The Slow March to Cleaner Travel

The government have announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned from 2040 in an effort to improve air quality, and joining other European countries who have made the same pledge.

I’m pleased a date has been set, but I’m disappointed it’s not sooner. 2040 is still a long time away – 23 years – and I would have liked there to be a bit of ambition here, perhaps with a deadline of 15 years. After all, technological advancement is rapid and a lot can improve with electric vehicles in that time. Saying that though, with the increasing appearance of electric cars now, I’m hoping that market forces will make this deadline largely meaningless by the time it rolls around.

However, whilst targeting a reduction in fossil fuels can only be positive, more needs to be done to actually reduce car usage, not just switch fuels. Simply switching petrol/diesel for batteries will not solve the congestion problems and conflicts with other road users. Electrically powered vehicles will also place a significant demand on the National Grid, and whilst there are means to mitigate those demands through smart charging scheme and infrastructure improvements, part of that management should be the discouragement of car use for shorter journeys.

Crop of image by Andreas KambanisCC BY 2.0

And here’s where this article comes into line with the theme of this site. We all know that the UK lags far behind the gold standard of cycling nations and this needs to change. There have, of course, been limited improvements in segregated routes in London with the Cycle Superhighways, but I understand developments have stalled recently. Other towns and cities across the country need to start bringing in high quality, Dutch-style routes.

We also need better interconnectivity between towns, where sometimes at present cyclists may be forced to use busy B and A roads, overgrown bridleways or indirect canal paths of indeterminate quality – hardly a glowing advert for using the bicycle to get about. In an ideal world, I’d like to see a proper, high quality, dedicated cycle network perhaps running parallel to, but separated from, the existing A-roads for easy, direct navigation to the next town or city.

The proposal for a 600 mile cycle route to run near-parallel to the planned HS2 high-speed railway is positive, although it has to actually happen of course – far from certain at the moment. If it does, it needs to be properly supported though. It’s no good having such a route if the interconnecting network is poor or non-existent.

Britain has an air quality problem, it has a health and fitness problem, towns and cities have a congestion problem. We know that part of the solution to all of these is to get people out of their cars and onto bikes. It’s time that serious effort was put into making Britain a cycling nation – so why on earth aren’t we?

Header Image: London Traffic, by firemedic58 (Flickr) РCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic