But I need to drive…

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.

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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!

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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.

12 thoughts on “But I need to drive…”

  1. My friend who is a keen cyclist shared this, so I decided to work out what my car usage is likely to be during October, based on plans I already have, plus the type and frequency of journeys I've made in recent months. Then I thought I should share it here, as I imagine most of your responses will be from regular readers of your blog, and therefore likely also keen cyclists, which is a demographic like to skew your results ?

    I should say up front that I am disabled, so unable to cycle, and limited in how far I can walk. Still, when I talk of an alternative to driving, I'll talk about walking, as bicycles scare the bejesus out of me! Or, more accurately, the way most road users treat cyclists, and the utter lack of provision of safe cycle routes, scares the bejesus out of me! Google reckons it would take an average person about 35 minutes to walk 2 miles, but I know that it would take me a minimum of an hour, with about a 65% chance that I wouldn't make it, and a 99.9% chance that I couldn't make it back!

    Only 2 of the journeys I'm likely to make are less than 2 miles.

    The first is the nearest supermarket, which is 1.4 miles, depending on which route you take. I think even able-bodied people would not walk to a supermarket if they had the option of driving, since you expect to be carrying several potentially heavy bags on the way back. I wouldn't expect to make this journey more than a couple of times in a month, as my partner usually does the weekly shopping on his way back from work.

    The other is the pharmacy, which is 1.9 miles, but not only is it 1.9 miles down a 1 in 3 hill, hence UP that same hill for the return journey, there also is no footpath for the majority of the route, and alternative walking routes are significantly longer than 2 miles.

    I have one journey of between 2 and 5 miles on my list, it's 4.6 miles, but it's just 1 leg of a round trip involving picking up 2 friends, then returning them to their homes later, and the full journey is 109.2 miles.

    Most journeys that I make will be just me and my dog in the car, although most of the longer journeys I expect to have 1-4 human passengers. My average journey distance is a little under 20 miles.

  2. OK, so I posted this on my Facebook feed and quite a few of my friends seemed to think the tone of this post was ableist. My reaction was, well, nobody is expecting you to jump on a bike if you are really unable to, but I think it touched a nerve with them.

    I think it was the phrase '…and nor do you [need to drive]' to be honest. I realise this is belatedly balanced out by the 'Imagine if everyone *who can*' in the last paragraph but I suspect the damage was done by then.

    Would it be possible to clarify earlier in the piece that of course those with disabilities need not feel bad about their transport choices? I mean it seems to me it shouldn't need to be said but we live and learn!

    Lastly some other friends of mine suggested the following additions to the 'notebook':

    (6) Load carried (if any)
    (7) Terrain/ environment (eg hills, six-lane highway etc)

    Don't get me wrong, I think this is a great initiative but I have been forced to defend it tooth and nail on my FB this afternoon and not just from the defensive arguments we have come to expect from habitual drivers. I think disabled people feel the weight of expectation quite keenly when the subject of active travel rears its head unfortunately…

  3. I love what you are doing Will and love this subject!

    Ableist is one of those new, horrible sounding words I think.. I am no longer 'able' to leap onto my utterly gorgeous Roberts Audax bike, so today I took delivery of a step through Raleigh model sans exquisite brazing, beautiful wrap-around stays and intoxicating pearlescent finish (pause for reminiscing..) However the thrill is still there.. Almost anyone could ride this lovely thing, my new companion.. I reckon I can even do Dartmoor!

    I am sick of people saying not everyone is fit.. that they carry tools.. that they are disabled.

    I cycled to cemeteries all around London daily carrying tools. I mean absolute miles! In the evenings, I transported oak or slate on my rear carrier to work on at home. I am really nothing special. Anyone can get the miles in their legs..

    I want to be treated as a social pariah whenever I use the car.. even though it's a bit unfair, as I would be transporting anvils or gas cylinders only on rare occasions. Treat them all the same I say!

    Thanks for listening. 🙂

  4. I've updated the post to better reflect the reality that to many disabled people the only realistic option is to drive.

  5. I have been rather surprised recently by the number of people who have openly admitted that they would normally drive for journeys that they could walk (and could probably therefore cycle in under 15 minutes) because of the difficulties getting fuel for their cars lately.

  6. 4 return trips of 90 miles distance in a month two people in car, all other trips cycled or walked

  7. My stats for this month:

    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
    Wouldn’t be helpful to calculate because two trips were Northumberland – London – Northumberland to take moving boxes of possessions down to London, then more back up north, then dropping the car off. The shorter trip was driving a few miles to a wood yard to collect a load of wood which was too heavy for my bicycle trailer (including a large section of teak weighing around 60kg)

    5) The average journey duration
    Two journeys of 6 hours and one of around 10 mins via a busy dual carriageway.

    These stats are out of the ordinary though as I share a car up north and borrowed it to come down to London and back and usually I don’t have a car in London. I do share a small car with a few neighbours for when I need to do a trip to somewhere that I need to carry a large weight of stuff which is very rare.

  8. Most weeks: down to 1 or maybe 2 work commutes (15 miles each way, rest days while I ramp up the cycling again) which I used to do by train. I actually did an in town not-carrying-stuff trip in the car last week (not certain of bike parking and had no time to go between 2 appts, both just over 1.5 miles). And then there was the 250 Mile work trip yesterday (not possible by public transport yet). But I know I’m a bit unusual.

    My influence is gradually rubbing off on DH – thinking it’s good or doesn’t want the reproach? 😁

  9. Try to walk or cycle where it’s practical, that’s included 4km each way to timber merchant to buy a couple of 2mx30cm planks to make some shelving and walk home with it on shoulder. Local shop is only a 500m walk, but often see neighbours (nearer the shop) drive the 1.2km long way around as they can’t drive on the footpath, buy a litre of milk and some pizza, and drive home. Meanwhile I’m back first on foot.
    Weekdays I have little option, need parts and tools from the company van, although I often part at the edge of the town centre and wander on foot to any customers there.
    If I do have to drive, I try to lump things together, loaded trailer to tip, stop on way back to buy whatever building materials the current project requires.

  10. 1) The number of journeys where you were alone in the car = 0
    2) The number of journeys under 2 miles = 0
    3) The number of journeys under 5 miles = in a car 0 m, on a bike/on foot 6
    4) The average journey distance = 3.5 miles
    5) The average journey duration = 20 mins

  11. I’ve done 1 journey in a car in the past year and a half, about 3 miles, about 9pm on a Sunday after a 3.5 hour delay on the trains down the east coast mainline. Had the trains been on time I’d have taken the bus as it would have been a higher frequency. At that time of day the buses drop to hourly, with a big wait in the town centre for the second bus home. It was a lift from a friend. I was with 2 young kids with luggage and buggy. If I didn’t have the kids and suitcases I’d have walked rather than wait for the buses. If it was a shorter duration trip I’d have probably biked to/from the station (I wasn’t keen on leaving the bike there for 4 days).

  12. I’ve done this for September. My total trips using the car – 1x driving my wife 10 miles each way to get a filling at the dentist. 20x trips to work (8 miles each way) which, when carrying 30 books or more from a class and no shower at work I feel is reasonable. That’s it. The rest of the time we walk or cycle – it’s more enjoyable!


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