We need to trust the experts on cycling

Posted On 15 Mar 2021 at 4:41 pm

When deciding on the future of our city’s streets, it’s tempting to rely on what we’ve seen and heard on the street and on social media. But we can’t plan transport policy on the basis of anecdote. We need to trust the experts.

After all, you wouldn’t want a heart surgeon fixing a burst pipe or a plumber performing heart surgery.

We have many transport experts in Brighton and Hove. Some work for the council in non-political roles, some work for independent organisations. The UK government is also full of transport experts.

All these people will tell you that building more roads attracts more cars, and that where road and parking capacity are reduced and an attractive alternative is provided, car use decreases.

They will also tell you – as has our government – that the main reason UK cycling rates are low is that people don’t feel safe in traffic.

This leads us to the catch-22. The majority drive, and many people feel uneasy about losing road space to make cycling safer, so they say they want things to stay as they are. So traffic increases, people feel even less safe and drive even more.

The way to break this catch-22 is to trust the experts. Every city that’s pleasant to walk and cycle around now – including Amsterdam, Copenhagen and parts of London – was once traffic-choked and had to go through what we’re experiencing now.

Change was proposed, there was a bitter backlash, including death threats to politicians, but the politicians stood firm.

The result, in every case, has been overwhelming support for the changes made.

Our council is strapped for cash. We’ve been given money by central government to spend on cycling and walking, which we can’t use for other things.

We can either trust the experts and use this money to improve the city or stick our heads in the sand.

We need change, urgently. Our city has been congested and polluted for many years, and buses have got slower as traffic has increased.

Our air, in places, is filthy. Children can’t play in the streets and many grow up obese and with breathing difficulties.

Climate change is real and the city has pledged to reach net zero by 2030.

Let’s break this catch-22. Write to your councillors and MP, asking for positive change, based on science, not anecdote.

Chris Williams chairs Bricycles – the Brighton and Hove Cycling Campaign.

  1. Kate Reply

    Planners and cycling zealots need to better understand the reasons people don’t cycle. It isn’t just traffic/ safety/ road issues.

    Brighton is full of hills! Many people just can’t use a bike for their journeys if they live at the top of Hanover or Ditchling Road. These are for the super fit, not the family with several children or the casual commuter cyclist.

    Other people may not be able to cycle because of injury – for example hips, pelvis, knees. This may not prevent walking but cycling can be a bodily stress too far.

    Then there are families with multiple children. Not all can afford or ride tag-a-longs. Some children have additional needs which makes cycling on pavements and roads dangerous.

    How about families with children who do clubs in the evening? Pop the other kids in the car for a ten min trip to collect, or try to get tired children out in the dark on their bikes for a thirty min cycle in the dark to get their sibling?

    Many people, even if they can afford a bike for each family member have nowhere to store those bikes. Brighton houses are often terraced, with narrow halls and limited outside space.

    I for one find the constant narrative of ‘bikes are best’ very tedious when it ignores the reality of many peoples’ lives.

    Cycling is great if you are healthy, fit, have money and space, and time to allow it as your mode of transport. For a significant number of people it is a luxury hobby or simply unrealistic.

    A bit of empathy for the different experiences of Brighton dwellers would be refreshing and appreciated.

    • Imogen Reply

      Anonymous internet commenters and pro-climate change activists need to better understand the reasons people don’t want to drive. It isn’t just zealotry/having beliefs and a conscience issues.

      Brighton and Hove have many narrow and over-populated streets! Many people just don’t want to use a two-ton metal box for their journeys if they live in North Laine or Brunswick. These are for the super rich and selfish, not the family who want their several children to be healthy and have a planet to live on or the casual understander of scientific facts about climate change.

      Other people may not be able to drive or walk far because of illness or injury– for example hips, pelvis, knees. Thankfully cycling is very low impact and often is much easier than walking, and much healthier for weak joints and muscles than sitting still inside a metal box.

      Then there are families with multiple children. Not all can afford to drive huge people-carriers that don’t even fit properly in the available parking spaces on our streets. Some children have additional needs which makes risking horrific road traffic accidents and inhaling the more polluted air inside a car dangerous.

