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Opinion: Most Arguments Against London Road Improvements Are Nonsense

Published on: 10 Aug, 2023
Updated on: 12 Aug, 2023

Sam Peters

By Sam Peters

former Green Party candidate at local elections

There are plenty of valid criticisms of the way the London Road Active Travel proposal has been handled but nebulous claims on the environmental impacts of cycling, including increased ‘pollution’ and most other “whatabout” arguments presented by naysayers, are nonsense.

40 per cent of journeys under two miles in the UK are made by car. Even assuming there is no more direct route for cyclists, the average UK car journey could be completed in 30 minutes by bike.

Studies have repeatedly shown the majority of people would rather walk, cycle or take public transport, if given the option. This has been researched extensively – a 2022 Ipsos survey found 71 per cent support action to encourage more people to walk or cycle instead of driving, 44 per cent would like to cycle more than they currently do, but a large majority, 67 per cent, feel it is too dangerous to cycle on the roads.

Others have found a fifth of commuters would choose to cycle to work if they had the option, while a 2020 government study found 65 per cent of people support reallocating local road space to cycling and walking.

The claimed widespread public opposition – shown to be unsubstantiated – speaks volumes to the ongoing failures to enable cycling in this country.


Pollution caused by diggers to build cycle lanes is not only an irrelevance in terms of impact versus benefit but occurs whenever and wherever any roads are built, usually on a vastly increased scale. Every person enabled to get out of a car is another multi-tonne vehicle not destroying the road surface and requiring more repairs – costly not only environmentally but also economically.

The Dutch example

The Netherlands has not always been a cycling country. Even 40 years ago the streets of now-quiet, clean towns and cities were choked with cars. In the 1970s the Dutch had some of the worst cycling casualty rates in the world, and yet there was still ample opposition to improving cycle and walking infrastructure.

Demand cannot lead supply in making cycling and walking safer – nobody can be expected to put their own or their children’s lives on the line just to prove a point about local transport to those unwilling to look at the evidence.

Disobedient cyclists

That some cyclists don’t follow advice (not law) on reflective clothing is utterly irrelevant. Just as many drivers ignore the Highway Code and road laws at some time, especially in 20, 30 or 40 mph limits – and drivers not following road laws cause thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries a year, unlike cyclists.

If the Highway Code is of such concern, surely all drivers would observe the minimum overtaking distances from bikes of 1.5 to 2 metres, or not overtake cyclists signalling they are turning right? Transgressions are commonplace.

If the concern is over “conflict” between cyclists and drivers then one should support segregated cycle lanes – proven to be the safest solution for shared roads.

Environmental factors

Bikes do not produce emissions in use, while the production cost of a bike is around 5g CO2e per km cycled. The production and fuel cost in even an average car is 270+g CO2e per km driven (emissions from increasingly common SUVs are significantly larger).

Countless studies have found almost no impact on the average road speeds on shared roads without cycle lanes – the average difference in driver speed being less than one mile per hour.

Anyone who cycles regularly in Guildford will know it’s almost invariably quicker to get anywhere on a bike, despite the efforts of drivers racing dangerously to beat cyclists to the next red light mere metres ahead (a phenomenon so well-studied transport experts have given it a name – the ‘MGIF’ or ‘must get in front’ manoeuvre).

Far from slowing traffic and causing more pollution, cycle lanes actually reduce congestion and associated pollution. Analysis of London cycle lanes shows over 20 per cent reductions in roadside concentrations of NO2.

Evidence worldwide shows cycle infrastructure reduces traffic volumes and congestion levels – hardly surprising given the induced demand effect. A cycle lane in London moves on average 5-7 times a car lane does, and even more during rush hours. Blackfriars Bridge cycle lanes represent just 20 per cent of total road surface but move four times the number of people as the road lanes combined. Guildford isn’t London of course, but the idea that cycle lanes increase traffic, pollution or emissions is simply false.

Image of London Road, Burpham taken in August 2022. Google Street View

‘Whatbout’ problems

Surely it is within the realms of our collective intelligence to facilitate safe and secure bike parking once demand is there. If a school needs bike parking, it installs bike racks. If bikes get punctures, we fix them. Setting aside the many other benefits of cycling, surely a few thousand students learning valuable life skills is a good thing?

“But perhaps fewer people will choose to cycle in inclement weather?” So what? If anything, cycle lanes enable more people to cycle when it’s wet, with the knowledge that drivers are less likely to soak or plough into them.

Decades of this kind of thinking – or lack of it – has left us dependent on cars for the shortest journeys. Cyclists and pedestrians are abandoned or ignored while congestion is worse than ever and our air is choked with fumes, causing health problems for millions. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, responsible for tens of thousands of early deaths a year.

There are many aspects of the London Road cycle lane plan which do deserve criticism, and some could certainly be improved. But it’s no wonder UK cycling infrastructure is in such a state if some of these nonsense anti-cycling claims come from supposed experts, missing most of the benefits of improved cycle infrastructure. Ultimately, the majority of the public including cyclists – many of them drivers too – just want improvements for all road users.

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Responses to Opinion: Most Arguments Against London Road Improvements Are Nonsense

  1. Malcolm Stanier Reply

    August 10, 2023 at 9:31 pm

    The Ipsos survey was of “a representative sample of 2,240 people aged 16+ in the UK”. That seems a low number and is of people not being directly asked if they would take up cycling rather than use their car. In other words, a general nebulous survey much like the survey carried out by SCC.

    Another result of the survey was “71 per cent say they support actions to encourage more people to walk or cycle instead of driving a car but the same proportion (also 71 per cent) feel they “need a car” in their current situation.

    Stating that “If a school needs bike parking, it installs bike racks” just ignores the total lack of funding for such installations.

    Also, saying ‘“But perhaps fewer people will choose to cycle in inclement weather?” So what?’ shows an arrogant disregard for people.

    Seeing cycling as the panacea to all environmental problems is naive. Does Mr Peters really think that many of the c.18,000 London Road drivers are going to convert to cycling?

    The aim should be to help people to get environmentally friendly vehicles and provide enhanced public transport be it bus or rail. The cycling fraternity seems to believe that they represent the majority of people whereas there are a significant quiet number of the population who do not support their views.

    • Mike Truman Reply

      August 11, 2023 at 10:01 pm

      The sample size is within the typical range, in fact, it’s on the high end. A sample size of that proportion will, 19 times out of 20, give an answer that is within a couple of percent either way of the true figure in a population of any significant size.

    • Sam Peters Reply

      August 15, 2023 at 8:35 am

      This letter was originally a comment in response to another letter, so some points – like the one about inclement weather – don’t read so well here in isolation.

      Ipsos is one of the biggest and most reputable research companies around – their samples and studies are widely trusted on everything from politics to TV preferences. As mentioned, this sample was a good size for an accurate view of public opinion.

      The fact a large majority of people want to enable more walking and cycling but feel currently unable to – perhaps part of the 67 per cent who feel roads are too dangerous for cyclists – seems to support the point that we need better walking and cycling infrastructure.

      Bike racks are not expensive. Even at commercial prices, per bike costs are about £10 for the most basic options. A bid for such small amounts, with such massive potential, would almost certainly be fully funded through one of the many active travel grants available. I’m sure many local people who could afford to would happily chip in even if no other funding were available.

      Cycling certainly isn’t the panacea to all environmental problems, but it is an excellent solution to many of them – not to mention the countless other benefits. Another I didn’t get to was social cost. A cost-benefit analysis by Copenhagen planners found every kilometre cycled produces a societal economic gain of £0.55, while every kilometre driven by car loses £0.61. This is replicated by others worldwide, finding each km driven versus cycled cost us all three to six times more. Across the EU, societal costs of driving are estimated at about £430 billion per year, versus the benefit of £77 billion for cycling and walking.

      Many journeys along London Road may not currently be replaceable by public transport, bike or on foot – but many are, including many daily double return trips for thousands of students at nearby schools. Taking even a fraction of these cars off the roads benefits everyone, including drivers.

      Lastly, I agree public transport needs major improvement too, as does the majority of the public. Indeed, figures for those supporting this tend to be even higher than those supporting cycling. There may be people who oppose public transport and cycling, but overwhelmingly more support both according to all available evidence.

      Sam Peters has stood as a Green Party candidate in recent local elections.

      • Malcolm Stanier Reply

        August 16, 2023 at 4:31 pm

        £4 million is an excessive amount for Mr Peter’s: “Taking even a fraction of these cars off the roads benefits everyone, including drivers.”

        There are not “thousands” of students using London Road. George Abbott School has around 2,000 pupils but they do not all use this route with some coming from nearby housing on foot, some on foot from Bushy Hill via the subway and some on school coaches or buses.

        In view of how wrong opinion polls have been in some of recent elections, and having a survey of just 2,500 people, it seems to be a grave error to base the assertions about cycling on them.

        • Sam Peters Reply

          August 17, 2023 at 9:47 pm

          As I noted, there are many things to question about the London Road proposal – cost being one of them (time taken being another big one).

          I didn’t choose the title of this letter – in fact, most of my points are either about cycle lanes generally or specifically in response to some of the incorrect assertions about the London Road proposal, rather than a specific endorsement of that proposal. Personally, I believe that amount of money could be better spent on cycle infrastructure elsewhere in Guildford.

