Have a conversation with the vast majority of people, and you will very soon hear how everyone needs their car. You will be told detailed stories of how they use their cars to collect fridges, couches and more. So much so that I wouldn’t at all be surprised if someone claimed they used their car to deliver elephants on a daily basis!
It’s true – some people really do need to drive. Some disabled people, for example, are totally reliant on driving, but it’s not just limited to disabled people. In a previous job, I had a number of colleagues working in Cornwall, and I rapidly learned that due to the affordable housing shortage there, it’s normal for people to have to travel two or three towns over to get to work.
Public transport in Cornwall – well, pretty much all of the rural UK – is exceedingly poor. One of my ex-colleagues calculated that to get to work using only public transport would require her setting off early in the morning, eventually end up overnighting in Plymouth, to finally arrive at work around lunch time the following day. That example isn’t especially unique, either, and so people drive everywhere, because they have precious little alternatives.
What about cycling, you ask? I’m an experienced cyclist, who confidently rides in heavy traffic, but there are many roads in Cornwall (and Devon!) that I just will not ride on! Why not? Simple: it’s too bloody terrifying! And yes, I’m being deadly serious.
If someone like me, who cycled in heavy traffic, in several cities, is too scared to cycle there, then you will have no chance at all of getting someone else new to cycling out of their car and onto their bicycle for the first time. They won’t do it, because fear of traffic is the primary reason most people won’t cycle.
You can lay on as much training as you want – we’ve had over 40 years of training like Bikeability, which achieved exactly nothing in terms of modal shift. We have had countless PR campaigns, “encouraging” people to cycle, and they all achieved nothing.
We have many examples, both in the UK, as well as abroad, proving the only way to grow cycling is to enable safe cycling, by building quality, kerb-protected cycle lanes. Anything less is just re-arranging the deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.
As I said at the start, some people do need to drive, but getting back to your claimed need to drive, here’s what I want you to do: get a little notebook, and a pen, and leave those in your car. Over a period of a month, make a note every time you drive, stating the start and end mileage, how many people you had in the car, the purpose of the journey (leisure, school run, work, etc) what the weather is like, as well as the start and finish time, as well as the duration of the journey. Remember, do this for a full month!
At the end of the month, tally up your journeys. What we’re looking for is:
1) The number of journeys where you were alone in the car
2) The number of journeys under 2 miles
3) The number of journeys under 5 miles
4) The average journey distance
5) The average journey duration
If you’re brave enough (and I hope you are!) come back here and post the results as a comment, then we can start looking at some real-world data. Remember, you are not to alter any data!
I predict you will be surprised by how many short (less than 2 miles) journeys you make, especially on your own.
As I pointed out above, I genuinely believe there are currently many people who need to drive, but the trouble with that is they certainly don’t need to drive every journey, and nor do you.
If you start looking at walking or cycling those shorter journeys, you will be making a substantial positive change in your life, and in the world.
Remember pre-COVID, when traffic levels were SO much lighter during school holidays? They weren’t actually that much lighter – school holidays on average cause a 25% (roughly) drop in traffic, but that’s enough to make such a huge difference.
Imagine if everyone who can starts walking or cycling those shorter journeys – if you needed to drive that day, your driving would be so much better, due to lighter traffic. Everyone wins, even those who still drive.