      How about families with children who do clubs in the evening? Keep forcing the other kids in the car for ten minutes of inhaling pollution and endangering others to collect, or build a city in which a child can safely cycle a couple of miles home by themselves like children used to in the past and continue to do in more civilised cities all over Europe?

      Many people, even if they can afford a car for each family member, have nowhere to store those cars. Brighton houses are often on narrow streets filled with buildings converted to flats, with limited parking available. Thankfully up to ten bicycles can be stored in a secure hangar that takes up a single car parking space, making bicycles literally an order of magnitude easier to store.

      I for one find the constant narrative of ‘cars are obligatory, even thinking for five seconds about providing for other modes of transport hurts my car’s feelings’ very tedious when it ignores the reality of many peoples’ lives and wishes to continue having a survivable planetary environment in the near future.

      Driving is great if you have money and space, and the lack of understanding of the horrifying realities of our self-inflicted climate disaster to allow it as your mode of transport. For a significant number of people it is a luxury hobby or simply unrealistic.

      A bit of empathy for the different experiences of Brighton dwellers would be refreshing and appreciated.

      I’ll extend empathy when Brighton and Hove drivers stop trying to kill me for cycling (because my health prevents me from driving even if I wanted to). I’ll let you lot go first.

      • Bear Road resident Reply

        Imogen – I’ll extend empathy to cyclists when they stop constantly trying to force me off the pavement (due to a back condition I can neither drive or cycle)where they shouldn’t be in the first place.

  2. Peter Challis Reply

    Good to see Chris Williams finally coming clean and admitting he is chair of the anti-car pro-cycling activist group, rather then just the “Hove resident” he pretended to be when he started the “Keep the A270 Cycle Lane” council ePetition”.

    Activists across the UK (and beyond) were encouraged to support him, against my ePetition to have the extension removed due to lack of consultation, lack of planning, and lack of use.

    Even now Chris fails to include any references to the science he mentions and just uses anecdotal evidence of 3 relatively flat cities with excellent public transport and park-and-ride facilities to support his biased views.

    He and his so-called “expert activists” produced the failed A270 cycle lane extension used by hardly any cyclists and causes congestion and more emissions.

    If we’d had proper transport experts, rather than keen but misguided amateurs, involved we would not have made such a stupid mistake.

    • Gill Sykes Reply

      Peter, leave these poor people alone. What have they ever done to you? You’re like a dog with a bone.

      • Hendra Reply

        Chris Williams has tried to fix the outcome of an e petition. He has been complicit in the falsification of the osr cycle lane figures. He has lied in order to promote his extremist
        cycling agenda. Why should we allow ‘these people’ to ruin the lives of ordinary taxpayers and businesses who struggle to survive on a daily basis?

    • Sharon Parsons Reply

      He hasn’t said he’s an expert. He’s said trust the experts.

    • Gill Sykes Reply

      He’s not calling himself an expert. He’s talking about the experts who work for the council and the government

      • Hendra Reply

        You mean like Cllr Jamie Lloyd who is a paid employee of Sustrans?

        • Imogen Reply

          Generally speaking people who work in a particular field are or become experts on their subject matter as part of the job. Would you go to a dentist for financial advice?

          • Peter Challis

            I’d prefer experts who have formal qualifications in the subject being discussed, rather then keen amateurs who just believe what activists tell them without question.

      • Peter Challis Reply

        Unfortunately these “experts” failed to identify that there OSR cycle lane extension would obviously cause additional congestion and higher emissions. They failed to realise putting cycle lanes on the sea front would impact bus services. They failed to monitor traffic volumes and emission levels before and after changes to see if changes would work. They failed to accept that the A270 cycle lane extension hasn’t worked.

        Rather than “experts” I’d call them misguided amateur visionaries “winging it”.

    • Lauren Tern Reply

      He wasn’t chair of Bricycles at that point. Someone else was.

      He’s not calling himself an expert. He’s talking about the people who work for the council and the government.

