How pro-car extremists cheated a Cambridgeshire Consultation and Won

On 27th July 2021 Cambridgeshire County Council Highways and Transport Committee met to decide the fate of the experimental bus gate on Mill Road in Cambridge, that had been introduced in June 2020 as part of emergency active travel funding by the then Conservative controlled Council.

The scheme implementation was not a shining example of how to do things – initial consultations were poor and didn’t get local traders on board. The physical implementation was poor, with poor signage, ugly buildouts to allow social distancing, and no efforts at all to improve the appearance of the road or take advantage of the dramatic reductions in motor vehicles on the road to help traders benefit from the higher levels of cycling and walking. Local campaign group Camcycle begged the Council to improve the quality of the scheme, but these requests fell on deaf ears.

But the main purpose of the scheme – a modal filter approximately half way along the busy shopping street was successful and popular. Previously high volumes of traffic (14,000 vehicles a day) were using the minor road to short cut to the City Centre, with the street layout, as is so often the case, completely prioritising motor vehicles, creating a dangerous and unpleasant environment and leaving many cyclists too scared to use it. With the modal filter in place, the street became calmer, pleasant and safer, with many reports of residents now happier to cycle and walk along the road. Despite the challenges of Covid, 14 new businesses opened on the road after the modal filter was installed, showing the confidence of many traders in the new arrangements.

So it was deeply disappointing to see the committee vote to remove the filter – the road has already returned to being a noisy, polluted and dangerous traffic corridor, with the shops, cyclists and pedestrians again marginalised. The Council, now controlled by a Lib/Lab coalition saw Conservative members of the committee after heavy lobbying from some of the local traders and the local Conservative Association united with the Labour deputy chair of the committee who used her casting vote to reopen the road, with all the usual canards about displaced traffic, and the wild overstatement of how important through traffic stopping to park illegally outside shops is for business.

Mill Road Cambridge is now back to heavy traffic

So how could the Councillors justify such a decision given how popular the scheme was with local residents? The answer is that the Council carried out a deeply flawed consultation.

The committee were presented with survey results that in answer to the question ‘To what extent do you support/oppose the closure of Mill Road bridge to all traffic except buses, cycles and pedestrians?’ indicated:

Support/Strongly Support: 51.9%

Oppose/Strongly Oppose: 45.7%

No view either way: 2.4%

So clear support from residents to retain the filter. Except the report presented to committee indicated:

During the quality assurance process, undertaken as part of all our consultation analysis practices, 623 responses were flagged as potential duplicates. These were identified due to repeat use of logins, identical unique user numbers (generated for anonymous users from browser cookies), and blocks of strongly support/strongly oppose submissions within short time frames.

Following advice from the Consultation Institute, and no cases of duplicate ‘cut and paste’ answers in the open comment qualitative questions, a purely qualitative analysis was undertaken of the formal consultation questionnaire in order to understand the impacts of the ETRO on Mill Road.

In other words, the quantitative responses were included in an appendix without comment, with the clear implication that they should be ignored.

But what of these duplicate responses? The Council made no attempt to analyse what the impact of the identified duplicate responses was, so we obtained the data set and tried to repeat the analysis. It proved difficult to recreate their method and identify all 623 duplicate responses, but it was easy to spot where many many multiple anonymous responses had been made from the same web browser. For example, there were 173 responses from browser id’s with more than 10 responses each (ie almost certainly trying to cheat the consultation):

Anonymous User:2907544363
Anonymous User:2962741333
Anonymous User:3553806425
Anonymous User:3534385119
Anonymous User:1849899318
Anonymous User:3641904615
Grand Total173

And which way do we think the responses from these users went? We can exclusively reveal the results of analysing these 173 responses:

Support/Strongly Support: 14.6% (all showing as strongly support)

Oppose/Strongly Oppose: 85.4% (77.78% strongly oppose)

No view either way: 2.4%

So surprise surprise, those trying to rig the consultation were overwhelming from the pro-traffic extremists – and this analysis is strong evidence that the duplicate responses were attempts to manipulate the survey rather than, for example, a web browser in a community centre that would likely have a distribution of responses much closer to the overall distribution. Analysis of responses from browsers with 3-10 responses weren’t quite as skewed, but did also show results significantly opposed to the filter (compared to the net support in the whole data set), indicating that some but not all of these were also likely to be attempts to rig the consultation with multiple responses by the pro-traffic side.

