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On the back of polling showing strong public support for measures to create safe space for walking and cycling, transport secretary Grant Shapps has this week allocated a further £175 million for councils to implement new school streets, low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), cycle lanes and pedestrian improvements. Polling shows that in London a majority support and only 19 per cent of people oppose LTNs. Other polls are in line with this. There is also evidence that people in favour overestimate the level of opposition to measures to reallocate road space.

The announcement about the new funding and survey findings is contained in a press release issued by the DfT on 13th November, which includes the following summary of survey results:

The funding comes as a survey undertaken by Kantar Media last month reveals that 65 per cent of people across England support reallocating road space to cycling and walking in their local area. Nearly 8 out of 10 people (78 per cent) support measures to reduce road traffic in their neighbourhood.

In London, independent polling by Redfield & Wilton shows 19 per cent of people oppose LTNs, 52 per cent support them and 25 per cent are neutral. Surveys are also being conducted of residents in individual LTNs where roads have been closed. The first of these, in south London, found 56 per cent wanted to keep the scheme, against 38 per cent who wanted to remove it.

graph showing support for reallocation of road spaceA graph from the DfT-commissioned polling by Kantar shows that two thirds of people are in favour of reallocating road space

The polling results might come as a surprise to people who rely on social media to gauge public opinion, as some opponents of any measures which make driving cars even slightly less convenient are extremely vociferous. However, the results are in line with polling conducted by YouGov in the summer, which found that:

  • 77 per cent of British people support measures in their local area to encourage cycling and walking. Measures are supported by 6.5 people for every 1 against
  • 80 per cent who expressed a preference want the UK’s streets redesigned to protect pedestrians and cyclists from motorists; 51 per cent agree they would cycle more if these changes were made.
  • 65 per cent (rising to 79 per cent, when people with no opinion are excluded) believe children should be able to play in the street without danger from cars cutting through.
  • 33 per cent - and 35 per cent of regular car commuters - would use their car less if streets were designed to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe from motor traffic. These values rise to 47 per cent and 46 per cent when people with no opinion are put aside.
  • 10.6 people support local measures to encourage cycling and walking to each 1 opposed in the 18-24 age bracket, whereas in the 55+ bracket this falls to 4.56 people in favour to each 1 against.
  • Young people want a future cycling nation: 5.1 people think “Britain would be a better place if more people cycled” in the 18-24 age bracket, for every 1 person opposed.

The YouGov survey also investigated what respondents thought other people's views were on these questions. The findings showed that people who personally were in favour of pro-walking and cycling measures were under the false impression that they were in a minority. Commenting on this, Dr Ian Walker, an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath commented:

Perhaps one reason negative voices find it so easy to sway things their way is that people have a tendency to misjudge public levels of support. The survey showed that, while most people think Britain would be a better place if more people cycled, they also guessed that other people were less supportive, and more hostile, to the idea than they were.

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Basil Clarke's Avatar
Basil Clarke posted a reply #5751 19 Nov 2020 20:03


Below is the text of the letter sent by the secretary of state for transport to councils last week. Much of the content is shared with the press release that was used by the newspapers when reporting this and also in an article that he wrote for the Times newspaper.

Different journalists have picked up different messages from this letter and the press release, which I think was probably the idea, because it contains both, on the one hand, remarks about the need to provide for more active travel and about the fact that polling shows this is popular, and, on the other hand, instructions to councils to consult more thoroughly and criticism of rushed jobs. This is a bit rich. The instructions to the councils from the DfT clearly said that they only had eight weeks to have the schemes up and running or they would lose the money, so there wasn't enough time for consultation - but the blame for this lies with the DfT, not the councils.

However, I think that the Guardian's interpretation was correct when it reported that

[...] in a pointed message to some councils which have abandoned LTNs or other walking and cycling schemes following protests, Shapps stressed they are generally popular, with one poll showing 65% of people across England back the reallocation of road space to cyclists and pedestrians in their local area.


This is the message that comes across from a sentence in Grant Shapps' Times article:

If we are to truly see a golden age of active travel, we must bring people with us. That means listening to reasonable objections, but listening too to the majority who like these schemes and want them to happen.


Full text of letter to councils

Dear Councillors,

Emergency Active Travel Funding Update

I'm writing to you today about the Emergency Active Travel Fund, ahead of any formal allocations from the second round of funding.

Before turning our attention to the second round of funding, I want to look at what has worked well so far, and what has worked less well. While I recognise that all Local Authorities put in a huge amount of effort, at a very challenging time for our nation, to deliver on Government plans for active travel to help maintain social distancing, there are some important lessons to be learned.

A great number of schemes have represented smart and considered use of the funding, which has genuinely improved the local transport networks in areas, and helped improve the lives of local residents and all road users. We know that the majority of people support reallocation of road space for cycling and walking in their local area, and quality schemes such as these will only serve to further enhance this support.

However, there were a significant minority of instances where schemes were, frankly, nowhere near good enough. A notable number of councils used their funding poorly and were simply out of step with the needs of their local communities.

I saw or heard from the public and parliamentary colleagues about far too many instances where temporary cycle lanes were unused due to their location and design, while their creation left motor traffic backed up alongside them; of wide pavements causing unnecessary congestion in town centres; and other issues that many have, rightly, reacted angrily too.

Some weeks ago I asked my officials to engage with local authorities where I had concerns. Since then, numerous schemes have been scaled back and revised. I am pleased with this but the work will continue where local residents continue to have concerns.

The objectives of the fund are important ones, and schemes supported by the fund have an essential part to play in delivering the aims set out in our "Gear Change" plan. We all want to see the benefits that active travel brings to be realised, but poorly implemented schemes will make no friends for the policy or more broadly for active travel. If we want people to see this funding - a substantial amount designed to redesign transport space to benefit all road users - in a positive light, then we have to ensure it is used well.

That is why in the second tranche of funding, those authorities which have demonstrated genuine plans to consult their local communities and embrace good design principles will receive all of or, in some cases, more funding than their indicative allocations. Those authorities that have not been able to demonstrate this to the same extent will receive less, and in some cases considerably less, funding than their indicative allocations.

There is no 'one size fits all' approach here. Different types of schemes will be appropriate in different areas of the country. For example, what is appropriate in a major urban area may not be what is suitable in rural towns, where people are more likely to be reliant on private vehicles. The crucial test is, does it deliver for the community it serves, and has it been done with their consultation.

Schemes must balance the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road¬users, including motorists and local businesses. Only authorities which have passed these key tests will receive the funding they have asked for.

I want to be absolutely clear: we are not prepared to tolerate hastily introduced schemes which will create sweeping changes to communities without consultation, and ones where the benefits to cycling and walking do not outweigh the dis-benefits for other road users.

I look forward to seeing the funding go toward genuinely positive changes to our roads, to make sure that everyone has the space and ability to move easily and without delay, no matter their transport type. I would like to thank you for all of your efforts in delivering such schemes in what are very testing times.

No one should be in doubt about our support for motorists. This Government is investing £27 billion to upgrade our roads and more to tackle potholes. We're also investing in charging infrastructure to speed the transition to the electric vehicles, which will allow motorists the same freedom while meeting our commitments to tackle climate change.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT