giving up our unloved yet beloved car

I’ll admit to a love-hate relationship with my car. The hate part is easier for me to rationalise: the evidence is clear that cars are destroying our environment; taking control of public space; and killing and injuring far too many people.

The love part, however, is a guilty secret. Despite the fact that we rarely use it[1], the car has become part of our family world – my husband and children have devised a song about it; we have become fond of its technical idiosyncrasies; we moan about its smells and crumbs but they are ours; and once the doors are shut, this is our universe, with our stuff, our music and our conversations.

But I’m convinced that I’ve been duped into this way of thinking. Billions have been invested over the last century selling the car as a symbol of status, desire, freedom and necessity. As soon as we earn enough money, or as soon as we have children, there’s an assumption that we should get a car. And once we have it, it becomes very difficult to give it up.

Surely it is time for city dwellers to think differently. Surely we can discover greater freedom and happiness when walking or cycling the city, or switching off on public transport. Surely we can gain economic freedom by selling our cars altogether and greater enjoyment of our public spaces if we free them of parked cars.

Yet I have the feeling London isn’t ready for this shift. I’m mindful that there aren’t enough incentives for families to sell their cars; that public transport over longer distances is too expensive; that the car will always beat other options if it’s parked outside the house on a rainy day; that hiring or sharing cars is still too troublesome; and finding a hire car equipped with three children’s car seats (that we as a family need) is not always straightforward.

But maybe I’m wrong. To see if we can cope without this safety net, my family is going to give up its car for the rest of 2017. If we survive, we’ll sell up in the new year. We’ll test out public transport over longer distances, car sharing, and new types of car hiring. We’ll analyse the costs, the effort and the pinch points where the car is hard to beat.

The first test comes this weekend for a trip to the countryside for a wedding and a stay with (grand)parents in Gloucestershire. Before children, I always made this journey on public transport, but this will be the first time we tackle it as a family. Our assumption has always been the train would be too expensive and too troublesome with three children in tow. But let’s see.

[1] It’s brought out for visits to family in the countryside; trips to the zoo or the seaside; the odd trip to the dump; the occasional trip to Westfield; and a couple of camping excursions every year.

Bike hangar storage: simple idea, big impression

Local street artist, Tony Driver, designs Hackney’s 150th bike hangar

I’ve deliberated over getting a bike for a while now, but haven’t because I couldn’t work out where to put it. Our hallway is already crammed with children’s bikes and scooters and I know I’d rarely cycle if my bike was kept in my garden, past an awkward gate and a collection of rubbish bins.

But the news that I’ve been allocated a space in a new cycle hangar, recently installed on my street in Hackney, has been the prompt I needed to finally get one. This is one of 211 hangars on Hackney’s streets, each providing space for six bikes protected by key and from the elements. It’s a relatively simple piece of infrastructure, well at least if you compare it to a cycle superhighway or junction improvements, but it is arguably just as important for getting new and existing riders on their bikes.

I know that most London cyclists deal with far worse storage dilemmas than mine on a daily basis. I know that I’m a bit of a wimp. I also know that I’ll never be a die-hard cyclist: I don’t commute by bike, I like reading books on trains and I prefer walking to explore the city. But that’s not to say a few of my journeys could change from four wheels to two. And I’m sure there are plenty of others like me across London – the interested but nervous, the reluctant, or plain lazy – that might only need a simple additional incentive as this to give cycling a go.

Craig Nicol runs the scheme in Hackney and says it has “eclipsed” ths council’s “predictions” with more than 5,000 people currently waiting for a hangar space. He decides on new locations according to level of demand in an area, the density of that area and distribution of existing hangars, whether there is access to outdoor space or storage facilities, if stairs get in the way, if cycle thefts are a problem or if an area has low levels of cycling. Though it seems the demand from neighbours trumped all other criteria on our street since there are few flats with stairs on our street and most houses have back and front gardens.

Not all residents are keen. As Nicol says, the perceived loss of parking ‘is an extremely contentious and emotive topic’ (it’s worth noting  that the hangar only takes half the space of one parked car). But he thinks the critical mass towards cycling is changing this perception and helping councils to rethink how controlled parking spaces can be re-allocated to different modes. As he points out, Hackney council’s most recent transport strategy outlines its policy on the reduction of space for vehicles and states that priority will be given to cycle parking on roads rather than pavements in order to prevent obstructions to pedestrians, the visually impaired and disabled.

For me this is a positive change: a simple piece of infrastructure that encourages new riders, makes life easier for existing ones and that shows that it’s possible to share road space among different types of users.

My next step: buy a bike.

The facts

  • Hackney has the largest cycle hangar portfolio in the UK
  • 211 hangars on streets, plus 88 across its housing estates
  • 5,000 people on Hackney’s databases waiting for a hangar to be installed
  • It costs £3,200 to install a hangar, funded by Transport for London
  • Users currently pay £30 per unit, per year to rent a space
  • Total rental cost is £60 per unit, with Hackney Council subsidising half. This subsidy will expire in 12-18 months
  • Hackney uses Cyclehoop’s Bikehangar
  • Bikehangars were first ordered by Lambeth Council in 2013
  • Cyclehoop has installed 950 Bikehangars, 570 bike lockers in 19 local councils, creating 6,417 cycling spaces

Sticking to the facts on cycling improvements

4652614096_4892153028_oIt’s great to hear that Sadiq Khan plans to almost double the investment in cycling initiatives compared to the previous mayor of London. It’s also encouraging that he is promoting a commissioner for walking as well as cycling. This surely is signal of an ambition to consider the needs of all road users.

But is ambition (and cash) enough? Boris Johnson’s vision only went so far. He faced massive political and public opposition to his plans for segregated cycle superhighways, leaving many still incomplete. London’s former cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, has also spoken of defeat, labelling TfL’s ‘quietway’ initiative a failure, with just one of the seven planned now open.

A major challenge for the mayor is that he owns just five per cent of London’s roads, with the rest owned by the city’s borough councils. And experience has shown that councils are too easily influenced by an angry and noisy minority that favour the freedom of the car.

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has blocked segregated Superhighway routes along its roads. Quietway plans have been diluted in most of the boroughs they cross. Gilligan expects just one or two of the seven proposed to be of acceptable quality. Even Hackney – a famously pro-cycling council – recently failed to trial an ambitious scheme to create a quietway free from rat-runners.

I’m increasingly convinced that the problem comes down to the consultation process. Of course councils need to consult to understand residents views, but I worry consultations are turning to referendums, forcing people to make binary choices about projects they don’t fully understand.

For some, a cycling consultation might as well be asking ‘shall we make it more difficult for you to drive?’ For these people, the inevitable answer will be ‘no!’ These might not be the majority, but their rage will be so great that they will control the conversation, using emotional arguments that eschew any facts or evidence.

All this seems rather familiar. The ‘post-truth’ explanation of the EU referendum result is now well-known: that those campaigning for the UK to leave the EU abandoned objective facts and turned instead to emotion to win the hearts of the population. And they won.

This year’s road filtering consultation in Hackney is another example of a post-truth campaign in action. The council (quite rightly in my opinion) had initially planned a trial of road closures in order to remove rat-runners from a road and turn it into a quietway. Unfortunately, the council handled the announcement of the trial badly. It was forced to change tack and launched a consultation on a trial instead. But by the time this was underway, the mood had soured and the initiative was seen by many as some sort of conspiracy.

In their rage, opponents dwelt upon worst-case scenarios and advertised them as facts. They claimed that the scheme would increase congestion on neighbouring roads, ambulances wouldn’t be able to get around, old people would be locked in their homes, pollution in school playgrounds would increase and cyclists would rule. Pictures of children with gas masks were even posted around the area to help us visualise the Armageddon that would occur if cars were sent down bigger roads.  (It is interesting that few admitted that they were really angry with the scheme since it would make the school run in the 4×4 a little longer.)

They weren’t interested in testing these fears or considering how the scheme might actually lower air pollution. They dismissed evidence that shows how ‘predictions of traffic problems’ in these sorts of scheme are ‘often unnecessarily alarmist’. They also ignored assurances from the council that they would change the trial if it didn’t work.

Unfortunately, this sort of emotional campaigning is not limited to Hackney. Consultations on the segregated cycle superhighway network have also been marred by falsehoods and inaccuracy.  The right-wing press have branded the superhighways as ‘politically correct follies‘, claiming they are underused, exacerbate congestion and increase pollution. High-ranking politicians have used similar tactics. Last year, Lord Lawson said that the superhighways were ‘doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz’.

Of course this is all nonsense. Andrew Gilligan quotes Transport for London figures to show that the East-West superhighway  – opened along the Embankment this year – is actually used by around 1,200 people an hour at peak times and that pollution levels have not increased. Car journeys might take minutes longer, but that does not mean congestion is getting worse. As he writes, the Embankment now moves around five per cent more people than it did before the lanes were built. ‘If all those now cycling there switched to cars instead, it would put an extra thousand cars an hour on that road alone. Then we’d see what congestion looked like,’ he writes.

I don’t think all those opposing cycle schemes are simply car fanatics. The problem is that many simply don’t understand the wider imperatives for improving cycling provision, or the wider benefits that these initiatives can bring.

The public needs to understand that initiatives such as quietways and superhighways don’t just help cyclists but everybody, since bikes don’t cause air pollution and are safer than cars. We also need to appreciate that to keep London moving, it needs to make radical improvements to its transport infrastructure. It’s not possible to build more roads, but it is possible to make the existing roads work more efficiently and for a wider group of users.

We need to understand that car drivers are actually in a minority, so giving them a lion’s share of the road network just isn’t fair. We need to understand that cycling isn’t just for fit, young men on single-speed bikes; that the growth in cycling in London has been exponential; and that many more would join them if routes were safer.

I think consultations for quietways would be more meaningful following long trials that give residents a taste of what an alternative could look like. But we need better reassurance from councils that trials will be changed if they don’t work. There are also calls for Transport for London to put greater demands on councils for quality standards on Quietway routes.

And finally, politicians need to be brave. Cycling schemes aren’t going to make everyone happy, but if they can improve life for the majority then they need to be pursued, no matter what.

(Main photo: D1v1d, Flickr)