Council cuts and desperate times? City must wake up to alternatives

Cycle advocates say it’s exactly because of council cuts that business-as-usual is no longer an option and that alternatives transport systems must be explored for a fairer, affordable future, better sooner than later.

Katja Leyendecker, chair of, says “In our complex world it can be hard to see the wood for trees sometimes. And this seems to be where Newcastle City Council presently finds itself, in a deep dark forest. Whether recent council cuts are necessary or not, they are happening and we have to adjust – for the sake of our city and its future. We find ourselves amidst a transport transition. We cannot cling on to old and out-dated models any more. Less money available logically means that the council can’t afford to carry on the way they have in the past. The city is at a crossroads. We need to speak up and debate what happens next.

“Current commuter cyclists already save the City millions (see references). This must be recognised and valued. More people cycling would save further millions, and – on top of that – could cut the total city carbon emissions by 10%. What’s not to like or want!

“We must rush to reap the benefits of crushing our car dependence – council planning and societal, perceived and real – and thereby realise the externalities that public health, social fairness and environmental improvements will inevitably bring. We really do have to start to think differently and provide cheaper alternatives, like unlocking bike use, the missing ingredient. Building proper cycleways will do just that. With a little upfront investment, it’ll pay back manyfold.

“We want the council to join us and lobby the Department for Transport (DfT) for this budget, so we can combine it with revenue streams that the council will have available. We need about £9m per year to meet Dutch investment levels to re-build our roads and adapt them for cycling. This is ‘peanuts money’ in the grand scheme of things and we know it would pay back manyfold (see references). There currently is an open invite through DfT’s recent draft delivery plan. Newcastle, through its strong sustainable transport policies, is in a prime position to be heard by DfT I believe.

“And we also renew our call and ask Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, to set up a holistic implementation plan pulling together the different, and currently divergent, strands that must see step change: linking climate change, public health, city planning and transport, to get real, and really get those externalities internalised.”

Newcastle WHO HEAT calculation
SDC’s Fairness in a car-dependent world
IPPR’s War on motorists, myth or reality?
Two more recent studies listed here

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Notes to editors:

Economic terminology, it describes costs that are currently not included or accounted for in economic analysis. For business-as-usual transport systems these are largely public health related. (Public health responsibilities have recently been transferred to local authorities making it quite possible that cross-departmental benefits are gained from overlaying budgets.)

• “In 2010, government spent around £9 billion on roads, representing 40 per cent of total public spending on transport. In addition to this direct expenditure, the costs to society of car travel are considerable – these include congestion, road casualties, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise, and physical inactivity. Estimates of these social and environmental externalities range up to £56 billion in total – even excluding congestion costs, they are well over £32 billion. There are also many costs which are difficult to estimate but are not trivial, such as community severance, disruption to tranquillity and landscape, and waste and water pollution.”
• “New ways should be found to reduce the externalities caused by road traffic.”

• “The impacts they experience can be severe: chronic air pollution and noise, traffic danger, higher rates of injury and crime.”
• “It is not utopian to imagine a transport system that works better for everyone, without damaging the health of our communities or leaving a legacy of environmental damage for our children. Anyone travelling to the Netherlands will catch a glimpse of how things can be different, with almost 30 per cent of all journeys made by bicycle compared with one or two per cent in this country. Worsening congestion, rising fuel costs and continuing concerns about climate change and quality of life all suggest there must be a better way.