Westminster predicts car trip lengths will grow and cycle trips will fall…so plans for exactly that in self-fulfilling transport policies

UK Government is planning for a fall in cycling

Ever wondered why the Government has often swerved committing serious cash to cycling?

The Department for Transport is predicting that cycle usage will fall in the UK over the next couple of decades, with car journeys rising in the same period, shining light on its recent spending decisions

A detailed look at the topic by charity CTC has uncovered the statistical assumptions that the government is using to lead its spending decisions on roads and cycle infrastructure.

The National Transport Model (NTM) has the difficult task of examining potential demand for transport in relation to growing population, oil price, increasing average age of the population, etc. It’s the NTM that foresees a 43 per cent increase in levels of car use by 2040.

The NTM is used as a guide to what might happen, but is being treated by policy makers as an ‘inevitable outcome’ that must be prepared for, potentially scotching increased spending on cycling.

The CTC’s Chris Peck explains: "This is the ‘predict and provide’ approach that, in essence, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: your model predicts that car use will continue untrammelled, and further predicts huge congestion problems that might result. So, in order to prevent that congestion, you build new roads and plan new developments around everyone driving for 2/3rds of their trips and, decades later, hey presto: that’s what happens!"

While cycle trip lengths have been found to increase by 50 per cent over the last ten years (2.2 miles to 3.3 miles), the NTM predicts the trend will reverse, with cycle trip length falling over the next two decades (as will walking). Car and bus journeys will rise though, apparently. The DfT sees an initial rise in cycle use to 3.4bn miles in 2015 from 2.9bn in 2010, but then to slip back to 3bn in 2025 – a drop that is much more extreme in relation to the expected rise in population.

Peck added: "Not only has the Department for Transport utterly ditched the Get Britain Cycling idea of a 10 per cent of trips by 2025 target, they seem to acknowledge that current cycling policy will lead to a long term decline in cycle use.

"This in turn may mean that the Department is less inclined to put in the £10 per head required to reach the target, which will mean that we definitely won’t get close to 10 per cent by 2025.

"They are, in effect, planning to fail."

There’s much more on the fascinating (if slightly disturbing) topic on the CTC’s site here.

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