The “cycling revolution” promised in the aftermath of the pandemic is under threat as councils across England have withdrawn schemes following objections from residents and local politicians.
While Boris Johnson talked in parliament of a creating a “golden age” for cycling in May as part of plans for the overhaul of cycle routes, it appears that not all of them are running smoothly.
The Guardian has identified six councils – Ealing, Wandsworth, South Gloucestershire, Trafford, Portsmouth and Surrey – where funded cycle routes have been cancelled.
The transport minister, Grant Shapps, invited local authorities in May to bid for a £250m emergency active travel fund that could be used to develop infrastructure and relieve pressure on public transport. Bike sales rose by 60% in April as thousands discovered cycling as a response to Covid-19 and avoiding public transport. However, two months later, several of the fledgling schemes are at risk.
A number of Conservative politicians have been campaigning against emergency active travel plans.
Crispin Blunt, the MP for Reigate, successfully lobbied Surrey county council to remove a cycle lane on Reigate High Street three days into a planned three-week trial period. In a blogpost, he said the road was “already a regular bottleneck” and the scheme was “a rotten way to burden [businesses] as they just reopen after lockdown”.
Part of another temporary cycle lane along the A56 in Trafford was removed after local Conservatives called on the Labour-controlled council to “urgently reconsider”, according to a report in Altrincham Today.
In Lambeth, south London, where the council plans to create a low-traffic neighbourhood in Oval, a local Conservative party sent leaflets to residents that read: “if you disagree with the scheme and [Lambeth council’s] approach, contact us and WE WILL FIGHT FOR YOU”.
The Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, Rupa Huq, has also voiced opposition to a low-traffic neighbourhood in her constituency, calling for the “madcap scheme” to be scrapped.
Huq said: “To clarify, I support schemes to encourage walking and cycling. The plans are well-intentioned but the overall scheme badly thought through and looks to be pushed through with no consultation.”
Ealing council later said the scheme would be cancelled due to planned utility works in the area.
In some areas, residents who oppose new cycle routes have taken matters into their own hands. In Lewisham, a movable bollard and sign marking a road closure were vandalised, while in Croydon, planters marking out a road closure were removed.
Ruth Cadbury MP, the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking, said: “Safe cycling and walking should not be a postcode lottery, and we are very supportive of councils that are being brave and trialling challenging schemes.”
Guardian analysis of historic Transport for London consultations shows cycle schemes have often been withdrawn or altered following consistent objections from Conservative politicians, taxi drivers’ organisations and residents associations in wealthy areas.
A review of 1,740 stakeholder responses to TfL’s public consultations on 83 new cycle routes between 2013 and 2019 found:
Sir Alan Duncan MP, the former minister of state for Europe, was one of several Conservative politicians who opposed a new cycling route over Lambeth Bridge. He said in his response he wanted to protect :a unique remaining Georgian corner of Westminster”.
He said: “TfL’s design work is a blight on London. No adequate thought is ever given to the aesthetics of the streetscape, and the proliferation of a forest of horrid-looking signposts is a disgrace.”
The analysis also found residents associations who responded to consultations were concentrated in affluent areas of London. Average property prices in the streets they represented were £1.3m, double the London average, according to Zoopla estimates.
These included residents’ groups in some of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods. The members of Chester Terrace Residents’ Association live in a Grade I-listed building overlooking Regent’s Park, where average property prices are £6.7m. The association objected to plans for a new cycle superhighway, claiming the scheme would cause congestion in the area. The CS11 route was later cancelled after Westminster council took legal action against TfL.
There is little evidence that segregated cycle lanes in London have increased congestion. TfL statistics on cycle superhighway routes have shown they increase efficiency by carrying more people per hour, and congestion is similar to pre-construction levels.
Simon Munk, of the London Cycling Campaign, said: “There is a real failing of political will when it comes to cycling schemes. Too many politicians are effectively mirrors for what their residents say, but there is a particular skew among people that respond to a consultation.
“Who has time to put pins in an online map? Who has time to read through 200 pages of documents? If you live in a wealthy area, you are used to raising your voice and having it heard.”
• This article was amended on 16 July 2020 to clarify that only part of the temporary cycle lane along the A56 in Trafford was removed.