Cycleways can reduce car use, says Gov’t, so plans bypasses instead

The Department for Transport has today wheeled out a new transport investment strategy which will build more bypasses and widen A-roads in order to reduce congestion even though it’s well understood that building more roads eventually leads to more congestion.

The new strategy says it wants to "encourage people to shift from cars to more sustainable and healthy forms of travel, particularly for short local trips that make up the bulk of personal trips", but there are no plans to reduce car use or build a national network of cycleways. 

Instead, it’s more of the same: billions for road building.

Earlier in the year the government released its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy which set out a long term ambition to "make cycling and walking the norm for shorter journeys" but cycling and walking were classed as issues for local authorities. In contrast, the new government strategy of roads classes motoring as a "national priority".

A DfT press release said it was "good news for motorists", with plans to create a ‘Major Road Network’ with "access to a multi-billion pound road fund, funded by Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), for improvements such as bypasses."

The new strategy also claimed that it wanted to get the "best value out of the network and our investment … prioritising value for money" but the DfT has ignored its own statistics which show that investing in cycling has off-the-chart benefit-to-cost ratios.

This DfT report shows that investing in cycling brings huge economic, social and health benefits, with some cycling schemes having a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of up to 35 to 1. Cycling schemes have BCRs of 5.5:1 – the DfTsaid this means that "for every £1 of public money spent, the funded schemes provide £5.50 worth of social benefit."

The DfT’s "Value for Money" guidance says a project will generally be regarded as "medium" if the BCR is between 1.5 and 2; and "high" if it is above 2. In transport terms, 35 to 1 is most definitely "off the scale".

To put this into perspective, the Eddington transport study of 2006 said the BCR for trunk roads was 4.66, local roads 4.23 and light rail schemes a measly 2.14. The UK’s £43bn HS2 rail project has a BCR of just 2.3.

The DfT’s new strategy says it is investing £300m in cycling (over a number of years) and that "providing new cycle-ways and road networks that accommodate the needs of cyclists and walkers can encourage people to shift from cars to more sustainable and healthy forms of travel, particularly for short local trips that make up the bulk of personal trips." However, there are no plans for national cash for such cycleways.

Sustrans’ policy director Jason Torrance said: “Whilst balancing investment between strategic and local roads is welcome, the Transport Investment Strategy for England shows no sign of the UK Government prioritising everyday travel choices and increasing levels of cycling and walking, leaving Local Authorities to pick up the mantle of improving air quality, health and congestion with alternatives to car travel.

“Local Authorities in England must prioritise cycling and walking in their delivery of this Strategy if the Government’s ambition for cycling and walking to be the natural choice for shorter journeys is to be achieved – as published in the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy earlier this year.”

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