Why promote cycling to work?


An over dependence of private motor vehicles has many consequences both for the individual and U.K. society as a whole. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the growing level of congestion experienced in our cities with the roads in many areas nearing maximum capacity.

Approximately 70% of UK households have access to a car. However, this means that 30% of households do not have access to a car and even within ‘car owning’ households there may well be individuals who do not have access to the family vehicle for many journeys. Given the large number of individuals who do not have immediate access to a private car, yet aspire to car ownership,  it seems certain that the current growth in car use will continue. This will be especially the case if alternative modes of transport are not developed. It is also very apparent that not only is the current growth in private car use is unsustainable existing levels of car use already have a significant negative impact on the quality of many peoples lives.

In many ways facilitating alternative modes of travel is a central key to creating a more just and inclusive society that recognises the equal rights of all citizens. For example, a failure to develop alternative modes of transport will have increasingly acute consequences for those who continue to remain car free as they will find it ever more difficult to access work, shopping and leisure facilities which assume that everyone has access to a private car.

Similarly, the roads infrastructure has for many decades been developed in a manner that has not given due regard to the needs of cyclists (or indeed pedestrians) as citizens and tax payers. This is despite the fact that the roads network is supposedly a public facility provided for the benefit of all classes of road user. Investing in more ‘cycling friendly’ roads does little more then redress a long term imbalance of investment in the road network.

It might be suggested that the current level of private car use simply reflects consumer demand. However, the structure of the ‘transportation market’ has been distorted by long term under funding of alternative modes of transport (such as the rail system, cycling facilities and public transport) whilst at the same time investing vast amounts of public capital in highway network. Such policies have led to an increasing dependence on the car through necessity, not choice, where the free market cannot operate effectively and consumers are forced into a set lifestyle by the lack of viable transportation alternatives.

In order to address these issues it is necessary to develop alternative travel strategies that both cater for the car free and to give those who are currently car users a realistic choice as to how they travel. Currently, many who would like to cycle do not because of the dominance of the roads system by the private car or they don’t have bike, in that case they can use bike rental. Facilitating alternative modes of travel, including cycling, is not about restricting the freedoms, rather it is about restoring to the individuals the freedom to choose how they travel.

The bicycle is ideally suited to many inner city journeys of up to 5 miles. Although long neglected by politicians and planners in the U.K. in many European Countries the bicycle plays a key role in meeting the mobility needs of a large section of the population. 

The potential of cycle use.

The European Commission report ‘Cycling the way ahead for towns and cities’ 1999 points out that in Denmark 60% of children cycle to school each day (in the U.K. the figure is less than 4%). In the Netherlands 66% of the population are regular cyclists, in Denmark 50% and in Germany 33% . In the U.K. only 13% of individuals are regular cyclists and many of these use bicycles primarily for leisure purposes. In Ferrara in Italy 31% of home-to-work trips are made by cycle, In Vasteras in Sweden 33% of all trips are made by bicycle and in Berne in Switzerland 15% of trips are made by bicycle despite roads in the city having a gradient of 7%.  In the U.K. only 1% of utility trips are made by bicycle, although there are large regional variations with areas. For example, locations such as York, Hull and Cambridge have European levels of utility cycle use.  Given such figures it is also  very apparent that there is almost certainly a large suppressed demand for cycle use in the U.K. and that this demand can be met if appropriate measures are taken. 

The benefits to your organisation of facilitating cycling to work.

A detailed breakdown of the potential benefits of developing a Company Travel Plan so as to reduce car dependence and increase levels of cycling are detailed within this resource when considering  the Nottinghamshire County Council booklet. These are summarised here as being

• Cut costs relating to the provision of car parking.

• Enjoy real cost savings on business travel.

• Enjoy easier access to your site for deliveries and staff.

• Obtain tax Relief.

• Support a Planning Application.

• Enhance your company’s image.

In the marketplace

In the local community

• Improve staff recruitment and retention.

• Have a wider pool of labour available for staff recruitment.

• Contribute to a more committed, healthy workforce.

The wider social benefits of promoting cycling to work.

There are a wide range of social and environmental problems which are the direct result of the continued growth in motor traffic and which can be alleviated by encouraging a shift from car use to cycling and other more sustainable transportation alternatives. These include:

1) The economic and individual costs of traffic congestion.

In 1993 The Confederation of British Industry calculated that the annual cost to British industry of congestion was £15 billion pounds per year and this has increased every year since then. Traffic congestion is also one of the primary sources of stress in modern society.

