Letter: The phrase “build it and they will come” appears to be a mere cliché

This letter sent to the Star was written by David Stagg, Sheffield, S9

Wednesday, 19th June 2019, 9:59 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th June 2019, 7:08 am
Sheffield buses
Sheffield buses

What a contrast in tone was witnessed in the June 3, edition of The Star. The pressing issues of how to deal with transport congestion and, pari passu, how to improve air quality, were represented.

Professor Ed Ferrari advocated the implementation of free, not paid for at the point of use anyway, bus travel as an inducement for people to change travel mode. However, his enthusiasm for his idea was tempered with humility. "I would just be a bit cautious because there are so many factors which affect bus use. It is not as simple as overnight making buses free to use", says Mr Ferrari.

No such hesitation or uncertainty expressed by representatives of Cycle Sheffield: "The solutions are relatively simple and could be done inexpensively, we just need political willpower". Predictably, a comparison of the experience of the Netherlands was proffered. A key staple of every cycling lobbyist website, the implication being that if effort and investment were directed at providing cycle networks then, inevitably, cycling numbers would soon match the levels of our European neighbour

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The Netherlands experience is not comparable to conditions in the UK. In the post-war period, cycling modal share never fell below 30 per cent, (the 1970s was the nadir in the Netherlands). Cycling modal share in Sheffield, currently, is around one per cent.

Dutch governments invested heavily into cycling provision knowing that they were catering for a strong existing manifest demand. The Dutch also invested considerably into building roads, (more miles of motorway per capita than the UK), and, even with this effort, traffic congestion is still regarded, by many of the Dutch, as a significant issue.

There is no example of a modern society converting a two per cent cycling modal share into twenty-five per cent.

In the future, a reallocation of existing road space appears to be inevitable. The skill for our politicians is to gauge and carry the public mood and attitude at any stage of transition. In my experience, a number of individuals tend to resent situations which are imposed upon them. So Professor Ferrari's hesitancy and lack of stridency are understandable. Merely posting, wholesale, Dutch style infrastructure, if affordable, may meet with an adverse reaction from a public not ready, able or disposed to change transport modes so abruptly.

I too am a fan of the films of Burt Lancaster. Yet the phrase "build it and they will come" appears to be a mere cliché.

It is hardly a premise to take forward public policy, in contemplation of this issue.