So unforgivably the Council told Councillors to ignore the quantitative results of the consultation showing support for the scheme (effectively asking them to decide with no evidence at all of the scale of public support for the scheme) because pro-car activists had cheated the consultation, and simply removing the suspicious responses would have shown that there was in fact very strong support from residents for the filter.

Tragically this woeful decision was just 3 days before Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to Councils making it clear how unacceptable it was to remove schemes like this without good evidence (which is exactly what Cambridgeshire had just done), and making it clear consultations must be designed to be representative, and suspended funding for active travel schemes to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined authority. After further discussions and announcements from the new mayor, there is hope that this decision will in time be reversed, and a filter will be reinstated, but in the meantime, Councils and Councillors need to be aware that consultations that don’t take steps to avoid manipulation could well overstate opposition from a minority of very angry pro-car people cheating the surveys, at the expense of the majority who want to see quieter, safer and less polluted streets and who support simple measures to tackle climate change and public health like supporting active travel.

The Case for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The government is strongly supportive of cycling and active travel and rightly so – LTNs (Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) are about persuading some people out of their cars and to make more of their shorter journeys, particular in cities, by other modes of transport (so called modal shift) – the traffic doesn’t stay the same and relocate, much of the traffic is able bodied people making short journeys that are much better done by other modes of transport, and the journeys just disappear as people make more sensible choices (https://thecityfix.com/blog/traffic-evaporation-what-really-happens-when-road-space-is-reallocated-from-cars/).

The sudden deep and profound interest of people in disability access problems or the adaptability of small businesses to change is doubtless a good thing, but in reality it is almost always a proxy for ‘Why can’t I drive everywhere I want to as quickly and conveniently as possible with access to almost all of the the highway to the near exclusion of most other road users’.

Why is the government supporting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods? They tackle multiple major public policy problems in a way that is low cost and electorally popular (apart from amongst tiny vocal minorities) so of course they are doing this. They are trying to deal with climate change – not taking 2 tonnes of metal with you when you pop down the shops for a pint of milk or packet of fags is always going to be the easiest of easy wins when there will be much harder more expensive choices coming along to deal with the ever more obvious threat of climate change. We have a public health crisis due to lack of physical activity – diabetes is costing the NHS 10% of its entire budget (https://www.diabetes.co.uk/cost-of-diabetes.html), and in many cases this is a lifestyle disease with inactive lifestyles and obesity the main cause. Commuting to work by bike dramatically reduces someones chance of dying prematurely in middle age (https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1456) – if the health benefits of regular cycling could be put into a pill taken daily, it would be the most valuable new pharmaceutical ever discovered. Car dominated highways are one of the main barriers to active travel.

Cars take almost all the space on urban roads – its ludicrous to talk of a war on cars (As Conservative Home does again today) when cars dominate everything almost everywhere – they cause pollution, many thousands of deaths and serious injuries, and a clear majority of people don’t want their neighbourhoods dominated by them. This is not a new idea – changes have been happening for decades in the Netherlands, and in many cases in the UK. There are always a few angry people at first, then acceptance, then no-one would think of suggesting we go back to how things were before. Opposition to lower traffic neighbourhoods by local Conservative campaigns based on vocal minorities is not just a missed opportunity given the great lead being shown by national government – it is also electorally toxic as ultimately the changes are beneficial to communities and therefore electorally popular.

Greenwich Conservatives Lead Calls for Extension of Santander Cycles to South East of London

Once lockdown ends, London’s public transport capacity will be five times less than before the pandemic, due to the challenges posed by creating socially distanced travel, according to TfL. For many of us, this means that our journeys will have to be made by other means.  

