MPs must stop prioritising cars over people if we are to stand a chance of meeting climate goals
Cycling commuters leave work outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London.
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
The UK is among the worst countries in Europe for cycling participation, and the government is predicted to achieve just a third of the 800m extra cycling trips by 2025 it had aimed for. What’s more, much of the growth so far has been restricted to London.
This is why Tuesday’s debate among MPs on government support for cycling and walking – or rather, the lack thereof – is so important.
The government’s attitude towards cycling was summed up when the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, complained that cycle lanes “cause too much of a problem for road users” – before knocking a man off his bike outside parliament just weeks later.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling knocks over cyclist as he opens car door
This neglect doesn’t just risk the safety of cyclists but jeopardises our planet. The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change warned that the world has 11 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum rise of 1.5C over pre-industrial levels, yet the UK is way off track to meet its own climate change targets and is further still from meeting its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
This failure is being driven by a rising trend in emissions caused largely by increased traffic growth, which has left transport as the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
For too long, transport has been put in the “too difficult” box as far as climate change is concerned. If this is to change, a transformation in the funding and priority given to cycling and walking is needed.
This failure on transport emissions is the result of deliberate government policy encouraging traffic growth through an ever-expanding multibillion-pound programme of road building. At the same time, public transport subsidies have been slashed and campaigners are warning that spending on England outside London is set to fall to 37p per person per head in 2020-21.
Climate change should be the number one priority of the Department for Transport (DfT), with focus and resources directed towards sustainable modes of transport. It is hugely under-appreciated how big a part cycling and walking must play in this.