      • Nathan Adler Reply

        Experts? When you have paid employee of Sustrans Cllr Lloyd as your ‘expert’ it’s a bit like letting the NRA decide your firearms bill. These ‘experts’ seriously messed up the A259 cycle lane at the Aquarium roundabout do we trust them to get the modeling right when the A293 hits the one lane caused by the cycle lane extension?

  3. nick Reply

    I agree that we should use science. But the council so far has avoided this – either by not taking any measurements (such as displacement and pollution) or keeping data secret until forced to by FOI requests

    We all want cleaner air. But causing tailbacks isn’t the answer. We’ve seen failed schemes like the Lewes Road highlighted as successes, despite increasing pollution. Yes, more people cycle and use buses but traffic on that route is much more congested/polluting and all the displacement is huge and ignored (and blights the area where I live).

    We need many changes. Most of all we need to understand how people are travelling, what we can do to change that and make better for the environment while still allowing them to get on with their lives. Bikes are a part of that – but only a tiny part judging by other cities

    Much more important will be reducing pollution from vehicles. So why does the council spend so little on e-charging. Already that has saved tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 in Brighton. I doubt that the cycle schemes have overall saved any, indeed more likely to have increased. Of course, the scientific measures would show this – if the council and the “experts” were in any way scientific or expert!

    So why not do more of what we know works (e-charging) and less of what we know doesn’t (OSR cycle lane)?

    • Chaz Reply

      Yes, let’s go for electric cars, a ‘solution’ that costs the taxpayers millions, that costs individuals thousands and shuts out many who can’t afford it. What about the huge CO2 generated in making and shipping things, the minerals needed for the batteries? The particulate pollution generated by brake and tyre dust? The collosal waste of public space? That’s before we get into the trip hazard of the charging cables.

      Let’s go for that over-engineered option, and ignore the space-saving, accessible, affordable alternative that keeps you fit and is good for your mental health.

      Reliance on private cars for everyone is a big, big failure. It’s led to constantly increasing pollution and congestion and ever bigger swathes of the UK being tarmacked over.

      You can try and defend it, but it’s indefensible. What you’re really trying to defend is your ‘right’ to carry on pretending that everything is OK.

  4. Chaz. Reply

    Chris is not an expert, but a professional agitator, hence his letter.
    Anything involving him or his organisation I know will be tainted, same as any supporting info from the Greens.
    It is a sad sate that they have reached but I hope they bring each other down.
    As residents we have had enough of the children and their cycles and we want our city back, without dogma.
    Crawl or cycle away Chris. Bye.

    • Gill Sykes Reply

      That’s just nasty and offensive. Shame on you.

      • Hendra Reply

        Surely…Shame on the council officers ans cllrs who lied about the per cent increase on cycling on the osr

  5. Patricia Reply

    Oh dear.
    Those experts who lied figures to obtain tranche 2 funding?
    There is also a conflict of interest where Sustrans are concerned.
    It’s a shame Peter Kyle hasn’t done the job he’s paid to do by bringing this up in Parliament.

  6. Hendra Reply

    I love it when they use the ‘our city trope.
    Chris . . . We really don’t want Bricycles/Sustrans/XR etc dictating to the Council what should happen.
    Stats on cycle usage have been proven to be a complete work of fiction. Cllr Lloyd is a paid employee of Sustrans.

  7. Andrew Peters Reply

    With the council using data from 2016 then it would probably be ok to use data on cycle deaths from the same year. Look at https://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/sites/roadsafety/files/pdf/statistics/dacota/bfs20xx_cyclists.pdf

    This shows various countries but lets take the Netherlands which had 101 deaths and the UK had 105 deaths

    Cyclist fatality rates per million population by country, 2007-2016 or latest available year.

    Netherlands 5.6% UK 1.6%

    • Peter Andrews Reply

      Given that cycling rates in the Netherlands are about twenty times higher than the UK but fatalities are less than four times higher, that makes the Netherlands much safer to cycle in than the UK.

    • Georgie Reply

      Those are figures per million of the population, not per million cyclists. Given that cycling rates are over twenty times higher in the Netherlands than the UK but deaths are around four times higher, it means the Netherlands is a much safer country to cycle in.

