What is the price we pay for our transport system?

Following our letter to Pat Ritchie about budget transparency and accountability for council’s transport function, we would like to continue talking to the chief executive about the transport transition and the cost of the current system. We feel this is the best way to ask for her leadership on this vitally important matter. As we have received no reply from Pat Ritchie to our last letter, we will simply continue outlining the current and future needs of the transport transition.

Climate change

Transport typically accounts for 25-30% of all emissions. We have no reason to believe this to be any different in Newcastle. We ask council to quantify transport emissions, so they can be clearly linked to climate change mitigation and carbon reduction plans. We propose that total emissions could be reduced by 10% if Newcastle enabled cycling through urban design. The ‘mitigation measures’ would be the inclusion of protected cycleways on main roads and neighbourhood-zoning for lower speeds by cutting the possibilities of rat-running (ie following the principles of Sustainable Safety).


Climate change and sustainability are closely related. Sustainability, using the well-known Brundtland definition, splits into economic, social and environmental aspects.

  • social / fairer society: a city looking after your (public) health by providing affordable active transport choices.
  • environmental: air and noise pollution impacts on the environment, but also through increased stress levels, community severance and economic deprivation (often through hidden and deferred costs)
  • economic: the current costs of our car-dependent transport system are carried by the (public) health sector (currently externalised), but also by less tangible costs like our children’s dependence and lack of future opportunities

Putting these aspects into balance and linking them to the wider picture (public health and identifying intangibles) should be a transport planning priority. Making changes to our roads now, making them walk and cycle friendly, will save use from wasting further money in the future.

A pound for every mile

We calculated, using the acclaimed WHO HEAT tool, that Newcastle’s current commuter cyclists already add a value by a total of £3 million simply by cycling to work. If Newcastle built enabling inclusive infrastructure and upped its cycling levels to European standards a saving of £20 million would be made to the public purse.

In short, every mile cycled saves the health system one pound.

Should we not just build more roads?

More roads are a real dead-end. If we are serious about wanting to see more people walking and cycling (engaging in active travel) we have to provide for that. Widening roads, ultimately means more traffic. The council still erroneously believes that widening roads solves transport problems, as we have seen with the recent Haddricks Mill roads plans. This is old-school and has been discredited as an approach to solve urban transport problems (see critique here and wider summary and links listed here) as the problems are alleviated, if at all, only for the short term. After a while, congestion pops up again somewhere else ‘down the road’ if not even at the “improved” location itself.

There are social consequences to facilitating private motoring. Many inner-city households do not have cars yet suffer both the consequences of pollution and the general negative impact which excessive motor traffic has on neighbourhood streets.

Instead, we have to convert road space to walking and cycling and free up more road space for public transport. We must reduce private car journeys, especially short ones up to 5 miles, by providing alternatives. Newcastle must assess its space availability and ultimately go on a road diet for better public health outcomes and a fairer deal to citizens.

What about air quality?

Another excuse for widening roads and pushing more motor traffic capacity through (smoothing the traffic) is to improve air quality. This, again, does not work out, especially not in the longer term. After construction and in absence of true alternatives roads simply re-fill with traffic, jamming up and polluting our city’s air and destroying tranquility and livability. More roads and more traffic are clealry not a solution to our city’s air pollution. Reducing car dependence by providing real alternatives is.

We ask council to set up a clear traffic reduction plan to tackle air quality (through network and spatial management, road classification) and to implement that plan.

But who will cycle?

In the academic transport-transition literature, the presence of good sensible infrastructure ranks highly. It’s a no-brainer. Secondarily distance is regularly quoted as a main determinant for the individual’s transport mode choice. We have looked at the shift potential for Newcastle and it is more than promising. Once the urban environment has been adjusted to allow comfortable cycling (and walking), tens of thousands of Newcastle residents will be able to shift away from their car commute reducing air and noise pollution, traffic and reap personal and societal rewards.

A positive feedback loop is created. That is the transport transition (or mode shift – or whatever we want to call it). A transport system which functions better for all residents, regardless of age, ability or income levels. A fairer system for every citizen. A transport system set within its limits of urban space, through fair allocation and giving a true choice over the transport decisions.

Dear Pat Ritchie

We ask you, once again, to take the lead and organise your council for an effective and well-managed transport transition. We ask you note that

  1. the transport transition helps climate change mitigation
  2. sustainability is done in three aspects, all of which are positively helped by the transport transition
  3. the value of the transport transition lies in making future savings (to the public health service)
  4. building more roads or widening roads (smoothing traffic, increasing junction capacity) is contrary to the transport transition (please reassess Haddrick’s Mill plans)
  5. air quality improvements need traffic reduction, “traffic management” is not enough
  6. the huge shift potential for Newcastle residents to walk and cycle

Please inform and educate your council of these very important points. Should you need clarification, please do get in touch, and we can provide more information. We’ve tried to keep this short to ensure that you read it.

Katja Leyendecker
Chair newcycling.org on behalf of Committee