It was therefore welcome that the Director of Surface Transport at TfL, Gareth Powell, recently expressed his desire to expand the geographical footprint of Santander Cycles, in line with the introduction of new cycle lanes throughout the capital.  

Greenwich Conservatives have followed up with Mr. Powell, writing to him to request that any future expansion of Santander Cycle coverage includes finally opening the network to South East London.  

The TfL network outside of buses is currently severely limited in South East London with only one underground station. Even with a  proposed Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham, if funding were to be confirmed in 2021 this would not be delivered until the early 2030’s leaving the area underserviced by public transport and unlikely to be able to meet demand post lockdown. 

Prior to the pandemic it was already difficult to board a train at Deptford in rush hour, but it will be even more difficult with 50,000 new homes being built near the Old Kent Road, Greenwich Peninsula, Charlton Riverside and in Deptford itself.  

Therefore, whilst other means of transport are restricted, the barren coverage of Santander Cycles in South East London provides a great opportunity for growth. It could also be coincided with the current regeneration of the Old Kent Road and be up and running within the year.  

By extending Santander Cycles to South East London TfL could provide a healthier, more environmentally friendly and covid-safe alternative to current forms of public transport in South East London allowing more residents to travel post lockdown.  

Extending Santander Cycles to the South East – currently poorly served by other transport options would be a deliverable and good value for money way to improve transport capacity.

School Run by Matt Woods

If you’re over a certain age it’s more than likely that your journey to school involved using your own two feet, or getting on your bike.  Figures from the National Travel Survey however, show that since the 1970s, the proportion of children being driven to school has increased while the numbers walking or cycling has fallen sharply.  With concerns about congestion and pollution, isn’t it about time we learned to leave the car at home, and start moving around under our own steam again?

Perhaps, but our most direct route is along the A206, along the section between the Woolwich Ferry and the Blackwall Tunnel; not the most inviting or safe route if you have a two-year-old in a cycle trailer!  It’s no wonder, that unlike the Netherlands, where most children are either cycled to school, or cycle themselves to school, most parents in the UK, are reluctant to allow their children to do the same.  

The Game Changer

So why have I decided to brave this 2-mile route by bicycle and leave the car at home?  Well I’m not the usual eco-warrior type.  I drive a ten year old diesel estate car and don’t get unduly worried about booking a flight abroad, but it just seemed such a waste of time and fuel driving my daughter such a short distance, especially at a time when the roads were filled with others doing exactly the same.  But surely the car would at least be a bit safer on that A206, with all the tipper trucks, cars and HGVs converging on Blackwall Tunnel?  

Well thankfully, I’ve also got a great, off-road cycle route right on my doorstep.  Quietway 14, taking in most of the Thames Path, pretty much runs door-to-door. It’s a fantastic ride, tracking along the River Thames, carving through old warehouses and the Thames Barrier Park.  There are no cars, it’s been recently resurfaced, and new signage added, and is really easy to use for a beginner, with no map-reading, steep climbs or off-roading skills required!  It’s everything a route should be: direct, easy to navigate and going to somewhere you actually want to go.  It’s great to be able to make these trips by bike and save on the time, money and stress of having to drive them.  I’ll often see neighbours at the school gate at the end of the day before we head off our separate ways, them by car, only to both be parking up back home at the same time!

So why don’t more of us do this?

Obviously, we’re a long way from the situation in the Netherlands. I’m lucky in having a high-quality route on my doorstep, but most parents with children at the same school don’t have that option.  Some will be coupling a school journey with a work trip, or be having to take children further afield to schools out of catchment areas, but while the average journey length and time to school has increased since the 70s, most children are still within a 20-30 minute walk or bike ride.  With an estimated 25% of morning rush hour traffic down to the “School Run”, even enabling some of those journeys to be done another way would still have a huge positive impact on congestion.  So what are we waiting for?