    • Lauren Tern Reply

      Given that cycling figures in the Netherlands are about twenty times higher than in the UK but fatalities are only about four times higher, that means it’s much safer to cycle in the Netherlands than in the UK.

  8. Spook Reply

    Chris Williams ‘our city’ does not need your meddling.

    On yer bike.

  9. George Mopp Reply

    Cycling causes more deaths than any other form of transport as it increases congestion and emissions.

    These people are mad they say there green but in reality their bike lanes are poisoning us and ambulances cant get through never mind the disabled and old people who now can’t move because of bike lanes.

    Brighton and Hove need’s cars anyone who thinks it doesnt is mad.

  10. Imogen Reply

    Great piece Chris. If local politicians agree that we are in a climate emergency, then we should step up and start treating it like an emergency. Imagine if we’d acted on the COVID public health emergency in the same way! We need rapid, radical and wide-ranging action based on proven expertise, along with measures to help communities transition away from polluting transport. We need to have the courage to think about the long-term future of our city, and set aside destructive short-term conveniences.

  11. Paul Temple Reply

    It’s strange I remember an article in this very paper by Chris saying must look at the facts when deciding on cycle lanes, it must be a fact based decision. Role on many months and NO ONE in the cycling fraternity wants to use the facts, especially when the FOI revealed that cycling has gone backwards on the OSR – strange I thought the whole point of active travel is to encourage cycling. It’s such a shame the active travel debate has been dominated by a cycling solution when so much more should have been done for pedestrians. I have it on good authority that Sustrans/Bricycles were trying for a dedicated lane along Western Road it really was a case of stuff the buses we need this, a totally selfish attitude. And these so called EXPERTS are the ones who put a cycle lane in by the A259 Pier roundabout and quickly had to remove it. Don’t worry Chris Labour Momentum and the Greens will carve up the consultation and you will get your wish but role on 2023 when the silent majority will have there say.

  12. some guy Reply

    Why is nobody talking about the funding issue? The motive of this, since the beginning, has very clearly been obtaining money from the government to prop up council finances.
    This funding has to be spent on cycling and walking, so sayeth central government. The council are desperate for money, and can’t ignore the opportunity to have their road crews paid for, etc. If you want to pick at the minutiae of the scheme go ahead (I feel sure the roads picked met strict funding criteria) but at the end of the day this all comes back to Boris and chums.
    The amount of one sided political commentary on this site is appalling. At least the comments aren’t as racist as the Argus but they’re nearly as right-wing.

    • H Eclair Reply

      Funding for tranche 2 was obtained using falsified figures. This process is known in common parlance, as ‘fraud’

      • some guy Reply

        You’d rather pay for council services the old fashioned way, with rate rises?

  13. John Smith Reply

    Who are these ‘experts’, have they had extensive experience of urban and rural cycling. For the last 30 years I have watched as mistake, after error and stupidity goes into cycling infrastructure
    The killing fields that are mid road traffic islands. The cycle lane that does not go where cyclists need to go . The lanes that abruptly stop. The lanes that are litter and glass strewn
    Its an unmitigated, rolling disaster

  14. Dave Reply

    The potholes are lethal too. Most of the roads I currently use are badly cratered with potholes. A few weeks ago I came off my bike and almost ended up under a car. For me, it’s one of the biggest deterrents to cycling around here.
    And while I respect genuine experts, the money on the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane could have been better spent in Portland Road and New Church Road.
    Make both of them one-way, one east and the other west, and have a cycle lane, bus lane and car lane. You could then make all or most of the north-south roads one-way too, with cycle lanes and car lanes.
    All of this could be done without taking out the parking spaces, which would then make it more likely to get support from residents and drivers too.

  15. Dave Reply

    Meant to add, the same applies to Blatchington Road/Eaton Road and Church Road and some of the north-south roads in between.

  16. Clive Reply

    Good to read an argument for evidence-based policy.

    I remember the remodelling of Seven Dials to make it more pedestrian and cycle friendly caused a lot of arguments. At the time I had doubts myself whether it would work as planned. But does anyone doubt now that this was a seriously good idea?

  17. Rostrum Reply

    To paraphrase another dubious person
    “he would say that wouldn’t he”….

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