Although there is the widespread perception that private car use is a net contributor to the National economy, Whitelegg (1992) calculated that if all the indirect costs associated with car use are totalled (for example, the costs of pollution, traffic injury and death and the costs to the National Health Service arising from a  sedentary car bound lifestyle), the private car driver was being subsidised by £20 billion pounds annually.  In 1992 motor vehicle tax would have had to be increased to over £1000 per vehicle per year if the total costs of private car use were to be met by car users themselves. In the 11 years since this calculation was made these indirect costs have risen substantially. For example, the annual £5 billion cost of road traffic related injury and deaths used by Whitelegg in 1992 had risen to almost £11 billion per year by 2000.

2) The degradation of the environment due to pollution created by motor vehicles.

No motor vehicle can be considered to be ‘green’. Even lead-free petrol releases hydrocarbon derived toxins into the atmosphere and the particulates released by diesel engines are carriers of high-risk carcinogens. In addition, the majority of car journeys are only a few miles in length and for such journeys catalytic converters are ineffective in reducing emission levels.

The British Medical Council estimated in 1998 that 22,000 individuals die prematurely each year as a result of the pollution from car exhausts. Vehicle exhaust levels also significantly affect children. In many areas one third of children require treatment for asthma, either directly as a result of exposure to traffic fumes or because exposure has sensitised them to other factors.

3) The continued destruction of the countryside in an attempt to accommodate the ever increasing amounts of traffic.

This occurs despite the fact that it is now recognised that it is impossible to build ones’ way out of congestion. Creating new roads creates new opportunities to drive and may make existing journeys easier. The overall outcome of this is to increase the net number of vehicle journeys and a corresponding increase in congestion at those parts of the network with limited capacity.

4) A continuation of the high rate of death and injury resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

The death and injury toll from motor vehicle crashes is commonly regarded as a normal part of life, due in part to the dispersal of casualties. In addition to the personal impact of such crashes the financial cost of injury and death incidents, as estimated by The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, had  risen to £10.9 billion per year by the year 2000.

5)  Increasing dependency on the car is a key cause of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for many individuals. This has a wide range of negative effects on the health of the individual.

Levels of obesity are increasing along with obesity related diseases such as diabetes. The World Health Organisation has determined that living a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity by 50% with a wide range of other illnesses being made significantly more likely, including some forms of cancer.

In 2001 the Scottish Cancer foundation found that regular exercise could reduce bowel cancer by 50%. In 2002 researchers at the University of Bristol reported that regular exercise could reduce the chance of developing bowel cancer by between 40% and 50% and the chance of developing breast cancer by 30%. These findings were further supported by research from the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg(published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2003) which showed that 3 hours of moderate cycling per week reduced the risk of breast cancer by 34%. This report also suggested that cycling might be an especially effective form of exercise with regards increasing the individuals resistance to cancer.

Individuals also suffer from decreasing levels of fitness with a negative effect on their life quality and feeling of well being.  As a consequence sedentary individuals are also more likely to suffer from depression and mental health than those living a more active lifestyle.

6) High levels of car use have also led to degradation in the quality of life due to traffic levels, danger and noise.

Again this is particularly serious problem for children who spend their lives in cars without being able enjoy the personal development and health benefits previous generations gained from cycling and walking. As is the case with crime, the fear of traffic has a negative influence on many more individuals than those who actually become victims.

In addition the development of the road infrastructure itself has also had a significant adverse affect on quality of life and local communities. Major roads schemes, evident in cities such as Leeds, have severed links within communities and created areas of urban blight. In such areas residents often have to live in close proximity to networks of inner city motorways which individuals find alienating and hostile.

8) An increasing dependence on car ownership has exacerbated levels of social exclusion.

Those who choose not to drive or who cannot drive have become excluded from many aspects of normal social life. Many facilities, from cinemas to supermarkets have effectively become accessible only to car owners. In part this is due to a high level of car use resulting in a reduced demand for public transport, this in turn resulting in services being cut, leaving the car free isolated.  High levels of traffic also mean that many individuals feel that cycling or even walking are not viable options, even for short journeys. In addition, many facilities have been developed that are hard to access without a car, for example out of town shopping centres. Employers also frequently recruit from a wide catchment area or require staff to have a car available for ‘work’ use.

It is also significant that those who suffer most from social exclusion due to a lack of access to a private car are also those most likely to experiences the negative impact resulting from the car use of others. Children from the poorest backgrounds are five times as likely to be killed by a car then those from the richest backgrounds and poorer inner city areas often cut through with busy roads giving suburban dwellers access to city centres but creating pollution and danger for those who live in their vicinity.

This report lays out how ‘accessibility planning’ can be used to identify where social exclusion is arising as a result of individuals being unable to access jobs, learning, health care and leisure facilities. It also shows how action may be taken to improve access by ‘improving public transport, introducing more innovative travel options, or changing the location or delivery of the services people need.’ This approach is central to many of the initatives examined within this resource.

— November 29, 2018

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