‘Champions of Cycling’ by Dr Suzanne Bartington

Monday 30th September 2019

Dr Suzanne Bartington – Cycling Champion, Oxfordshire County Council 

This event today is very timely – just over a week ago we saw thousands of people, particularly the young, line the streets demanding urgent action to mitigate the unfolding climate crisis. 

On Sunday 22nd September we also saw a large number of cities take park in World Car Free Day – an opportunity to reimagine public realm without motorised vehicles. 

For increasingly it is recognised that the provision of healthy and sustainable transport options is essential to mitigate the negative effects of the way we move around upon both the environment and our health. 

In my own field of public health, I would argue that an active travel focussed approach is vital to tackle our multiple challenges of environmental degradation climate change. Air pollution and physical inactivity. 

  1. Climate Change 

For in public health terms, it is only relatively recently we have built ourselves into this situation. Back in 1952, less than 30% of distance travelled in Britain was by car, 

Over subsequent decades, cars increasingly relatively affordable compared to other transport alternatives. 

Planning and land use policies successively prioritised car mobility over walking, cycling and public transport accessibility. 

By 1970, the pattern had reversed, with three-quarters of all passenger miles made by private vehicle, reaching 85% by the late 1980s.  

Where I live in Oxfordshire, the number of cars per household is over 1.5 – fitting in all these cars in residential areas is an increasing problem   – regularly filling Councillors inboxes with parking problems. 

Yet the average car spends about 80% of the time parked at home, is parked elsewhere for about 16% of the time and is thus only actually in use (ive moving) for the remaining 4% of the time. It is exceedingly inefficient in use of time and space. 

In addition, most trips made by car are of a short distance, with a third of trips less than 2 miles, which could be taken in just 10 minutes by bike. 

This reliance on the private care is damaging both the planet and our own health. 

Overall in the UK the transport sector is responsible for around one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions – almost two thirds of which (62%) is from private cars. Carbon dioxide emissions from road transport has also been the most resistant to reductions, compared to other sectors. 

Our overarching imperative to radically mitigate carbon emissions should be driving our transport and planning economic – at local, regional and national levels.

  • Air Pollution 

Road transport is also predominantly responsible for toxic levels of harmful pollutants – such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. 

These pollutants penetrate deep into the small airways of our lungs, into the cardiovascular system and scientific evidence is unequivocal as to the impacts on almost every organ of the body. 

From before birth to old age – with effects including low birth weight, miscarriage, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and emerging evidence about dementia. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are the most vulnerable. 

Diesel was recognised as Category 1 carcinogen nitrogen dioxide as well as being a respiratory irritant contributes to acidification – causing damage to local buildings and ecosystems. 

Particulate matter, will not be solved by transition to electric or autonomous vehicles. As acknowledged by the government’s Air Quality Expert Group particles from brake, tyre and road surface wear directly contribute to well over half of particle pollution from road transport. 

Those riding bikes are usually exposed to less air pollution than people in cars and buses. Segregated routes reduce this even more, with a distance of just a few metres leading to a reductions in around a quarter. 

Cycling is not just quick but also clean, close to zero emission as possible. 

3. Physical and Mental Health 

And then there are the multiple positive benefits of getting on a bike. 

I’m a doctor myself and have seen first hand the consequences of our sedentary modern society. Whether it be Type II diabetes, chronic lung disease or strokes the wider costs of physical inactivity are over £7Bn each year. 

We live in a nation where 11 million adults are inactive and over a fifth of children are overweight or obese when they leave school. 

The health benefits are estimated at between 13:1 and 415:1 (with an average of 20:1) for life years gained vs years lost. This is truly astonishing. When I teach medical students about benefits of interventions it is usually relatively marginal in comparison – if this were a drug it really would be a wonder pill. 

Cycling is relatively low impact, non-weight bearing and is easy to integrate into daily routines. 

And it is that integration with transport through utility cycling in daily life, such as to school and work, is an ideal mechanism to improve health outcomes 

Yet in many areas these processes are not joined up – planning is separated from public health and health is not integral to planning. We continue to deliver car centric communities which do not encourage or even facilitate behavioural change. 

