Surrogates and segregation

You’ll have noticed that here at At War With The Motorist we like the idea of good segregated cycling infrastructure in places where bicycle users would otherwise have to interact with high volumes of fast moving and badly driven motor vehicles.  The point of developing the infrastructure is to develop mass bicycle use: having seen what has happened here and around the world, we’re satisfied that segregated paths are an important requirement for mass bicycle use; their absence a major barrier to it.

But mass bicycle use is not our ultimate goal either.  It’s just one way to help to achieve what At War With The Motorist really wants: places that are nice to live and work in.  Happy, healthy, stress-free cities and villages.  We want to remove the air pollution and noise pollution, the neighbourhood and community division and destruction, and the danger and intimidation from our streets: all problems that are caused or at least exacerbated by excessive use of motor vehicles (along with climate change, inequality of opportunity, war, and many other problems to explore one day in other posts).

And yet mass bicycle use is still not exactly the solution to our problems.  Because as we’ve seen again and again, create spare road capacity in London — by building a new road, displacing cars with a congestion charge, ripping out pedestrian crossings, or having a modal shift to trains and bicycles — and there will be ten others waiting to jump in that space.  Demand for road space in a city like London is so elastic that it will always be filled just to the edge of gridlock, whatever happens.

On segregated infrastructure, Carlton Reid says:

In such a car-centric society as the UK it is politically naive to demand to take meaningful space away from cars. Millions of vote-toting motorists would scupper any such plans. We have to build alliances with other active travel and true road safety organisations, not be single issue campaigners. And we probably have to recognise we’re not going to succeed with the present administration.

Mass bicycle use, if it were ever to be achieved without any changes to the roads, would likely make little improvement to the quality of our environs.  They would still be smelly, smoggy, noisy, nasty stressful places.  I would hesitate to call that a success.

So absolutely we should not get carried away and campaign on the single issue of segregated cycle paths, a mere surrogate endpoint.  Taking meaningful space away from cars is exactly what we ultimately need to be aiming for.  Not just building a bike path, but reducing the motor-vehicle capacity on the route of that path; making residential neighbourhoods impenetrable for through motor traffic while at the same time more friendly to people; getting motor-vehicles out of the narrow city centre side-streets that they’re destroying; and reforming the way we design new neighbourhoods, to prevent ourselves making the same old car-centric mistakes.

I don’t think those things are impossible.  Indeed, I see a lot of them already quietly happeningMost car users are not political Motorists: they want nice livable streets too.  They’ve let pedestrian zones and residential road blocks and people-friendly developments happen, and I’ve seen no evidence that they wouldn’t also let bike paths happen.  It is not car users who have being vetoing the development of good bike paths.