The will to solve traffic congestion, pollution, health, and prosperity lies not in the hands of the authorities, but in the struggle between the supine, and the sentient road user.
Cheshire East Research says that “Your response is very important to us”, but only apparently if you travel by car.
What is your main method of transport when travelling into the selected town centre?
Please select one box only
- • On foot
- • By bicycle
- • By bus
- • By train
- • By car
- • Don't usually go into the town centre
- • Other (please specify)Please enter an 'other' value for this selection.
Non-car users are asked only one policy question, vis: “How strongly do you agree that the council needs a parking strategy that is conducive to supporting businesses within its town centres.”
Why would anyone disagree?
The question could have read; “ How strongly do you agree that we should we be encouraging further traffic, congestion, pollution, danger on roads, worsening obesity and respiratory conditions, degradation of the quality of the town centre and general decline that always accompany increased levels of town centre parking.”
There are proven benefits for local retail centres as cyclists show themselves to shop more readily and more frequently than those who move mostly by car.It is not just bike shops that benefit from an increase in cycling, generally retail has been shown to benefit in cycle or walking-friendly areas.
Locally in Poynton after the infrastructure work to promote walking and cycling 80% of shopkeepers reported an increase in footfall.
UK studies across a range of establishment types show that customers who arrive by car spend more on average per trip than others, but taking the frequency of visits into account, however, reveals a different result — cyclists are greater spenders on average.
In a US study of twenty-seven retailers in San Francisco (really hilly, not nice and flat for cycling like most Cheshire towns!) an analysis was made of how bicycle lanes have impacted businesses. Four and a half years after the bike lanes were built, the vast majority of the interviewees expressed support for the bike lanes. Sixty-six percent of the merchants believe that the bike lanes have had a generally positive impact on their business and/or sales, and the same percentage would support more traffic calming. Thirty-seven percent of merchants reported that the bike lanes have increased their sales. Seventy-three percent thought that the bike lanes have made the street more attractive. Not one shop reported that the bike lanes had made conditions “worse”.
Critically this last point, that segregated cycle lanes in particular can give local businesses a boost, should be factored into Cheshire’s strategic plans for segregated and continuous
Cycling provision has been proven to be a better underpinning of retail or leisure business than free parking.
The survey does not allow anyone to say that they think parking fees should actually increase to reflect the true cost of cars in town: They ask if parking charges;
- ..are about right for the town centre
- ...are too expensive and discourage people from visiting the town centre
- ...if reduced would encourage me to visit the town centre more often
Even the British Parking Association could not find a relationship between footfall and the cost of parking. Retail research consistently shows that walkers and cyclists actually spend more in local shops because they are loyal, visit more often than drivers and have more disposable cash than motorists who bear the additional costs of car travel. The Sustainable Travel initiative is ongoing in Crewe and is already showing a shift away from car use. In similar project towns they found a reduction of 7-9% in the number of car trips, an increase of 10- 22% of bus trips per person, an increase of 26-30 % in cycle trips per person and a 10-13% increase in walking trips per person. The interventions were demonstrated to be high value for money, resulting in reductions in congestion and CO2 emissions, and increases in physical activity and town centre business.
The bus emerges as a key mode of access to towns and city centres. Bus has largest market share of retail and leisure trips to city centres at 33% (versus 30% for car, and 22% for walking and cycling). And bus users are responsible for 29% of total expenditure on retail and entertainment in city centres. Overall bus users contribute 22% of expenditure on retail and entertainment across all locations. A subsidy to encourage people to commute by bus – would benefit hard-working commuters, businesses as well as the economy more widely. KPMG LLP estimate that a tax incentive will generate a net benefit of £74.8 million per year to the UK economy.
The level of return on investment for cycling stands well ahead of other transport modes and in stark contrast to provision for cars, where there is a clear, negative impact on the wider economy.
The first tranche of benefits to Cheshire East’s strategic priorities would be reduced healthcare costs and a ‘bounce back’ as business sees fewer days off sick; increased physical activity and more widely a reduction in air pollution will cut both cardiovascular and respiratory problems leading to fewer hospitalisations and a better record when it comes to sick days.
Increased levels of cycling mean less money spent on road construction, repair and maintenance costs; less will need to be invested in parking spaces and the subsidies that go with them, and more widely we’ll see a business benefit through reduced congestion and a societal benefit as road safety levels improve. My Survey of Crewe pupils last year showed that just over half get a lift to school, despite the fact that almost all lived within 15 minutes’ walk. The reason that kept coming up was that traffic made it too dangerous to walk or cycle. What sort of a childhood is that?
Crewe has the highest obesity and respiratory death rates in the region. it’s clear that a substantial uplift in cycling levels will pay for itself across Cheshire in health improvements alone.
At its most simple studies shows that cyclists take just over one day less a year off for sickness. If the economic impact of this were mapped against the UK economy for every 1% increase in cycling reported, the economy will see a £95million benefit in terms of fewer sick days.
Cheshire towns are small and dense, with no room for the parking that current growth will need.
In terms of raw volumes, a car takes up the street space that can carry nine cyclists or an even more impressive 24 walkers: as a use of valuable city space, the bicycle makes good sense.
Studies across the world report a positive economic multiplier effect when cities invest in and embrace cycling. One study focused on Portland, Oregon, where businesses have a culture that accepts the bicycle mode, sometimes offering specials for those who arrive by bike, plus amenities such as lockers, showers, and other services that are less obvious from the street. Portland is actively pursuing this development concept, but the individual elements of bike-supported development are catching on nationwide, even when support from the business community is mixed.
Some cities are preparing ‘cycling accounts’ to show the overall impact of investment. The often cited City of Copenhagen methodology suggests that: ‘When a person chooses to cycle this is a clear gain for society of DKK 1.22 (13 pence) per cycled kilometre. Conversely, society suffers a net loss of DKK 0.69 (8 pence) per kilometre driven by car.’
Cheshire East Highways should embrace cycling. CEC is spending more than £35million around Crewe, with less 1% of that on dedicated cycle lanes. [I am happy to be proved wrong, but I cannot get data from CEC on spending] Even the heaviest cyclist will do virtually no damage to a cycle route.
Building cycleways is a critical step to getting more people onto bikes, particularly as women and older groups feel more safe in dedicated, segregated cycleways; the good news is that those cycleways are also a great economic boost to the city, too, but CEC has spent almost all of the £3.7m Local Sustainable Transport Fund on a bus that seems to run almost empty and paying staff to advise us to get on it.
I did try to convince an architect of the new Crewe Lifestyle Centre to put in adequate cycle parking that would encourage healthy lifestyle travelling to the centre but was told that the project had been ‘redlined’ and no further work was allowed. I am pleased that the centre has symbolically taken 200 car parking spaces but these need converting to cycle parking. The construction costs of a parking space for a bicycle amount to approximately 5% of the cost of a parking space for a car
In the UK studies have shown that car parking, particularly subsidised, has a major impact on travel choices and that it weighs heavily on the budgets of both businesses and local authorities in terms of infrastructure. Shopper and commuters should pay for what parking space actually costs.
There are also pollution costs to consider. Air pollution causes annual health costs of roughly £15 billion to UK citizens. This is comparable to the growing annual health costs of obesity, estimated at £10 billion. Road-based, fossil-fuel based transport has a significant part to play in those costs.
Water pollution can also be linked to car use with external costs including water damage from road salt, and leakage of oil, antifreeze, or other hazardous fluids. Locally there are also flood risk problems through increased impervious surfaces due to paving of roads and car parks.
And then finally there’s the residents and workers of Cheshire towns who can make the great bicycle transition happen. Did you know that only 43% of Crewe Central families have access to a car! [Census data} Why should they be choked by others fumes?
Reducing traffic will cut health costs not only in terms of obesity and respiratory problems, the more cyclists and walkers there are, the fewer proportion of accidents they have. Each major accident costs thousands of pounds in terms of health, business, traffic and of course grief. Did you know there were 79 vehicle related deaths in Crewe in the last 10 years and NO cycle deaths?
The London School of Economics placed the annual contribution of cycling to UK PLC as being around £2.9 billion per year, or £230 per cyclist.
This represents, by mode, possibly one of the swiftest returns on investment possible through Cheshire wide investment in sustainable transport infrastructure.
Up till 1983 Crewe had the highest proportion of commuting journeys by bike in the UK, (after Cambridge) We are now reduced to less than 8% and falling fast. Michael Jones described Crewe as Cheshire’s cycling centre. When you look at what Boris Bikes have done for London, or visit any European city you can see why re branding our towns into cycling centres is worth doing;
“If you were to concoct a recipe for becoming known as a sophisticated, stylish and contemporary conurbation, cycle chic is one of the key ingredients that you’d hurl in alongside coffee shops, a bohemian quarter, an arts festival or two,or a decent market.”
The facts outlined above are clear. If we make a generational shift in levels of cycling through high quality urban interventions and a shift in transportation culture, we have the potential to repay that investment quickly and dramatically through better health, better business and a transformed city environment. This is not done by encouraging town centre parking. Its done by consulting all the people who want to live and work in a liveable town.
Thanks to Peter Connor @headstretcher for data