Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum of Richard H Burnett-Hall (IT 1)



  1. I welcome the Committee's decision to invite evidence on the White Paper on the Future of Transport, and would like to submit the following comments on the proposals in the White Paper in so far as they relate to encouraging more cycling in towns. I am a solicitor and Head of the Environmental Law Group at Bristows, of 3 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3AA; a past Council member of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association, who has given evidence on behalf of the Association to your Committee on several occasions in the past; a member of the Advisory Council of the Environmental Industries Commission; and author of "Environmental Law" (Sweet and Maxwell, 1995). This evidence is however given entirely in my personal capacity, and not on behalf of any organisation.

  2. I cycle to work in Lincoln's Inn Fields virtually every day from my home in Notting Hill Gate, a journey of some five miles. I do so partly for the exercise, and partly because the journey on the Central Line (between Notting Hill Gate and Holborn) was, and I believe still is, highly unreliable—not only seriously erratic, but also often massively over-crowded as a result. I quite often use the Paris Metro, and its service is dramatically better, with trains generally available at intervals of less than five minutes throughout the day, including at weekends. Ironically, though I strongly favour cycling, I might not have been encouraged to take it up if the service on the Central Line was as good as the Paris Metro. If public transport becomes as good as it will have to be to attract to it a significant proportion of people who currently use their cars, then even more effort than seems to be envisaged will be needed to get non-cyclists on to cycles.

  3. In my case I am able to take a route that is to a considerable extent cycle friendly—through Hyde Park, and along the Mall and the back streets by Covent Garden. Few are so fortunate. Even so, there are several major hazards, notably Bayswater Road, and especially the maelstroms around Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park Corner, and Trafalgar Square. While I have managed to negotiate these with safety, so far at least, I would not for a moment encourage anyone less active to attempt them.

  4. I am far from being anti-car. I have a car myself, which I use most weekends and on business, and drive some 12,000 miles a year.


  5. I am very glad to see the positive attitude towards encouraging cycling shown in the White Paper. Its emphasis on promoting cycling by children to school is highly laudable. My comments here are primarily intended to address issues affecting a different group of people, probably just as large, namely adults who regularly travel in towns but do not use their cycles for this, though many of them would like to do so. (This group could well include these same children in five or 10 years time). Nevertheless many of my comments are I believe equally applicable to the changes needed to get children on to their cycles too.

  6. Those who already use their cycles regularly in the present adverse conditions are inevitably not representative of the many more people who must take up cycling if the White Paper targets are to be met.[1] We are not necessarily fitness freaks—at my age (63) I am certainly not—but we have to be quite athletic to be reasonably confident of surviving, or else be remarkably indifferent to our safety. Much of the danger to cyclists is directly related to the difference between their speed and that of the surrounding motor traffic. Those who are to be encouraged on to their cycles will be bound to be, on average, slower, and also less familiar with ways of minimising the dangers they will be exposed to.

  7. The White Paper rightly calls[2] for a variety of improvements for cyclists, such as adapting existing road space for cycles, and providing better facilities at crossings. However such improvements, though welcome to those who already cycle, will not remove the main reason why so many remain, often reluctantly, non-cyclists—the fully justified fear of physical harm. If significantly more people are to take up cycling, they must be confident that their desired route will be adequately safe throughout their entire journey. If their route is liable to land them at any point in traffic conditions that they feel unable to negotiate in safety, then they will never start, no matter how excellent the cycle lanes and other facilities either side of that point. Equally, if the only available options to braving the traffic are either to take a lengthy (and, all too often, very unattractive) detour, or else to dismount and become a pedestrian pushing a bicycle inconveniently for any substantial distance, then the advantages of cycling will be largely lost and, again, they will never start. Addressing these concerns is not a policy of perfection, but a pre-requisite to achieving the White Paper's cycling targets.

  8. This leads to three broad conclusions:

    8.1  In the larger towns and cities at least, there must be a comprehensive network of cycle routes—not just a few showpieces—providing for all the journeys that most people are likely to make. These must not involve a serious traffic danger at any point along their full lengths. Also the public must be well informed where these routes run.

    8.2  The cycle lanes in these networks must be continuous, and not disappear just where they are most needed, at points of major motor traffic flow.

    8.3  All cycle lanes must be kept clear of obstructions, and parked cars in particular, at all times when there is significant motor traffic.


  9. Making cycle lanes continuous is not of course just a matter of improving conditions for cyclists. There are many roads that are just wide enough to take two lanes of vehicles. If a cycle lane is to be carved out of these, often the only feasible way that does not prejudice pedestrians will be to force the motor traffic into a single lane. Understandably, this would provoke considerable outcry, unless it was accompanied by genuinely adequate alternatives for roughly half of the vehicle drivers. On the other hand, if those alternatives are available, then the narrowing of the road would reinforce the pressures on drivers to make use of them.


  10. The White Paper pays special attention to London bus lane enforcement, but is completely silent on the enforcement of cycle lanes. This is a major and regrettable—perhaps even significant—omission. Cycle lanes, as just mentioned, will not serve the purpose of getting more people cycling unless they are continuous. This means, among other things, that they must be unobstructed at all relevant times. It can be highly dangerous to be forced out from a cycle lane into fast moving traffic to get round a parked car, all the more so after dark and in the wet. Precisely because there is a cycle lane, drivers understandably expect cyclists to be out of their way. If a cyclist suddenly appears in the line of vehicle traffic, moving at half its speed or less, then he/she is at considerable risk.

  11. There has to be a change of culture so that it is acknowledged that it is no more acceptable (except in real emergency) to park a car on a cycle lane than it would be to park on a railway track or a tram line. If a car wishes to stop, then it should either remain on the part of the road allocated to cars, or else pull off to a proper parking area. Currently, many drivers are only concerned to avoid obstructing other motor vehicles, when they want to stop, and see cycle lanes as useful places to achieve this. This is not likely to change while the police themselves can be seen to behave in the same way. Similarly, there is no justification for e.g., builders' skips or workmen's shelters to be located automatically on cycle lanes rather than in the part of the road designated for cars. Even the kiosk selling entry tickets for Buckingham Palace is placed so that it completely covers and blocks off the cycle track at that point, leaving little enough room for pedestrians, let alone cycles as well. What are cyclists on that track meant to do? Indeed, did anyone in authority ever consider the question before locating the kiosk there?

  12. There seems to be an in-built assumption among many authorities that facilities for cyclists are an optional extra, that can be withdrawn, at will and without notice, if they conflict with any other requirement for space. While there may of course be some occasions when cyclists' interests should take second place, it should be much more clearly spelled out by Government to the police and local authorities that whenever the interests cyclists are subordinated to those of other road users, its objective of increasing the number of cyclists will be undermined.

  13. There need to be firm rules against misuse of cycle lanes, and widespread publicity given both to the rules and to the reasons for them. Vigorous and constant enforcement will also undoubtedly be essential to bring about the necessary culture change among many drivers. If fines from enforcement are kept by the enforcing bodies, there should be no net costs to council tax payers, and no sound reason not to enforce effectively.


  14. The White Paper makes favourable mention of the London Cycle Network in the section on Integrated Transport in London, and this is certainly welcome. Nevertheless progress on the Network is painfully slow given the mostly very modest work on the ground that much of it requires. I would urge that completing this be given a far higher priority. It is a simple means of encouraging non-cyclists to start cycling, though there would have to be adequate publicity to make them aware of its existence and of where the routes run—at present there are virtually no signs of it on the ground. The costs would not be great, it would represent a clear commitment to radical change, and in so far as it created pinch points on routes currently full of cars, would be a demonstration project illustrating the change in traditional priorities sought by the Government, and sending appropriate signals to local authorities elsewhere who have similar problems.


  15. Though this issue might be thought to be a purely local matter, and not properly one for the Committee, it concerns the policies of the Royal Parks Agency, which the Committee can influence much more effectively than the ordinary public, and I suggest that it should. Cyclists whose journeys to and from work in central London take them through Notting Hill Gate—there are many, and there would I suspect be many more given suitable conditions—are currently banned from cycling in any part whatsoever of Kensington Gardens (a ban that appears to be enforced much more rigorously than illegal parking in cycle lanes!). This is quite unjustified. It forces the cyclists to remain on Bayswater Road, where (unless they escape on to the pavement, which quite a few do) they have to mingle closely with much heavy, and often alarmingly fast, traffic, and through the particularly unpleasant and dangerous traffic flow around Lancaster Gate. It is a classic example of a stretch of road that prevents many people from taking up cycling to work.

  16. The Royal Parks Agency has to my knowledge had the strongest representations made to it by the Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to retain and enforce this ban, on the grounds of preserving the peace and tranquillity of the Gardens. I fully respect, and indeed share, that objective, but there are other interests equally deserving of attention. Specifically, even assuming that cyclists might cause some minor degree of disturbance,[3] if they had suitably assigned cycle tracks it would be minimal, especially in the weekday rush hours when relatively few pedestrians are about, and it could not compare with the very real physical danger that the cyclists must face every day directly because of the ban. Moreover, cyclists of course appreciate the Gardens as much as most people, and they are being deliberately denied this pleasure—one that would indeed be a real incentive to cycle to work. Further, given the lack of safe alternative routes, the ban runs completely counter to what is advocated in the White Paper.

  17. I would invite the Committee (i) to ask the Royal Parks Agency to revise its policies towards cycling in the parks under its control, and (ii) to propose appropriate guidelines for the Agency to work to. Such guidelines should expressly promote action in support of the aims of the White Paper, while of course seeking so far as possible the preservation of the parks as areas of pleasure and recreation for all. It is to be noted that Hyde Park has several excellent and attractive cycle lanes, and there remains ample space for those who wish to keep away from bicycles to do so. The same could be just as true in Kensington Gardens.


  18. The White Paper raises the question of whether motor cyclists should be allowed to use bus lanes. From the perspective of a pedal cyclist this would be highly undesirable in all cases where the bus lanes are also designated as cycle lanes. Pedal cyclists and motor cyclists do not mix safely—the latter generally go far faster, and can be lethal to the pedal cyclist in the event of an accident. Allowing motor cyclists to use such bus lanes would largely destroy their value to pedal cyclists. Of course, if there were a parallel cycle lane separate from the bus lane, then this issue would not arise, and I would leave it to others to answer the question.

12 August 1998

1   These targets are for a doubling of the number cycling in 1986 by 2002, and a further doubling by 2012. Back

2   In Chapter 3, Integrated Transport-Making it Easier to Cycle. Back

3   It is very questionable whether cyclists would cause material additional disturbance, given the constant presence of (permitted) rollerbladers. Back

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