Build Cycle Lanes, the Motorist Benefits.

Most conservatives/libertarians/UKIPpers are viscerally pro-car and anti-bike. To the likes of regular commenters Simon Jester or Patrick the use of the car is natural, and facilitating anything else is a dastardly plot to subvert his way of life. This is a perverse and willful misreading of my position. I will try to deal with the commonest arguments of the Gin & Jag set in this post.

I shall refer to the first sentence of my last post.

…most journeys of longer than a few miles, and for moving goods about the country, the motor vehicle is simply the best tool for the job.

Pro-bike is not anti-car. MOST JOURNEYS even in Holland, are undertaken by car. even In Amsterdam & Copenhagen, Bicycles account for less than half of journeys. Even in the most bike-friendly countries on the planet, the car remains well provided for by infrastructure, and a popular transport choice. It’s just the bike is ALSO well provided for.

What’s that next to this Dutch cycle lane? That’s right, a dual carriageway.

The solution to congestion isn’t as most Libertarian/Tory/UKIP Internet wallahs think, “more roads” because the problem isn’t a lack of road space, it’s the fact that everyone wants to get to the same places at the same time. The Problem is a lack of road-space at key points. For example the hanger lane underpass, or the Blackwall tunnel in London become choked beyond their capacity every single morning. If you build bigger roads to these spots, you make congestion worse, not better. This is what the M4 Bus Lane was all about.

A cursory search on Google Scholar will quickly put pay to the “build more roads” argument. This is from the first to pop up.

“Our decisions provoke unforeseen reactions. The result is policy resistance, the tendency for interventions to be defeated by the response of the system to the intervention itself… road building programs that create suburban sprawl and actually increase traffic congestion…”

So, barring a few pinch points such as the M25 around Heathrow, and by-passes which sensibly route through-traffic round town centres, more road-building is not the answer.

Then there’s the money. Libertarians, UKIPpers and Tories regard themselves and economically literate, in contrast to Labour who think economics is about getting water to flow uphill. People who should know better, however lose all economic sense when discussing their favoured means of getting about. Just because one group is taxed, doesn’t mean the money should be spent on them. If it were, income tax would largely go on well-tended grouse moors for the ultra rich who pay a significant chunk of it, the NHS’s lung-cancer wards would be the envy of the world, and vomiting drunks would have their hair held back by liveried booze-tax-funded drunk-helpers every Saturday night. Instead the money is put into a pot and spent by the government as it sees fit.

Taxes levied on motorists are not therefore some sort of “road fund” for their exclusive use. They’re more akin to rent. You don’t live in a house for free; you pay for the capital cost as well as the running costs. You pay rent (or taxes) on the land. If the money spent on roads each year is the running cost of our road network, it’s akin to utility bills. The rest of the tax motorists pay covers the cost of building the road network and financing it – 2,000 years of capital investment. You’re also paying for the “externalities” of car use.

There’s the word “externality” which brings libertarians out in hives because they think it’s part of some ghastly plot to deprive them of their car. It isn’t. It’s about paying your way. Some externalities like Carbon are explicitly calculated, in the Stern review for example. And of course, we are paying several times more to drive a car than would be the case if that was the only externality in the price. There are other externalities too. Some are trivial: I don’t like seeing fat people, and cars cause obesity for example. Some externalities however have real economic effects: Congestion is an externality imposed on other motorists with real economic costs. To ensure those costs are borne by those who value roads most, you pay through the nose to drive. This is why it works. Other externalities merely affect quality of life. Noise, danger, stress, particulates damaging to health and so on. To these I would add the social costs in atomisation and fragmentation of society facilitated by car-based urban sprawl.

People who in any other facet of life think markets are great at providing solutions to problems utterly reject them in transport. There should be a market between competing means of transport. However at present, all the investment goes to road and rail, nothing to any other potential means of getting from A-B, which might take some (SOME – not ALL, idiots) pressure off the road network at peak times. At the moment the market is grotesquely skewed in favour of the car, even where a bike would otherwise make sense, crappy infrastructure and subjective feelings of danger put people off using it. And it is this we need to address.

A bike on a commute is one fewer car in your way. Encourage cycling, and motorists benefit.

The externalites of urban sprawl, lack of local amenities, dead town centres, noise, pollution, social atomisation and social division which accompany the total domination of the car are uncosted but paid for in the “rent” you pay in taxes over and above the road budget. These bills could be reduced by better, bike and pedestrian friendly urban design. Some argue the externalities are more than covered by the current motorists’ tax-burden. Others think not. But to deny the existence of externailites alltogether is anti-economics, a stupid rhetorical position normally occupied by the left.

