Our response to Newcastle City Council’s climate change call for scientific evidence

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This is Newcastle Cycling Campaign’s response to the Newcastle City Council climate change call for scientific evidence 2020.

Individual responses can be sent through through a survey here.

Who we are

The Newcastle Cycling Campaign is a constituted community group, with more than 1,600 members. It was established in October 2010 to address economic, social and spatial inequalities in the transport system by lobbying for high quality cycling infrastructure to enable people of all ages and abilities to cycle in an around the city.


What we do

Over the last ten years, we have documented our actions and demands using evidence, research, best practice and the expertise of our management committee and membership. We have responded to numerous consultations, organised events, made representations and mobilised people to show support for high-quality cycling infrastructure. We have engaged with elected members and provided tools, advice and opportunities to build a better understanding of the potential of everyday cycling. We have undertaken training and contributed to numerous conferences and events both as advocates and researchers. We campaign for people friendly streets and neighbourhoods, space for cycling, the creation of cycle strategic routes, and a comprehensive inclusive cycling network. Our policies include sustainable safety and protected space, and we champion fairness, inclusivity and high quality design standards.

What we stand for

Building cycleways and high-quality cycling infrastructure will increase the modal share of cycling in Newcastle (currently at less than 3%) and allow people to choose to cycle instead of driving for short journeys. Key findings in research are that people prefer to cycle away from high volumes and speeds of traffic (eg. see Pooley et al., 2011; Aldred et al., 2017; Aldred and Dales, 2017). There is a wealth of academic evidence to support cycling infrastructure as a solution to this (eg. Pucher and Buehler, 2012; Pooley et al., 2013; Aldred, 2016). To enable a shift from driving to cycling and other more sustainable forms of transport, it is fundamentally important that we adopt targets to reduce traffic and stop designing a transport system based around the needs of private cars (Banister, 2008). 

Studies have demonstrated the contribution of cycling to lower carbon emissions: In 2011, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) stated that “if levels of cycling in the eU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark, bicycle use would help achieve 12 to 26% of the 2050 target reduction set for the transport sector depending on which transport mode the bicycle replaces” (p.5).

Increasing the modal share in cycling won’t only reduce carbon emissions, it will also improve air quality (a key issue in Newcastle), and tackle other issues such as congestion, inactivity, community severance and transport poverty (Woodcock et al., 2007). More space must be given to active travel, and that’s a political (not a personal) problem. 

The problem of traffic in Newcastle

Transport in Newcastle now accounts for a third of all carbon emissions and its share has gone up from 24% in 2005 to 29% in 2015 – a trend which is reflected at national level with the ONS reporting that although “UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 32% from 1990 to 2017, GHG emissions from road transport have increased by 6% over the same period”.

The Council, in its technical report, proposes to reduce transport emissions by 16.5 kt by 2030, a mere contribution of 6% towards the overall target (283.8 kt). The transport measures outlined in the summary document are “mode shift from car to bike/walking for ca 5,000 people” and “the suite of measures to be determined”. This shows a lack of ambition and commitment to address the transport emissions challenge.  The detailed technical report (p.86) does not include any projects to design and build cycling infrastructure to increase modal share of cycling in the city. We do not agree with this approach and urge the Council to add a strand for cycling and walking infrastructure centred around the implementation of a comprehensive inclusive network. The report does not include a methodology and therefore it is difficult to know what the input from council officers and representatives from other organisations was and whether the report was endorsed by elected members/Cabinet. We suggest that a more ambitious starting point would result in a more ambitious target of emissions-reduction.       

Issues and recommendations

In this next section, we provide evidence demonstrating the difficulties encountered in Newcastle when designing and building space for cycling over the last ten years and we make recommendations for the future. We believe that to unlock everyday cycling, the Council must put in place new policies and effective ways to implement them. In addition, resources should be allocated to build a comprehensive inclusive cycling network as an alternative to driving. We should embed the Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan (LCWIP) in the Council’s capital programme and have a clear plan to build it over the next 8 to 10 years. 

Issues

Newcastle was successful in two rounds of bidding for the national Cycle City Ambition Fund (CCAF) and has made some progress in developing new routes in the city. However, there have been major problems with implementation of these schemes. We believe these can be summarised as follows:

1. Transport planning

The city lacks a transport plan which prioritises sustainable transport and aims for a reduction in motorised traffic. Instead, alongside new cycle ways there is continued investment in increasing road capacity network eg. development of the Northern Access Corridor and a motorway-style junction for the Blue House Roundabout. In addition, new housing on the edge of the city is not being planned with adequate cycling links. This is a nationwide problem, as reported in a recent UCL study.