          There are more schools near London Road than just George Abbot. Along the full length of the road and within a mile of either end, there are at least 20 – to take just the section from the Boxgrove Crossroads Roundabout down to Aldi, there are 13 by my count. Ultimately this isn’t really important though – traffic from whatever demographic taken off the road will benefit all of us, drivers included.

          The survey query has already been answered – this was a very standard and representative sample from a reputable researcher. It is backed up by countless other surveys, many with far larger samples. More importantly, it is backed up repeatedly in practice where cycle infrastructure has been improved, whether in the UK or around the world.

          Sam Peters stood in recent local elections for the Green Party

          • Malcolm Stanier

            August 19, 2023 at 11:21 pm

            It would be interesting to see Mr Peter’s list of 13 schools associated or between Boxgrove Roundabout and New Inn Lane as I cannot get near to this number!

            I agree with him when he says, “I believe that amount of money could be better spent on cycle infrastructure elsewhere in Guildford,” perhaps where there is none at present.

            Have SCC asked Guildford cyclists where there might be a higher priority for some sort of cycling provision?

  2. Victor Howarth Reply

    August 11, 2023 at 9:08 am

    It’s easy to look at the benefits of walking and cycling for health and pleasure and as a keen cyclist for a large part of my life. However, I am now more reliant on buses and taxis as I, for medical, grounds no longer have a car. I can walk to the nearest shops in Burpham just so long as I have the health to do so.

    I have noticed that there is currently lots of road traffic along London Road as it is not only delivery vehicles but cars taking people from of the A3 into Merrow and Guildford and to Burpham itself. Nobody has analysed just why that traffic has to use that road but at one time it carried all of the traffic from London, hence the name, through Guildford and onto Portsmouth. Its path and width has hardly changed.

    There are already cycle lanes along most of its course and the speed limit and current congestion governs most of the speed.

    It’s interesting to note that the pressure on the residents and people who use the road to make changes is focused on that one road on the outskirts of Guildford and nowhere else.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      August 11, 2023 at 3:33 pm

      In response to “noboby has analysed the traffic flow”.

      Well I have, as technical coordinator of the Burpham Neighbourhood Plan.

      But no one is listening to the technical and statistical facts, they all are shouting inaccurate green credentials!

  3. Dave Middleton Reply

    August 14, 2023 at 10:43 am

    A splendidly detailed and articulate letter from Mr Peters, which completely ignores the fact that the section of road referred to is simply not wide enough to provide a proper width footpath (ie wide enough for a pedestrian to pass a double baby buggy or a wheelchair / mobility scooter user), a dedicated cycle lane in each direction and adequately wide vehicle lanes.

  4. Graeme Stoneham Reply

    August 15, 2023 at 5:39 pm

    According to the latest statistics you are around 22 times more likely to die, per mile travelled, on a bike than you are in a car.

    I don’t know if that takes into account the people being killed and injured by exploding e-bike batteries [this usually occurs whilst the battery is being charged] or not?

    But cycling is fun if it’s not raining, windy or cold. Or if you don’t have to carry something, or take young children and if you are healthy.

    Can’t we just move cycle paths away from roads and stop inviting people to be injured or killed?

    Cycle paths help to reduce the carnage but it is very dangerous to do it on roads and we all know they are not replacements for cars.

    If the really keen cyclists want to use the roads and take risks then I guess we have to foot the injury bill but wouldn’t it be better for them to be more responsible?

  5. Mike Smith Reply

    August 17, 2023 at 4:53 pm

    Cyclists don’t just ‘die’ on roads, they are killed, often by careless drivers.

    However, there is clear evidence that cyclists generally live longer, healthier lives than those who don’t cycle.

    Encouraging cycling reduces pollution, reduces road congestion and reduces the costs to the NHS of unhealthy lifestyles. I’m not at all a ‘really keen cyclist’, I just want to be able to use my bike as safe, routine transport – that’s not too much to expect in an advanced economy like ours, surely?

    • Graeme Stoneham Reply

      August 17, 2023 at 11:17 pm

      There is not space along most narrow streets to have cycle lanes. And using a bike is not practical to use as routine transport for most people.

      They are only practical in certain weather and circumstances and for particular types of journey and if you have the time.

  6. Jim Allen Reply

    August 18, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    I think that the GBC 2020 design standards should be consulted! This 230-plus-page GBC document makes a mockery of SCC plans and the inspector’s comments about Gosden Hill development access.

    The whole of London Road will need to be rebuilt to meet this document’s expectations.

    Not forgetting below ground infrastructure improvements are also required Surrey County Council were reminded of this in 2020, 2021, and 2022 but choose to continue this expensive route.

    It is time GBC Cllr Matt Furniss read his own council documents.

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