The experience of the Netherlands is if you make a small (relative to the road budget) investment, over a long period of time in making the roads feel safe for cyclists, everyone (including motorists) benefits. Many People then DO choose the bike because it’s quick, cheap, convenient and fun for SOME journeys. In Amsterdam just under half of journeys are by bike. And this benefits motorists in less congestion. Getting kids to cycle to school in particular frees parents from the chore of acting as a taxi service, and massively reduces congestion at rush hour. It also gives kids a bit of much needed freedom. Proper cycle lanes would mean fewer cyclist holding you up, a “problem” existing only in the fevered minds of anti-bike nut-cases, but oft cited none-the-less. More cyclists means more local shops as people get back in the habit of making short journeys instead of reaching for the car keys every time you leave the house, so you can get your paper and irn bru when you have a hangover on a Sunday morning without having to drive anywhere. It means your local pub is more likely to stay open, giving you a chance to gain that hangover in a social environment instead of tossing yourself off alone to the x-factor with a can of supermarket lager. It’s no coincidence that towns and cities with the highest bicycle modal share feature regularly at the top of indices listing “livability” and happiness. Even in these, most people own, or have access to a car.

The point is a change in the build environment to favour the cyclist or pedestrian doesn’t mean the car becomes obsolete. Rather it becomes one tool in a quiver for getting about, one chosen when the journey is long, when the weather is bad, when the load is heavy, or when you just don’t feel like riding a bike that morning. Cyclists are drivers and drivers are cyclists, eliminating hostility. However, in the UK many people who wish to ride a bike are currently denied that opportunity, to the detriment of all by infrastructure entirely inappropriate for their needs.

Any comment which ultimately says “I need a car for some journeys, therefore you should use one for all” will be deleted, unanswered. Read the first paragraph of this post again before pressing submit.

To deny there are any problems caused by the total domination of the car of our built environment is perverse and willfully blind. To pretend there are no solutions is stupid and unbelievably ignorant and selfish. Even Jeremy Clarkson sees that a town with fewer cars is simply more pleasant to be in – that is he admits the benefits of car use are offset by costs largely borne by others. No-one wants to see the freedoms granted by the private car lost. But I do want to see a return of the freedoms it has taken away.

12 replies
  1. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    "To the likes of regular commenters Simon Jester or Patrick the use of the car is natural, and facilitating anything else is a dastardly plot to subvert his way of life. This is a perverse and willful misreading of my position."

    This is a perverse and willful misreading of what I posted in the previous thread. As I pointed out then, I HAVEN'T OWNED A CAR FOR 6 YEARS.

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Simon, under the last post which argued that the car is too dominant, and excludes other posts, you started with "This is a rubbish, socialist post, Jackart.

    A full response would turn into a fisking, which I can't be bothered with – so I'll just point out a couple of the more glaring faults…"

    You then went on to suggest cars don't depreciate, and that driverless cars wouldn't be more efficient.

    In every post I write about transport policy, you pop up shouting "booo!"

  3. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    No savage hostility to cycles demonstrated in the quoted material, Jackart. Does this count as a tacit admission that you can't substantiate your previous assertion?

    "You then went on to suggest cars don't depreciate"

    Did I fuck! Prove it, with quotes.

    "and that driverless cars wouldn't be more efficient"

    No, I pointed out that you can't use a small pool of driverless cars to replace the vast majority of existing cars, because a large proportion of existing car usage is simultaneous (ie. during rush hours).

    How about addressing what I actually wrote?

  4. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Yes, and the use is simultaneous because there is no incentive (as there would be under a sensible road-pricing plan) for there not to be. A system of driverless cars would provide that incentive, AND be able to get more passenger miles out of the same road network.

    Obviously many would still chooose to have their own car, but the technology will facilitate those who don't need a car that often to hire one occasionally.

    It's not all or nothing. We're talking 'at the margin'.

  5. Weekend Yachtsman
    Weekend Yachtsman says:

    Oddly enough I agree with almost everything you've said here.

    (Oddly, because in the past I have disagreed vehemently)

    But "even in Amsterdam bicycles account for fewer than half of journeys"

    Reely? Fewer than half of journeys, not less than half of distance travelled?

    I am astonished. Presumably, your views being what they are, this is a true factoid, but considering that central Amsterdam is practicallyt submerged in bicycles, it's pretty surprising.

  6. Luke
    Luke says:

    Weekend Yachtsman, here is something on bike share of trips in Amsterdam – I suspect that Jackart may have used this. Whatever it seems like to us, apparently Amsterdam is not that high by Dutch standards. Also seems like there has been a big recent increase there, from 33-47%.

    I was interested you didn''t find much to disagree with – I'm basically a Jackartian on this issue, and was waiting for tirades, but nothing really, apart from Mr Jester's hurt feelings.

  7. WestfieldWanderer
    WestfieldWanderer says:

    I recall reading recently that the Netherlands is the second most congested country in Europe, after Belgium. The writer described cycling as "the grease that keeps the country moving". Sums up the benefit of increasing cycle and walking modal share quite nicely, I think.


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  1. […] I’ve driven in Sweden. It’s far, far more pleasant than doing so in the UK. Why? Because anyone who wants to cycle their journey, can. As a result, there’s less congestion, […]

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