Public overestimates opposition to new bike lanes by 50%, research shows

The public sees the benefits of more bike lanes in the UK but overestimates opposition by more than 50%, research commissioned by Cycling UK has shown.

The charity said it is concerned this ‘incorrect perception’ of public opinion is preventing councils from having the confidence to roll out new cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods, as they don’t realise that the public support is three times more than the opposition.

The findings were revealed in a poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of Cycling UK, which found that more than half of the UK supported Government schemes, including new cycle lanes, to encourage people to cycle and walk more (56%), while 19% opposed them and 10% strongly opposed them.

Almost one in five (19%) of people stated they were opposed to these schemes themselves, while 29% thought the general public at large were opposed to them. Estimates of public support for the Government schemes were also considerably lower (33%) than the actual levels of support when people were asked about their own views (56%).

Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said: “Cycling UK is concerned councils’ overestimation of opposition to bike lanes and other means to ensure people can travel safely and children go to school without risk or danger is preventing proper analysis of the evidence. But too many councils are overestimating the opposition to these schemes and overlooking the evidence.

“In recent months, Cycling UK has seen multiple reports of people claiming there is widespread opposition to the building of new bike lanes, but this and other surveys shows there’s nothing widespread about it – just a small number of loud voices. This survey shows people clearly want safer, cleaner streets where they feel confident their children can play and exercise without the threat of danger, but they overestimate public opposition to bike lanes massively.”

Earlier this month, transport secretary Grant Shapps released £175 million to councils in England for building new cycle and walking facilities. He also wrote to councils urging them to rely on evidence rather than the ‘loudest voices’: “Consultation should include objective tests of public opinion, such as scientific polling, to cut through the noise and passion schemes can generate and gather a truly representative picture of local views. It should engage stakeholders, including local MPs, but it should not be confused with listening only to the loudest voices or giving any one group a veto.”

Cycling UK, however, said it is concerned that for many councils the attention given to the ‘loudest voices’ is having an ‘undue influence’ on decision making, citing Kent as an example, where a third of new active travel schemes have been removed following vocal local opposition. The charity hopes this latest research will reassure local decision-makers that the silent majority is in favour of safer and more child-friendly streets.

“‘He who shouts loudest’ is no way to run public policy – especially when it’s not representative and has such a negative impact on safety, the environment, local economy and public health,” added Dollimore. “Councils must look to proceed on the basis of data and evidence, and this survey shows that this is what the vast majority of the public want and expect.”

The research also found that 79% of UK resident saw the amount of motor traffic as the primary reason for congestion. Just under two-thirds saw driving short, local journeys (59%) and just over half thought the number of vans and lorries on the road (52%) as further contributory factors. Compared to these, only 26% thought bike lanes contributed to congestion.

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