We cannot afford to build cycle paths

This page is a draft under construction. It is a widely editable wiki page and should not be assumed to be official Cycling Embassy policy.

Summary of the claim

Building cycle tracks is expensive; we simply cannot afford to rebuild our roads, putting in cycling infrastructure. And besides, nobody is going to want to pay for it. It would be far better to spend money on driver training, or lowering speed limits, or traffic calming, or other measures. Anything except building cycle tracks.

Example sources

Commonly presented on cycling forums, in newspaper comment responses, and so on. Take your pick.

Summary of responses

1) The claim that we cannot afford to build cycling infrastructure is not new; it dates back to the 1930s. Thousands of miles of new roads have been built, and thousands of miles of existing roads have been rebuilt, ever since this claim was first made. Many thousands of miles of roads will continue to be built and repaired while this claim keeps being made. 

2) Governments can find plenty of money to spend on road-building projects when they so wish; even in straightened times, they can quickly announce billions of pounds [pdf] for new road projects to boost the economy.

3) Cycling infrastructure can be implemented as part of the natural cycle of building and repair of our roads, at little or no extra cost.

4) We cannot afford not to build cycle tracks; not only would shovel-ready investment in cycling infrastructure give a short-term boost to the economy, it would bring about enormous long-term savings in improved health, reduced congestion and lowered pollution. 

5) Cycling infrastructure will never get built if cycle campaigners continually state that there isn't the money for it. By contrast, coherent campaigning for investment in cycling infrastructure works.

In more detail

In the 1930s, the Cyclists' Touring Club argued that the cost of cycle paths would be 'enormous'; so expensive that their construction could not be justified. This was at precisely the same time that cycle paths were increasingly being built in the Netherlands, with the recognition that the cost of doing so was marginal by comparison with the costs of building new roads (or maintaining existing ones) if the paths were built as part of this cycle of building and repair.

The argument that cycle tracks are 'too expensive' has never disappeared in the intervening 80 years, despite the construction, since that time, of thousands of miles of new roads, the widening of thousands of miles of existing roads, and continued maintenance and repair. It continues to be made to this day. 

In reality, there is no lack of funding for cycling infrastructure; the problem is that funding is almost entirely aimed at facilitating the flow of motor vehicles. After all, we can afford to improve major roads and junctions at eye-watering cost, and our roads and streets continue to be repaired and maintained. Likewise, even in these economically-straightened times, the government has recently announced billions of pounds of funding for the construction of new road infrastructure. An adjustment of priorities could easily provide the funding for new cycle infrastructure.

Further, as the Dutch recognised in the 1930s, if the construction of tracks and paths forms part of the natural cycle of building and repair, the effective cost is very low, or non-existent. More than that, we cannot afford not to build cycle paths. The initial capital outlay needed to construct cycling infrastructure will be more than repaid by savings to the health budget, from reduced congestion, from reduced wear and tear on road infrastructure, from reduced pollution, and from improved house prices.

Finally, cycling infrastructure will almost certainly never get built if campaigners themselves argue that it is unaffordable. By contrast, in the face of committed campaigning asking for continental-style infrastructure, the Mayor of London recently announced close to a billion pounds of cycling-specific funding over the next ten years, and cycle tracks are now being proposed and built in London. Cycle tracks are now proposed on the Superhighway 2 extension, and existing cycle tracks in Camden are being upgraded