Over a year has passed since temporary cycle lanes were introduced in Brighton & Hove, as part of the government’s response to the pandemic.
There’s been a lot of talk since then. Some residents have taken to social media and to the streets to vent their frustrations. We’ve been reminding everyone why the government has tasked local councils to make the roads safer for cycling, but these reasons have sometimes been countered by opinion, which is not rooted in fact.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if your opinion is not based on fact, it’s not going to get us very far.
After all, if the council was drawing up a new scheme for food hygiene ratings, you’d want to make sure any decisions were based on hard science, not things like how well-dressed the waiters are.
This is why it’s important to know the basics of transport planning and how roads and cycle lanes are funded before forming an opinion.
Here are some frequently-asked questions, with responses based on fact, not opinion. We’ve included links so you can see where we’ve got our information.
Why has the council put in these temporary cycle lanes?
At the start of the pandemic, people were advised to reduce their use of public transport. Public transport use is not expected to recover for several years. The government saw that without alternatives, car use would rocket, and it gave money to councils to quickly reallocate space from motor vehicles to walking and cycling to avoid a ‘car-led recovery’.
What’s so special about the Old Shoreham Road?
The Old Shoreham Road is an important east-west transport link. For many journeys in the west of the city, it’s unavoidable. It serves a lot of housing as well as shops and schools. It was identified by the council as an essential part of a future cycling network several years ago and scores highly on the Propensity to Cycle Tool, which is a database used by transport planners to work out where cycle routes are needed. Unlike other east-west routes, such as Portland Road and New Church Road, as a multi-lane road, it was simply too dangerous for most people to cycle on before the temporary lanes.
So they won’t be needed once the pandemic is over?
Even before the pandemic, the government was trying to increase active travel (walking and cycling) and reduce car use. This is not only to reduce pollution and congestion, but to improve public health, and to make cities more attractive places to live. The UK has a bad record on obesity and other inactivity-related diseases, which cost the NHS over £7bn a year.
Why didn’t the council consult us properly last year?
Because of the pandemic, the government told councils to put in changes to road space within a tight deadline and without the usual consultation. Councils were only given money if they stuck to these conditions.
People still cycle on pavements and roads, even where there are cycle lanes. That means the cycle lanes aren’t needed.
There’s no legal requirement to use a cycle lane. People may use the road to turn onto a side road (many cycle lanes aren’t properly integrated) or because they want to go faster than they can on a cycle lane (many cycle lanes are extremely narrow, or badly surfaced).
Cycling on pavements is illegal. It often happens when people don’t feel safe on the road. Some people do it as an act of rebellion, in a similar way to people who speed in cars.
Just as the existence of reckless drivers is no reason to deny the need to keep all drivers safe, the existence of reckless cyclists is no reason to deny the need for safe cycling infrastructure.
Cyclists already use the road. They don’t need their own dedicated lanes.
Research shows that the majority of UK adults don’t feel our roads are safe to cycle on. This means that the people you see cycling on busy roads are the minority, when compared to the numbers that would cycle if the roads were safer.
Cycle lanes are particularly important for women, who are more likely than men to say they feel unsafe on our roads. And they’re even more important for vulnerable road users such as children, older people and disabled people.
Disabled people can’t cycle, can they?
Many disabled people cycle. This ranges from conditions such as arthritis (cycling puts less pressure on joints, so can be easier than walking) to MS (regular exercise can help slow down the progression of the disease) to spinal injuries (tricycles can be particularly useful here) and paralysis (people who can’t use their lower body can often use handcycles). More disabled people would have access to cycling if the roads were safer.
Disabled cycling charity Wheels for Wellbeing has further details.
Cycling is just a leisure activity
People cycle for leisure, transport and sport. In urban areas that have been made safe for cycling, it’s often a more common way of commuting than driving.
Cycling isn’t for people like me
It’s not for everybody. It’s not for every journey. It’s true that you can’t carry a washing machine on a bicycle (or on the bus). Just as no one will ever force you to take the bus, no one will ever force you to cycle if you don’t want to. It just needs to be possible for other people. That means the roads need to be made safe.
Cyclists are idiots
Idiots are idiots, regardless of whether they cycle, take the bus or drive a car. Thankfully they’re in the minority.
All that space is wasted on cyclists as there aren’t enough of them. It should be given to cars.
This is a catch-22. The more space you give to cars, the more cars you end up with. The same goes for cycling.
In the mid-20th century, the UK government decided to promote driving in order to boost the economy, and built new roads. The new roads make driving easier, incomes were rising quickly and cars were status symbols, so more people bought cars. The roads became busier, people felt less safe cycling – plus cycling was a sign of poverty – so they cycled less and drove more. The roads became busier, so relief roads were built. The relief roads made journeys quicker, so people drove further, and new out-of-town developments were built. These developments were hard to get to without a car, so more people bought cars. Buses use fell and bus companies slashed routes. This made it even harder to get around without a car, so more people bought cars.
This phenomenon is called induced demand. As the UK’s road network has grown, so has car use. The number of vehicles licensed on UK roads has increased seven-fold since the 1950s.
The only way to reverse this trend is to reallocate space from motor vehicles to cycling. The government has recognised this and it now forms part of transport planning policy.
Cycle lanes cause congestion and pollution
Congestion is caused when there are too many vehicles to fit the available road space. There are twice as many cars on UK roads now as there were in the 1990s. Average car size has increased.
Brighton & Hove City Council’s monitoring shows there’s been no drop in average vehicle speed since temporary cycle lanes were added to the Old Shoreham Road, despite the drop in space for vehicles. This is because vehicle usage patterns have changed dramatically since the pandemic, and will probably never be the same as before.
The UK has a huge problem with pollution, and has for many years. This has not been caused by temporary cycle lanes, and will not be solved by removing them. Vehicle pollution is still increasing, largely because the average car is larger and heavier than before. This will only be solved by ‘modal shift’, which means changing the way people get around. Cycling is part of that.
We need better, cheaper public transport, not more cycle lanes
Yes, we need better, cheaper public transport. But this takes time and money. Promoting cycling and walking is extremely cheap in comparison. It ends up saving money and can achieve much faster results. Not only do individuals save money on motoring expenses, but if fewer vehicles use the roads, road maintenance costs are lower.
The money spent on temporary cycle lanes should have been spent on more important things
Investment is needed in many areas. But the money the government gave the council came with the condition that it could only be spent on cycling and walking. If we remove cycle lanes now, this will put further funding at risk.
We’ll all be driving electric cars soon, so we don’t need cycle lanes
Almost 40% of households in Brighton & Hove don’t have access to a car. Car ownership is particularly low for younger generations, as average incomes have stalled and the cost of accommodation has rocketed.
Although they emit fewer pollutants than petrol or diesel cars, electric vehicles still emit particulate matter from braking and tyres. They don’t directly emit CO2 but a lot of CO2 is generated in manufacturing and shipping them. And they cause the same issues of congestion, road danger and inactivity as traditional cars.
We hope you’ve found this page useful. Please let us know if there’s anything else you think we should add.