2. Governance and programming

There is a lack of clarity with budgets, slow implementation (e.g. Streets for People schemes) and schemes are dropped without adequate explanation. There is no overarching vision and plan for what the city’s transport network should look like, which would explain and support the delivery of cycling schemes and show how they fit in with a wider transport plan. 

3. Design

While we have seen some high-quality new schemes, there are many which fall below the necessary standard to encourage new cyclists. There are widespread quality issues (eg. rollercoaster cycle path on Great North Road and shared space for cycling and walking at crossings). There is no consistent use of standards and schemes regularly use outdated guidance, instead of Manual for Streets or London Cycle Design Standards (eg. inappropriately large street corner radii in Streets for People schemes in Jesmond).

4. Political support and decision-making

It is not clear who is responsible for making decisions and these are not always made in a consistent way. (e.g. Walker cycleways in 2013, Jesmond in 2019, Labour manifesto removing cycling in the city centre in 2018). Stronger policy and clearer targets would support politicians when changes are proposed.

5. Engagement

Consultation and engagement should be reviewed. Officers need much greater support from councillors to enable them to diffuse tensions. Councillors should be champions for new policy which addresses the climate emergency. The Council needs to work harder to capture positive responses and should make it easier for people to respond to consultations. In the current system, if a resident responds positively to the first consultation but does not respond to subsequent consultations, their response is not counted. The Council should also work more closely with campaign groups to help build support for schemes (see Deegan and Parkin (2011) for a successful example of this work in London).

6. Prevalence of car-dominated streetscape

Over the last ten years we have experienced resistance to reduce space allocated to cars at all levels (planning, funding, design, engagement and political decision-making) and this is despite policies to support sustainable transport. Indeed, many of the issues outlined above stem from this (eg. schemes being dropped because they “compromise motorised traffic flow”, quality being eroded because of the inability to reallocate space from car parking etc.)

Our experience aligns with research into implementing sustainable transport schemes which suggests that acceptability, governance, training (in design etc), regulations and the lack of supportive policy are major barriers to success (Banister, 2008; May et al., 2008). Recent research by Aldred et al. (2019b) suggests that political support and finance are the main barriers to implementing cycling infrastructure. However, a positive feedback loop is also possible when new infrastructure is implemented (Watson, 2012) and trials are a good way to convince people of the need for change (Aldred et al., 2019b). Culture change and infrastructure change are inextricably linked, but it is necessary to put in the infrastructure to kick-start change. We are committed to supporting the Council to implement progressive infrastructure plans which would engender this culture shift.

Recommendations

Cycling and walking infrastructure should be a key part of the Council’s plan to reduce transport’s emissions. London has set a target of 80% of all trips to be made by walking, cycling and public transport by 2041. We believe that Newcastle needs to set an equally ambitious target. 

We recommend that the Council follow the example of Waltham Forest in London and adopt a ‘Mini-Holland’-style programme which aims to reduce car dependency and increase levels of cycling. A recent longitudinal study by Aldred et al. (2019a) shows that there is evidence of modal shift in Waltham Forest since the introduction of this programme, even before it is complete, and also that there are more positive attitudes towards cycling infrastructure.

Manchester is currently leading the way in demanding greater government investment in walking and cycling and we believe that Newcastle should be equally ambitious in its demands. We believe that Newcastle should follow Manchester’s lead in dedicating £18 per head per year to new active travel schemes.

Strategic and operational recommendations:

1. Clear vision

A consolidation of current council statements is overdue. Newcastle needs to build on the Cycle Manifesto, Space for Cycling and cycle strategy, to create a clear and confident vision with an engineering master programme to integrate cycling into Newcastle’s streetscape.

2. Clear budgets

If a clear budget line existed for cycleway construction, engineers and planners could make much better plans and programmes. All changes to roads and new roads should have a budget line for cycling infrastructure.

3. A clear cycle network

The primary interest of housing developers is to make a profit. It is vital that we ensure that Newcastle gets something in return. Newcastle must map out a cycle network to give clarity over developers’ contributions. The cycle network must be adopted into transport policy to give it strength and status.

4. Clear designs

London has made huge strides in building high-quality protected cycleways. This is the result of clear vision, clear budgets and clear design standards. Urban transport needs and problems are quite universal. Newcastle should adopt London’s standards, to help city planners and engineers to design good infrastructure for cycling and better streets for people.