An example I recently learned of a key active travel underpass below a busy main road which was due to be closed off as part of a planning application in a local town. We need a far more proactive process in the health of people is so strongly linked to the environment around them. 

Cycling is a more sociable and interactive way to travel – freed up from being cocooned in a driving box. 

Able to observe expressions, catch up with friends, immerse oneself in the community around. The changing of the seasons, falling of leaves, the stars which I look at when cycling after dark. Splashing through puddles on a wet day.

This rich, intense sensory experience is infinitely more rewarding than the sanitised car interior devoid of human interaction. It is no surprise that cycling is also good for our mental as well as physical health. 

Cycling is also an effective mechanism to improve health equity by enhancing access to local services  – GPs, shops, recreational centres. Yet we so frequently fail to achieve the most basic of provision. Take my local GP practice – 3 cycle racks, overgrown with weeds and one broken.  These are meant to be health promoting 

Time and time again I receive emails about people unable to get to their nearest shop by bike after dark. The nearest shop is down an unviting, unlit and unsurfaced path. There is no signage to the nearest station or indeed to any nearby facilities. Yet less than half a mile away there are illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide – we need to join this up. More roads are simply not an answer. 

Summary

Cycling is certainly win-win-win – for the environment, the economy for health. 

We know that the key market for increasing cycling uptake is everyday trips – shifting those short car journeys to two wheels. This is what drives the high modal shares in Cambridge and Oxford  – in Oxford we know that 72% of journeys each week by bike take place within the city. and this is what we need to achieve outside these cities and I believe with the right strategic approach and political commitment we can do it the context of Oxfordshire. 

If we were to adopt levels of Holland or Denmark research by Cycling UK shows: 

Save the NHS £17 billion within 20 years 

• Reduce road deaths by 30% 

• Increase mobility of the nation’s poorest families by 25% 

• Increase retail sales by a quarter 

• Reduce air pollution and save 400 productive life years 

• Reduce cycling casualties by 2/3rds 

• Saves a third of road space compared to driving 

It is for these reasons that a simple solution, on two wheels is right here. 

Combined with e-bikes as a game changer the bike can help us unpick the multiple woes we have brought upon ourselves with car usage.

We need to achieve a paradigm shift – to change assumptions about the way we travel. 

Placing people at the centre of travel, placing the most vulnerable first rather last, and being politically bold. 

Reducing and restricting traffic is crticial as the experience of the Netherlands has shown. 

A shift away from isolated schemes towards integrated networks, 

We know it can be achieved as it has elsewhere

Political willpower and commitment is absolutely critical. We need champions of cycling at all levels and layers to make this case. 

Commissioners with responsibilities to oversee processes and embed this agenda at the heart of the agenda for our towns and cities. 

To shift from ‘niche’ to ‘normal’ for travel by foot and bike 

Welcome!

Welcome to the official website of Conservative Friends of Cycling! After two very successful conference events and with the cycling agenda making headline news it felt like the right time for the group to go public and start sharing our fantastic articles, news of events and to further influence the cycling agenda across the whole of the UK.

British Cycling Tour of Manchester Velodrome, BMX track and training session with Team GB with Cllr Suzanne Bartington (Oxfordshire Cycling Champion), Sir Graham Brady MP, Alex Wolfe (2019 Vice-President of CFoC)
2019 Conservative Conference event with Chris Boardman MBE, Julie Harrington (CEO of British Cycling), Andrew Selous MP (2019 Chair of CFoC), Cllr Martyn Bolt (2019 Deputy Chairman of CFoC), Cllr Suzanne Bartington (Oxfordshire Cycling Champion), Alex Wolfe (2019 Vice-President of CFoC), Lucy Haynes (HSBC),
2018 Conservative Conference event with Conservative Friends of Cycling member Alex Wolfe with CEO of Brompton, Will Butler-Adams