I've seen several variants of the "green" case against cycle facilities:
Cycle Paths will cause flooding
This is an interesting one. People believe that the run-off from a cycle path will cause drainage problems. The cases which I have in mind were discussions in Cambridge about surfaces for new cycle paths. Some campaigners were asking for soft and porous surfaces on cycle paths on the grounds that these would be less environmentally destructive than asphalt or concrete.
They're right, of course, on a simplistic level. However, the cycle paths being discussed were routes for transport, for many commuters and students. They were an alternative to taking a motor vehicle along a road. There are then several reasons why this argument is wrong:
- Roads are always surfaced with asphalt or concrete, causing just the same drainage problems. However, these are built with a wider surface.
- Roads add the problem of run-off containing oils and other fluids from the vehicles using them.
- The level of maintenance needed is much higher than that of a cycle path because heavier vehicles destroy the surface they run on much faster than do lighter vehicles.
- Seen as an alternative to an additional lane on a busy road, even the best quality of cycle path uses fewer resources and causes fewer drainage problems.
- It is possible to construct a cycle path so that it also acts as a drain.
|Dutch cycle path designed to|
operate also as a drainage ditch
Cycle Path lighting will cause light pollution
A related argument, from the same place, was that proper lighting on a cyclepath would produce excessive light pollution. Specifically I remember this as an argument about a cyclepath which would parallel the A14 - a very busy road near Cambridge.
|Solar powered studs embedded in the|
surface don't work because they don't
light the surface but only show where
some of the edges are. In this example
from Cambridge, stud lights hid the
kerb from riders and caused crashes.
- Any possible harm caused by cycle path lighting is much smaller than that caused by existing lighting and vehicle headlights on the parallel road.
- Every person riding a bike uses headlights which cause less light pollution than if they had been driving a car.
- If the cycle path is successful enough that road expansion does not go ahead, then the savings can be far greater than the costs.
Not all cycle paths have to be lit at all times. However, Good lighting in some locations is essential not only to make sure that cyclists can see where they are going but also to overcome problems of low social safety.
Trees would have to be removed
A third argument, used quite recently by campaigners in Cambridge to argue against building better provision for cyclists was that old trees would have to be removed. In the particular case, the concern was about trees which had been standing since the 1930s.
There are several reasons why this argument also doesn't stand up.
|22nd April 2008. Trees removed|
for major works on this bicycle
road have just been replanted
Eventually, any urban tree will become too large and need replacing. This is an ongoing process in all cities. It happened right outside our home when we lived in Cambridge. To bring forward the replacement of a few trees to enable construction of top class cycling provision (as in the photos on the right) benefits the environment.
|13th May 2011. Three years later,|
the new trees already look good.
The Netherlands manages to plant a lot of trees and to build cycle paths. Indeed, Assen is built around six woods, one with trees dating back to the middle ages. There is a strong policy for tree planting which has no equivalent that I'm aware of in the UK.
|From a hill you can see how green Assen is. The many cycle paths have not had a negative effect.|
Cycling is often promoted as "good for the environment". Often cycling campaigners are also interested in other environmental issues, and that is of course a good thing.
However, the bulk of the population are not "hair shirt" environmentalists willing to make compromises in comfort when they cycle. A high standard of provision is required to attract those not predisposed to cycling to take part. The average person needs a higher level of subjective and social safety than "cyclists" need. They won't cycle if it is something which is endured rather than enjoyed.
The good news is that cycling remains both beneficial to the environment and also cheaper than the alternatives even if cycling facilities are built to a high standard. If cycling is to reach out from the few to become something which is truly for the masses then it must be attractive and inviting. It must offer a level of comfort as well as offering direct and efficient journeys. Building cycle facilities to a lower standard, whether to save money or because it is more "green" is a false economy.
There are many myths and excuses sometimes used to explain why there is little cycling elsewhere. Many people find it easier to propagate these than to face the real reasons.