Bottlenecks ahead, even for Hoverboards

Millfield House open again  13397 - Version 2

So, Philip ‘Hoverboard’ Hammond has got his wish. More tarmac; more expensive train journeys; subsidies for electric cars.

Up to 500,000 public sector employees might lose their jobs but at least those who can afford £30,000 e-cars will get sweeteners.

The Comprehensive Spending Review is light on details (especially the devilish ones) and we’re to expect expanded comments from Department chiefs soon. Hoverboard Hammond will spell out his cut-backs and new-builds next week.

I shouldn’t imagine he’ll mention the abolition of Cycling England. No doubt he’d rather cycling was in another Department; Health maybe or Sport. Why should it be in Transport, he must reckon, cycling is a mode of another age.

Electric cars. For Hammond, there’s a form of transport that’s going places. Except that it isn’t. Coal-powered electric cars are roughly the same shape and size as standard cars. Electric vehicles are no answer to congestion.

The Government’s main answer to congestion is to spend precious resources on dualling a number of roads, widening the M25 from junctions 16 to 25 and 27 to 30; and to allow even more hard-shoulder running on a bunch of motorways.

Predict and Provide is back with a vengeance. I thought we were meant to be cost-cutting?

The Comprehensive Spending Review would have been an ideal opportunity to reign in King Car. But not with Hoverboard Hammond in charge. He wants more roads so he can prowl them in his e-Jag.

But, again, he won’t get far.

A tarmac-fixated Government could quadruple the width of every motorway but that won’t cure congestion. Quite apart from the fact that such road building only encourages new journeys, and more cars, there’s a basic flaw in the “road improvements” argument. Building wider motorways won’t decrease journey times because, for the most part, people aren’t driving to and from motorway service stations, they’re driving via cities.

There’s no room to expand city roads. Bigger motorways cause bigger bottlenecks once cars venture off the motorways.

In ten years time, the Government of the day will scratch its head and wonder why the roads are more gridlocked than ever. “But we spent billions on widening roads,” ministers will bleat. “How could congestion get worse?”

The current lot even got rid of Cycling England so there wouldn’t be a quango promoting city journey alternatives.

This is a Government that promises to get more people on bikes and on public transport but will only splash the cash on cars: while the £5000 e-bribe gets prime position in the 105-page Comprehensive Spending Review there’s no mention of the new Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

The Campaign for Better Transport believes the LSTF will get £560m over four years but this pot will be fought over by cycling, buses and other forms of local transport. £560m (divided by four) out of an annual budget of £30bn is shockingly low.

DfT: get set for the deluge

Getting rid of Cycling England is stupid on lots of levels, as I’ve written about elsewhere today.

But something I’d not considered until now was how the fractional nature of cycling can be a time drain.

The Department for Transport benefitted big-time from the creation of Cycling England. Now there was one body to talk to, not dozens.

Cycling England’s board was made up from representatives of British Cycling, Sustrans, CTC and other experts.

Without Cycling England, the DfT might have to start talking with dozens of cycling bodies again.

This is put very well by management consultant and photographer, Guy Swarbrick:

In terms of accountability, all the money that Cycling England spent was spent on behalf of other Departments – Transport and Health primarily – and was allocated on a project-by-project basis with Departmental – and, therefore ministerial and accountable – approval required. But it was requested by and allocated by experts – not civil servants and politicians.

Schemes like Bikeability can be – and are – delivered locally. But the cost savings from creating a centralised scheme with centralised documentation, literature etc is just one, small example of the kind of centralised purchasing benefit Philip Green highlighted in his recent report.

Cost benefits aren’t the only advantage of quangoes, of course. The Departments of Transport and Health have been happy to have regular meetings with Cycling England to discuss dozens of topics, with CE acting as an aggregator for the views of cyctling bodies. Will they be willing to have dozens of meetings with smaller interest groups or local authorities? I don’t think so. If they did, it would have a cost and it would require a level of expertise across a breadth of topics that the department is unlikley to have.

I use Cycling England as an example – because you did – but it is typical of many, if not most, of the organizations being dismantled for knee jerk ideological reasons.

No increase in accountability and worse decisions at a higher cost? Don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for them.

Does ‘Hoverboard Hammond’ really believe e-cars will cure congestion?

Watch the video for my critical comments on this morning’s party conference speech by Philip ‘end the war on motorists’ Hammond.

It’s well known Hammond is a petrol-head but he now seems to think electric cars will solve almost all ills.

Here’s some snippets from a speech he gave last month to a ‘low carbon vehicles’ crowd.

I believe we are on the brink of a critical transformation of road transport.

The next 30 years will see a shift from high carbon to low carbon based road travel, as significant as the shift a century ago from the horse to the combustion engine.

Once that shift is underway, and clearly irreversible, policy makers will be able to plan for a future that includes the car – safe in the knowledge the benefits of individual travel will be available to future generations without compromising our carbon reduction goals.

Personal mobility, the ability to travel point-to-point on an individually-tailored timetable has been a huge boon and people are not going to give up the liberty provided by the car lightly.

Fortunately, thanks to the technological revolution we are about to embark on, they won’t have to.

Yes we must tackle congestion on our roads and in our cities. And so we want to ensure that people can use alternatives for vehicle journeys such as high speed rail and public transport.

But we need to recognise that, for many journeys, the car will remain the only practical and convenient choice. Which means we must make the car sustainable by decarbonising transport over the coming years.

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

Cycling isn’t the new golf because rain doesn’t stop play. Unless you let it, of course. Once you’re out in the rain it’s nowhere near as awful as you thought it would be.

Of course, I’m writing this from the warm, cosy comfort of my nice dry house. But on Friday night I eschewed the similarly warm, dry, cosy home comforts offered by my car to ride my daughter to her gymnastics class. She can ride fine but it’s quicker, easier and more secure for me to take her the three miles on the back of my Xtracycle-equipped longbike.

On the way home the rain stopped long enough for me to brave filming with my iPhone. I liked the way the strobing, flashing LED lights lit up the wet roads.

Lighting products featured are: Cateye Orbit lights on the wheels; and a Cateye Loop on the handlebar along with Knog Frogs.