Sir Greg Knight is the latest Tory MP to claim that it's not motor vehicles which cause air pollution, but cycleways. In a parliamentary debate yesterday, the Yorkshire MP said:
"Is there not a case ... for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes? [Pollution] is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. If [the Mayor of London] wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes."
Knight has previously opposed 20-mph speed limits, higher parking charges and pedestrian zones.
The MP, whom the Daily Mail has described as a "petrolhead", is chair of the all-party parliamentary historic vehicles group (I wonder if he knows cars wouldn't exist without bicycles?) and the owner of a number of historic vehicles, including a 1972 Jensen Interceptor. This British classic has a 7.2 litre engine and is famously thirsty for petrol, and quite the polluter.
Another Tory MP to have owned an Interceptor – and who, perhaps, wasn't too keen on cyclists – is the Tory grandee Lord Carrington. Some years ago, the former foreign secretary said: “I remember once going up the M1 in my Jensen when I was a minister, and the police, I’m sorry to say, were unable to catch me. However, at the end of the M1 [there was] a policeman on a bicycle who said ‘I don’t know why they want you, but come with me.'"
Many of Margaret Thatcher's former ministers oppose cycleways. In 2015, Lord Lawson claimed that cycleways were more damaging to London than anything since the Blitz, and last month, during an air quality debate in the House of Lords, Lord Tebbit claimed the "cause of the excess nitrous oxide in the air in this area of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched [cycleway] barricades which have been put up by the former mayor.”
In the same debate Knight spoke in, transport secretary Chris Grayling – who's recently had run-ins with cyclists – said: "Emissions are generated not just by dirty vehicles, but when cars are stuck in traffic jams or crawl along slowly for long periods. The Government’s investment in the road infrastructure will therefore ease emission problems in areas in which congestion is the principal cause."
While Tory MPs and Peers may moan that it's cycleways that cause pollution and call for more space for cars, Britain's health watchdog National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has urged local authorities to introduce more cycleways across the UK.
And even motor magnates want to see the building of more cycleways. At a Ford conference earlier this year, the company's CEO gave a talk in front of a video where roads were shown morphing into cycleways. And Ford's executive chairman Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, has said new mobility solutions are needed for cities.
"Today there are approximately 6.8 billion people in the world, and within our lifetime, that number's going to grow to about nine billion. And at that population level, our planet will be dealing with the limits of growth. And with that growth comes some severe practical problems, one of which is our transportation system simply won't be able to deal with it.
"It's clear that the mobility model that we have today simply will not work tomorrow. Frankly, four billion clean cars on the road are still four billion cars, and a traffic jam with no emissions is still a traffic jam.
"The bigger issue is that global gridlock is going to stifle economic growth and our ability to deliver food and health care, particularly to people that live in city centres. And our quality of life is going to be severely compromised. The answer to more cars is not to have more roads."
The cycleways-cause-congestion-and-pollution meme is worring, believes Cycling UK's Roger Geffen, adding that there is no single magic bullet for reducing urban congestion, but that it requires a combination of measures.
“Cycle lanes can take large numbers of polluting vehicles off the road, with a typical road lane carrying an average of 2,000 cars per hour or 14,000 bicycles. The idea that cycle lanes actually worsen congestion and increase pollution overall is [wrong]. Quality cycle infrastructure gives people the opportunity to choose between driving and being stuck in a jam, or a safe, convenient and environmentally friendly way of making their journey.
“The problem we face across many of the UK’s cities is that motor traffic is simply increasing. The growth in use of private hire vehicles and delivery vans is outstripping other modes and straining a transport network already operating at capacity.
“Congestion is due to an excess demand of finite road space. If national and local government wants to reduce that demand, we will need some sort of pricing mechanism which deters people from driving, while making the benefits of the alternatives clear to all road users. This could be done by earmarking the revenue raised through congestion or toxicity charging for affordable public transport and better cycling and walking provision.”