Transport policy recommendations:

1. Low-traffic neighbourhoods

Create low-traffic neighbourhoods in all residential areas. This is achieved by using modal filters (see Waltham Forest example) and is best-practice in the Netherlands. This should be trialled before fully implementing and should be phased over 10 years.

2. Protected cycle infrastructure

Protected cycle infrastructure should be provided on roads with high levels of traffic. The level of protection required should be based on the levels outlined in the Dutch CROW manual.

3. School Streets

Implement school streets around all schools where this is practical, reducing or removing access to streets surrounding schools for motor vehicles at pick-up and drop-off times.

4. 20mph on all streets

20mph speed limits in all built up areas regardless of the designation of road.

5. Parking

  • End “alive after five” free parking and any other incentives for driving. 
  • No net increase in car parking across the city with targets to decrease parking over the next decade. 
  • The council should introduce a city-wide prohibition of verge parking and enforce it. 
  • Remove all free on street parking in or near (within 1km) any area that has poor air quality, schools, retail areas or metro stations. This could be through introduction of permit parking, pay and display or prohibition of parking. 
  • Allocate and ring fence 50% of car parking and permit profits to an active travel fund to be spent solely on cycling and walking. Other sources such as bus lane fines and any CAZ charging should also be included in this.

Conclusion

The Newcastle Cycling Campaign is fully supportive of the Council’s Climate Emergency declaration. However, we feel strongly that there should be a greater focus on sustainable transport and, in particular, on cycling infrastructure. This will not only reduce emissions, it will also create a cleaner, healthier and more inclusive city and one which is an appealing place to live and do business. We would welcome the opportunity to offer our advice to the Council on a continuing basis and propose that an expert group is set up to increase sustainable transport in the city. We have less than ten years to radically transform the existing car-dominated transport system in the city and we must accelerate the pace of delivery to succeed.

References

Aldred, R. (2016) ‘Cycling near misses: Their frequency, impact and prevention’, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Vol. 90, pp. 69-83.

Aldred, R. (2017) ‘The culture behind infrastructure: reflections on nearly a decade of research into cycling culture and policy in the UK’, Reflections Issue 21. Available at: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/sites/default/files/rachel-aldred-cycling-reflection.pdf [Accessed 26 January 2020].

Aldred, R., Croft, J. & Goodman, A. (2019a) ‘Impacts of an active travel intervention with a cycling focus in a suburban context: One year findings from an evaluation of London’s in-progress mini-Hollands programme’, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Vol. 123, pp. 147-169.

Aldred, R., Watson, T., Lovelace, R. & Woodcock, J. (2019b) ‘Barriers to investing in cycling: Stakeholder views from England’, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Vol. 128, pp. 149-159.

Aldred, R. & Dales, J. (2017) ‘Diversifying and normalising cycling in London, UK: An exploratory study on the influence of infrastructure’, Journal of Transport & Health, Vol. 4, pp. 348-362.

Banister, D. (2008) ‘The sustainable mobility paradigm’, Transport Policy, Vol. 15, pp. 73-80.

Deegan, B. and Parkin, J. (2011) ‘Planning cycling networks: Human factors and design processes’, Proceedings of the ICE – Engineering Sustainability, Vol. 164, No. 1, p. 85-93.

May, A., Page, M. and Hull, A. (2008) ‘Developing a set of decision-support tools for sustainable urban transport in the UK’, Transport Policy, Vol. 15, pp. 328-340.

Pooley, C., Tight, M., Jones, T., Horton, D., Scheldeman, G., Jopson, A., Mullen, C., Chisholm, A., Strano, E. and Constantine, S. (2011) Understanding Walking and Cycling: Summary of key findings and recommendations. Available at: http://www.its.leeds.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/UWCReportSept2011.pdf [Accessed 27th January 2020].

Pooley, C, Jones, T., Tight, M., Horton, D., Scheldeman,G., Jopson, A. and Strano, E. (2013). Promoting Walking and Cycling : New Perspectives on Sustainable Travel, Policy Press, Bristol.

Pucher, J. and Buehler, R. (2012) City cycling, MIT Press.

Watson, M. (2012) ‘How theories of practice can inform a transition to a decarbonised transport system’, Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 24, pp. 488-496.

Woodcock, J., Banister, D., Edwards, P., Prentice, A. and Roberts, I. (2007) ‘Energy and Transport’, Lancet, Vol. 370, No. 9592, pp. 1078-1088.