A phrase that often crops up in discussions about transport is “carrots and sticks”, referring to measures designed to get people to do the right thing. The metaphor likens people to donkeys needing to be tempted with carrots and goaded with sticks. It’s a demeaning image. Nobody using language like this thinks it applies to themselves or their own family and friends.
What people need are options and incentives. Without options, incentives are futile or punishing. Transport professionals spend too little time asking who will gain new options from an intervention, and give too much weight to marginal journey time savings.
There are two main ways to create a new option: reduce the typical journey time for an alternative mode, or overcome a real or perceived danger.
For most people, taking the bus isn’t an option because there isn’t a bus; or not at the times needed; or the end-to-end journey time is far longer than by car; or the infrequency allows too little flexibility and entails long waits. None of these is addressed by a bus lane that shaves a couple of minutes off some journey times. The only way to create new options for a significant number of people is to run many more buses and redesign bus routes.
When it comes to building infrastructure, it’s usually more beneficial to address safety than journey times. A protected cycle lane or pedestrian crossing can make cycling or walking a new option for a ten-year-old or an adult with macular degeneration. A well-designed bus station can make travelling by bus safer and more comfortable for women, children and older people.
The huge advantage of cycling infrastructure is it works by itself: it doesn’t require another company to operate the service. Its users are in control. It’s free to use. Combine it with buses, trains or trams, and you also overcome the first/last-mile conundrum.
Almost nothing the Greater Cambridge Partnership has delivered in nearly five years has increased people’s travel options. That needs to change before we can seriously contemplate further restricting or charging for driving in Cambridge.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 16 October 2019.