Yesterday’s air quality debate in the House of Lords generated a lot of hot air but little of quality. Some peers claimed that London’s cycle lanes had caused both congestion and air pollution.
Tory peer Lord Blencathra said: "In London … unprecedented congestion [had been] caused by cycle lanes."
Cross-bench peer Baroness Valentine agreed, adding that "putting a cycle lane down the Embankment, which causes serious congestion, both adds to the pollution and pollutes the cyclists."
The Earl of Caithness, another Tory peer, also claimed cycle lane cause congestion and that "this is a huge problem for the emergency services." He also predicted the cycle lanes would be removed.
"We will suffer from not only the bicycle lanes—and more are going be put in—but the indignity of the whole thing being ripped up in the not too distant future," he claimed.
However, not all peers were dismissive of cycling. Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said London’s "wonderful cycle lanes … are doing so much for London." They have been a success, she said, "and now carry as many people as the Victoria line. They have replaced car traffic and relieved pressure on public transport, but we need more of them to reduce pollution to legal levels in London. People often fail to understand that every cyclist is somebody who is not taking up a seat on public transport and is not using a car."
Instead of demonising them, "we should be welcoming cyclists," she said.
"Cycle lanes also mean a healthier population. They encourage people to get exercise. Even if you are breathing the polluted air, you are still not breathing as much of it as car drivers, whose air intake is much lower. We will have cleaner, healthier people if we have more cyclists.
Lib Dem peer Baroness Randerson agreed:
"I do not join the chorus of anti-cycling comments we have heard today. It is vital that we encourage more cycling and more walking. [Cycle lanes] are making a real difference in encouraging new people on to bikes, and many of those new people are cycling to work and no longer driving their cars."
Cycling UK has criticised the peers who suggested cycle lanes cause pollution and congestion, calling them "out of date."
Taking place two days before a court hearing of the latest challenge to the Government’s most recent draft Air Quality Strategy by law firm Client Earth, the debate on Air Quality in London was called by Tory peer Lord Borwick. In his opening speech, Lord Borwick called on Government “to take even more steps to improve air quality,” but criticised cycle lanes.
The debate revealed a clear cross-party consensus on the need for action to tackle air quality, but divergent views on how best to do this. Several peers called for a new Clean Air Act and for investment in cycling. It was also noteworthy, that front bench spokespeople for the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Greens also urged the adoption of a wider aim of road traffic reduction. Others attacked cycle lanes, claiming they cause congestion and pollution while calling for more research on how best to tackle the problem.
Responding to the debate on behalf of the Government, Environment Minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble defended cycle lanes, saying: “It is important that we encourage cycling and walking as an investment. It is not only healthy but important to well-being.” Those who walk and cycle are avoiding shorter journeys by other means of transport and…in the long term, the more people we can get cycling responsibly and walking, the better.”
Commenting on the debate, Cycling UK Policy Director Roger Geffen, said:
"The sort of attacks on cycle lanes we heard in the Lords is the same out of date criticisms that were directed at bus lanes 40 years ago.
"London and other cities are right to want to invest in more cycling lanes to make their streets cleaner, healthier and more efficient. To suggest they do the opposite is contrary to the available evidence and experience of other continental countries which have made long term investments in cycling.
“Cycling UK is pleased and reassured to see the Government recognises that cycling is part of the solution for addressing our clean air problem, however we would urge them to listen to the experts and campaigners and accept the urgent need for a new Clean Air Act.”
These are not the first attacks on cycle lanes by peers. In 2015, Lord Lawson claimed that cycleways were more damaging to London than anything since the Blitz.
Earlier this year Lord Carlile told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a terrorist attack in London was, in effect, made easier by a paint-only cycle lane on Westminister Bridge.
And the pollution canard has also been used by MPs. Tory MP Sir Greg Knight – who drives a thirsty old muscle-car – told fellow parliamentarians that cycleways cause pollution.