Philip Taylor, outgoing president of the Bicycle Association, has highlighted how he thinks bikes are on the rise and cars on the decline.
In the course of some unusual crystal-ball grazing, Taylor stressed his belief that global urbanisation means car mileage will continue to decline and bicycle mileage will increase, as the battle for space in cities intensifies, and economic and health challenges swing the pendulum ever more the bicycle's way.
Taylor referred to statistics compiled by the World Bank, which show that the percentage of the world's population who live in cities is growing. That raises health and environmental concerns: more road accidents and deaths from air pollution, for example.
In the UK there's a huge degree of urbanisation. Eighty percent of the populace (50 million people) are classified as urban-dwelling and urbanisation is forecast to grow at 0.7 percent – 350,000 people – a year to 2015.
Taylor suggested that the Government's financial support for electric cars, to the tune of £20 million at the end of last year (grants of up to £5,000 available to individual buyers), would not solve the space problem. "This ... is unlikely to change as a result of us all driving electric cars – however heavily subsidised!" he said.
He summed up the importance of the bicycle as part of the solution in rousing terms: "Although cycling in the UK may still not be what it was in the early 20th century, in either an industrial sense or in ownership and usage terms, it is, I'm convinced, on an unstoppable upward trend that can only be positive for all involved in the sector."
Taylor will be succeeded as Bicycle Association president by Mark Bickerton, one of the pioneers of the folding bicycle.
Backing from transport analysts
Transport analysts have been making the case for some time for an argument they call 'peak car', just as those who believe usable oil reserves will dwindle in the years to come have been said to follow the theory of 'peak oil'. 'Peak car' adherents, such as Phil Goodwin, Professor of Transport Policy at the University of the West of England, and Lyn Sloman, director of Transport for Quality of Life, point out the following:
- Between 1992 and 2007, the number of UK 17- to 29-year-olds who held driving licences fell by about 10 percent
- Private transport's share of UK trips declined from 50 percent in 1993 to 41 percent in 2008.
- According to Lynn Sloman, between 2004 and 2008, car trips per person went down by nine percent and car distance per person by five percent.
"Car use in Britain is on the decline but no-one is exactly sure why," said Goodwin.
David Metz, Visiting Professor at the Centre for Transport Studies, University College, London, highlighted that city as an example of what may happen elsewhere in the country in future. "The population density of London has been going up, but the number of car trips per day has stayed steady," he said. "In other words, car journeys per person are falling. This (car use) reached its peak in the early 1990s, has been declining ever since and it's projected to go on declining as the population keeps growing."
Some trends may help explain the move to less car use – internet-enabled home working and shopping, for example, and increasing motoring costs – but these are significant enough to explain only part of the decline. Academics like Goodwin and Metz point to transport policies helping to make some inner city areas – like London's Hoxton and Shoreditch – fashionable areas to live, the opposite of the situation 20 years ago. The New Urbanism movement sums up this trend.
But the UK Government certainly don't seem to have fallen in behind the peak car theory – the Department for Transport are working on the assumption that motor traffic will grow by 25 percent from 2003 to 2025.