Helen introduced Lynn Sloman, our speaker, to the meeting. Lynn has been a transport campaigner for fourteen years, involved with organizations such as the Camden Transport Forum, Transport 2000 (where she was Assistant Director for ten years) and most recently Cycling England. Her book, Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-Addicted Culture, has just been published.
Lynn sits on the board of Cycling England – Cycling England
which has been going since May 2005, replacing the National Cycling Strategy Board. It is funded by and reports to central government. Its job is to get more people cycling, more safely and more often.
The problem is that far too little is spent on cycling. The figure for the UK as a whole is about £1 per citizen per year, whereas in the better continental European cities, such as Freiburg, it is between £5 and £10 per citizen per year. The nearest we get in the UK is somewhere like York – about £4 per citizen per year – whereas London is only just starting to get up to £3-£4.
The difficulty is that local authorities don’t have enough to spend on cycling and the Department of Transport isn’t prepared to ring-fence funds for them to spend on cycling. Cycling England’s role is to get round this by providing specific funding for local authorities.
There are three main areas where CE is directing its money (£5 million a year):
(1) youth projects – to get more young people cycling, as unless they get going before they’re 20, they’re very unlikely to take it up. This involves funding Sustrans to promote ‘safer routes to schools’ and working with CTC to increase the number of instructors trained to the new ‘National Standards’.
(2) generic local authority support, replacing the work of the English Regional Cycling Development Team, which was disbanded eighteen months ago.
(3) cycling demonstration towns, six of whom have now been selected to receive special funding to show (it is hoped) what can be achieved if spending is raised to the better continental figures. The lucky six are Brighton, Darlington, Derby, Exeter, Lancaster and Aylesbury. They will get £1½ million each from CE and then have to match-fund this, bringing average spend per citizen per year to about £10. The funding is so far due to run for three years, and it is obviously hoped that it will continue after then, but also be increased to include more locations.
Lynn then turned to talk about her new book, Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-Addicted Culture. In this she emphasizes that car dependency is a very recent phenomenon – since the 1950s there has been a 1500% increase in traffic levels. This hasn’t just happened by accident, but is rather a direct result of specific policies and government actions, in particular motorway building and the development of out-of-town supermarkets, retail parks and multi-plex cinemas (i.e. and not because people love driving). Transport professionals now recognize the pernicious effects of car-culture, but are prone to throw their hands in the air and say that nothing can now be done about it, because people have to use their cars and in any love using their cars. Lynn thinks both claims are false.
Researchers at Aberdeen University have classified car-drivers into four groups: (i) die-hard motorists (Jeremy Clarkson et al); (ii) complacent car-addicts; (iii) aspiring environmentalists (who also cycle and use public transport etc); (iv) malcontented motorists (who find driving stressful and unpleasant). So how do UK motorists divide up? Studies have shown that there are roughly 25% of drivers in each category – which means that 50% of motorists would prefer to get out of their cars, but need to have realistic alternatives. Are such alternatives providable?
Other researchers have looked at the actual journeys drivers make, and have found that these fall into three categories: (i) stubbornly car-dependent – e.g. taking relative to hospital, transporting heavy loads; (ii) perfectly possible to do by alternative means; (iii) could be done by other means if services and facilities were improved. The percentage split tends to come out at 20%/40%/40%. So it is only a small fraction that can’t be changed – and these we should simply not worry about. Of the remaining majority of journeys, the first 40% can be addressed by ‘soft’ or ‘smart’ measures designed to change transport behaviour (such as the TfL cycle maps – Lynn had other examples as well) and the second 40% by small-scale adjustments implemented on a locality-wide basis and with local community involvement.
Lynn concluded on an optimistic note: she believes that the kind of social change she is advocating is possible and can come about through a combination of top-down initiatives (e.g. Cycling England) and bottom-up enthusiasm and endeavour (e.g. CCC and the rest).
Following Lynn’s packed and stimulating talk, there were many questions:
- how to deal with the fact of car-addiction, given that addicts are usually reluctant to recognize they have a problem? Lynn felt it was important to emphasize that it is society that is addicted, more than individuals, and that when engaging individuals, the best thing was to stress the positives of using the car less rather than trying to make them feel bad.
- what is the role of technology in enforcing speed limits and such like? Transport for London are currently experimenting with using cameras to enforce 20 mph zones (in Camden). Lynn added that she in on the panel considering the road pricing proposals for the West Midlands, and will see how it unfolds, but didn’t think that it would get off the ground for fifteen years or so.
- in terms of campaigning priorities, Lynn felt that arguing for road space reallocation was a better bet – about 1/3rd of urban landspace is taken up with roads, forecourts, parking areas and such like, made unusuable for the rest of us by motor traffic.
- Mayer argued that Lynn’s strategy was too long-term to address excess carbon consumption and that more drastic action needed to be taken more or less immediately. Lynn replied that she was not just recommending ways of making existing journeys differently but also suggesting that fewer journeys ought to be made. If carbon rationing is to be brought in (and she does address the issue in her book) it will be important to get people to agree to it, and her approach would help with this.
- a final question picked up on Lynn’s reference to Cycling England’s ‘capacity building’ endeavours with cycle training organizations – what about with groups like ourselves? Given the importance of local community involvement in designing the kind of small-scale improvements that would encourage people to use their cars less, is Cycling England thinking of ways to support groups like CCC in their dealing with the plethora of cycling initiatives they face? Lynn agreed that this was something it should think about.
Lynn was thanked by all present for an excellent talk and the meeting came to an end.