Letter to Michelle Donelan

Ref http://www.transcoco.org.uk/michelle-donelan-responds/

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your response which I very much appreciated. 

With respect to CO2 emissions, yes I acknowledge that over the last few years there have been great increases in energy efficiency, coal fired power stations have been replaced with more efficient gas and latterly increased renewable production which has significantly reduced carbon intensity as a scientific fact.  However, any scientific fact has well defined ‘assumptions’ and ‘scopes’ which in this case do not include international shipping, air travel and the embodied CO2 within imported goods with the latter being the most significant.   The race to offshore manufacturing does not decouple our responsibility if we in the UK are the ultimate consumer.

My original correspondence was regarding transport and the policy of increasing road capacity through the Major Roads Network vs investing in the public realm and active travel.  There is acknowledgement from Wiltshire council’s transport strategy that we have not yet reached ‘saturation point’ in terms of vehicle ownership or use, so there exists in Wiltshire ‘suppressed demand’.  We continue to ‘design in’ the prioritisation of motor vehicles at the expense of walkers and cyclists in the urban environment and spend billions on the wider road network through initiatives such as the MRN.  Take a look at the Black Cat Roundabout improvement with a 10 mile dual carriageway for £1.4bn!

You make the statement that ‘expanding the road network does not necessarily mean that emissions will rise as a result’  however,  in a recent Dept. of Transport report on Induced Demand there is an acknowledgement that increasing capacity via the MRN will increase traffic in areas where there is poor public transport provision.  Wiltshire has poor public transport provision and, as you have experienced, it’s walking and cycling infrastructure is even worse therefore further increases of road capacity around Chippenham is highly likely to increase traffic.  

Induced demand is something I believe the previous transport minister Mr Grayling failed to understand because he is stuck in a culture that equates driving with economic prosperity.  This culture permeates the design standards used to build our towns and cities making them dangerous for walkers and cyclists.  The new housing developments around Chippenham and Corsham are designed to accommodate the car first without much regard for walking and cycling.  We are therefore continuing to design our transport infrastructure to privilege car use that will result in further pollution, increases in diabetes, cancer, depression, Alzheimers, business sick days, reduced productivity and the general impoverishment of our public realm that has been widely documented. 

These design standards are currently being used to construct the new cycle track on the Easton Lane in Chippenham around Methuen Park.  From what has already been constructed and the existing plans, it looks like it actually helps to privilege motor vehicles at the expense of  walkers and cyclist who are required to negotiate unnecessary bollards and chicanes and give way more often than motor traffic.  There is no obvious traffic free route into Methuen Park where people work and shop or route across the A4 roundabout.  The design for the route across the Pheasant roundabout has still not been published and I would wager it giving priority to motorised traffic.  We need better design standards in Wiltshire such as the Cambridge Dutch roundabout (£0.8m), currently under construction, that prioritises walking and cycling over motorised transport or adopt the Oxfordshire Design Standard that does not use unnecessary chicanes and does provide priority for cycle paths at junctions.

What you say about electric cars and their batteries lasting for 1 million miles is actually missing the point.  First the CO2 cost of production is upfront so just when we need to reduce those emissions, the embodied CO2 inherent in the manufacture of Electric cars and their batteries will increase it.  Getting a ‘green benefit’ in 20+ years time will be too late as the general scientific consensus is moving towards 12 years to overt global catastrophe yet the government subsidises electric cars with up to £3,500 each. There is also significant environmental cost in Lithium extraction due to the required water extraction used in the refining process that impact indigenous cultures in Chile and Tibet.  Second, at least 60% of all car journeys have just one occupant and its seems, despite the encouragement from government and industry, there is no appetite to car-share the commute.  With a single occupant, over 90% of the input energy is moving the car with less than 10% moving the person (these figures can be worse for electric cars because the batteries are so heavy).  Contrast this with electric buses that could also enjoy longevity technology.  Although their batteries are 10 times the size of those for a standard electric car, electric buses have the potential to provide vastly more passenger miles with the same energy input providing a much quicker green benefit.  Perhaps this is where subsidies should be targeted as London has only 96 fully electric buses while Shenzhen in China has 16,000.  

Your experience of cycling as being dangerous does resonate with what other people have said to me.  I have been using a bike to get around all my adult life and I generally get a ‘near-miss’ every week so I empathise with what you say.  I think we can agree that there is a serious lack of cycling infrastructure which needs to change so that walking and cycling are more privileged to allow it to become the best way to get around.  It seems that even the Department for Transport said this in a recent Tweet that ‘Walking and Cycling should be the natural choice for shorter journeys’.  I look with optimism to the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as an adviser in the Transport Department who was once London’s Cycling Commissioner under Boris.   

Your assertion that ‘…Children under-15 and older people over-65 together make up nearly 40% of the UK population – a large number of which will not be able to cycle as a primary or even secondary means of transport..’  is deeply ambiguous.  Have you written off the over-65s because most of them have had cars throughout their lives, have not exercised so they are physically incapable?   Are you also saying that children under 15 cannot cycle because their parents think its too dangerous?  A recent TFL report that was partially financed by Dept. of Transport stated that 81% of Londoners said they could cycle including 3 out of 4 over-65s and 76% of disabled people. Actually the 65-75 group is one of the big users of electric bikes and those who have cycled all their lives are cycling into their 80s. 

Electric bikes and electric cargo bikes are revolutionising transport both in Europe and America.  One in four households in Copenhagen have a cargo bike for the school runs and shopping etc.  If we were able to replace old petrol and diesel cars with electric cargo bikes then the energy consumption and corresponding CO2 emissions would really begin to fall.  These changes, that are beginning to happen in UK cities, have been facilitated by good street design and cycle infrastructure but there is a long way to go. We are 40 years behind the Dutch, Danes, Germans and French but it is possible to catch up as the Spanish, US and other countries are proving.  This success needs to be translated into our local towns such as Corsham and Chippenham but it can only be done with good design and the political will to finance it.

The current modal share for cycling in Wiltshire is 2%.  As well as the health and well-being benefits, getting the modal share to 10% would provide huge economic benefits as people who walk and cycle spend more in the High Street than people who drive cars, see studies from Portland, Los Angeles, New York, Dublin, Copenhagen and Bern in the TFL report. Abandoning the MRN and putting money into Active Travel, Public Transport and the Public Realm is the only sensible way forward.

If you still want to visit your consistency surgeries by (e)bike then I would be happy to provide an escort.  

With thanks for your attention and 

With Best Regards

Richard Moulton