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Peter Kyle, please don’t play politics with road safety

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot from politicians about cycling. Anyone has a right to say what they want, but too much of what we hear is based not on fact, but on the kind of myth bandied about online.

We have a long way to go before people will feel as safe to cycle to their local shops as they do to drive. This is what our campaign is about. We’ve seen politicians forgetting this simple fact, and getting caught up in politics instead.

MP for Hove and Portslade Peter Kyle spoke on Politics Live on 1 February 2022, in a debate about changes to the Highway Code. He repeated some myths about active travel that we’re keen to straighten out.

You can see the full programme on the BBC’s website, or watch a short excerpt on Twitter.

Peter’s words from the interview are in italics, with our responses below.

I don’t think we have to get people out of their cars, we have to make an alternative that is attractive and is usable and reflect it.

We agree. Current national transport policy is to create attractive alternatives to driving. Cycling is part of this. Cycling will only be attractive for the majority of the population if they feel safe. Government surveys consistently show they don’t.

During Covid, we had lots of cycle lanes in my constituency which were really successful.

During Covid, there were two temporary cycle lanes in Hove. One ran 4.5km along the Old Shoreham Road, the other ran along the A259, just over 1km into Peter Kyle’s constituency. Around 2% of the city’s roads have protected space for cycling, and this has remained largely static over the last ten years.

There was one that was not.

The point of protected cycle lanes is to keep people separate from volume traffic. On this count, all cycle lanes are successful.

Cycling along the Old Shoreham Road increased considerably in three out of four monitoring periods. During one period of stormy weather, cycling rates were lower than the 2016 baseline.

From BHCC’s report to the ETS committee, 21 August 2021, p.38

It was on a main arterial road.

This is precisely the point. The Old Shoreham Road is an arterial road and carries high volumes of traffic. It’s a direct route. National policy says that all urban routes with ‘volume traffic’ need protected space for cycling. A family cannot cycle from their home on the Old Shoreham Road to a school on the Old Shoreham Road without using the Old Shoreham Road.

Gear Change, Department for Transport 2020, p. 21

And then we found out that the consultation for it had been overwhelmingly against becoming permanent. The Green Council sort of use all shenanigans to get it through and make it permanent.

Some Labour and Conservative politicians campaigned hard against the temporary lanes, from the moment they were installed. This included:

– a Labour councillor presenting a resident’s petition to remove the temporary lanes, a couple of months after they had been installed

constant statements to local press against the temporary lanes, including unsupported fact, and a general failure to make positive statements about the need for safer cycling

– Labour and Conservative councillors joining and participating in a number of Facebook groups established to attack active travel infrastructure

As a result, many negative opinions were voiced in Brighton & Hove City Council’s consultation on the temporary lanes.

Councillors decided that this gave them a mandate to remove them – even though this principle had not been established before the consultation opened.

Labour councillors did not all want to remove the cycle lanes. The group was split.

Because the temporary lanes were removed without any evidence of detrimental effect, the Department for Transport financially punished the council by reducing funding.

I came out against it simply because the community that’s affected it wasn’t consulted and there were huge tailbacks, including emergency services.

There was consultation. Peter himself refers to this in his previous sentence. Consultation was held in two stages, in 2020 and 2021.

There were tailbacks at times on the Old Shoreham Road before the temporary lanes were introduced, and tailbacks continue now. Traffic monitoring showed no evidence of reduced average speeds on the Old Shoreham Road while the lanes were there.

From BHCC’s report to the ETS committee, July 2021, p. 200

Emergency services were consulted and had no problem with the temporary lanes. They were aware they could drive through them if necessary. The plastic wands are designed to be driven over by emergency vehicles.

So in those circumstances, it’s difficult to take a position.

In meetings we’ve had with Peter, he’s told us that this issue is a matter of one set of opinions against another.

We agree.

On the one hand, we have evidence-based government policy that aims to make roads safer, which councils have a duty to implement.

On the other hand, we have unsupported myth.

The space between homes and houses and shops is evolving and we have to evolve with it…

Our roads do not evolve of their own accord. There is no way of making our roads safer and more people-friendly if we abandon an evidence-based approach and listen to myth, just because a lot of people are repeating it.

…and take people with us.

We’ve heard this phrase many times over the last couple of years. There will never be full agreement on schemes to reallocate road space from motor vehicles to active travel.

Politicians have a choice about taking people with them. If they constantly repeat stereotypes, myths and cliches about cycling and fail to engage with the science, they will take people in the wrong direction.

We’ve repeatedly written to councillors and MPs over the last couple of years, urging them to take a science-based approach and to correct myth, instead of propagating it. Peter Kyle’s latest statement shows that we haven’t got there yet.

If you’re a constituent of Peter’s and want to get in touch, his publicly available email address is hove.portslade@parliament.uk

For more information about the Old Shoreham Road cycle lanes, check out our blog post from July 2021.

A mum from Portslade has started a petition for permanent cycle lanes on the Old Shoreham Road, as her son’s safe route to school disappeared when the temporary cycles lanes were removed last year. You can sign the petition for safe, permanent cycle lanes on the Old Shoreham Road here.

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