“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia”

bicycleutopia

British futurist H.G. Wells (1866–1946), wrote that oft-quoted line in A Modern Utopia, of 1905. The author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds rode a bicycle but his quote about cycle tracks has long been taken out of context. In his vision of the future, bicycles would be much less important than swifter forms of transport. There would be fast, smooth routes for motor cars, and wonder rails for super-trams. Slower cyclists and pedestrians would get picturesque but convoluted routes:

“This is what we shall see even while the road is still remote, swift and shapely motor-cars going past, cyclists, and in these agreeable mountain regions there will also be pedestrians upon their way. Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia, sometimes following beside the great high roads, but oftener taking their own more agreeable line amidst woods and crops and pastures; and there will be a rich variety of footpaths and minor ways.”

However, modern-day futurists see a greater future for the bicycle, and a much more regulated and restricted use of the private motor car.

In a new report from the Transport and Health Study Group, it’s posited that, in the future, cyclists and pedestrians will have priority on roads:

“Unlike the straight direct cycleway, motor vehicles had to negotiate the gaps between the obstacles rather than having a protected carriageway.”

[Bit like much of the Netherlands right now then].

The Transport and Health Study Group is an independent society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers “committed to understanding and addressing the links between transport policies and health and promoting a healthy transport system.”

The new, multi-authored report from the Transport and Health Study Group is Health on the Move 2, an update to Health on the Move of 1991.

The latest edition has a foreword from Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England until 2010.

He writes:

“The causes of ill health, the solutions to some of our major health problems and the sustainability of our environment are intricately interwoven with the way that we move from place to place both locally and across the globe…If just a small number of towns and cities in the country would act on the ideas and evidence in [this report] then we would begin to see the shape of a new future in which every move is a healthy move.”

The report envisages a future where cars and trucks have speed limiters and can’t be driven aggressively.

Dr Stephen Watkins, Chair of the Transport and Health Study Group, said:

“The difference between travelling two miles at 20mph and travelling it at 30mph is only two minutes.  Those who oppose this measure are saying that two minutes off journey times is more important than children’s lives.”


The writers of Health on the Move 2 feel they have history on their side. The private motor car is unsustainable long-term: congestion and Peak Oil will see to that.

“Almost everybody who now works as a transport planner or transport system manager has spent their entire career in an atmosphere of retrenchment where the emphasis is on squeezing more and more through the existing system and where it has been assumed that the trend towards the car is unstoppable. It is not surprising therefore that many of them have expressed unease at the scope of the measures which we describe as the minimum necessary.

“The transport system that we advocate is no more unrealistic than the building of the sewers or the removal of industrial and domestic smoke from the air was in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively. What is totally unrealistic is to believe that as a species we will allow ourselves to become extinct because we refuse to use available technologies to stop carbon emissions destroying us, or that we can tolerate a situation where it becomes normal to be obese, or even that we will allow our large cities to grind to a halt in gridlock. We are the realists. It is those who pretend that we can avoid these measures who lack an understanding of reality.”

Cars are not the paradigms of freedom they are often portrayed as, say the health and transport professional authors of the book:

“In the middle of the last century, a comprehensive rail and bus network provided effective transport for most people Those who bought a car bought greater freedom and greater speed. But as car ownership grew, this freedom and speed became eroded. People buy a car in order to drive on an open road a typical advert might show a drive across a Scottish moor. However, and they use it to inch their way through city centre traffic jams searching for somewhere to park. The car owner today may travel further – and certainly spend more time doing so – but is much less mobile than the car user of the 1950s.”

Restricting car use will become the norm in the not too distant future, and this is for the good of society:

“The health of the people is a fundamental social value. In comparison with the battles we have fought and won in the past, our vision of a healthy transport system does not seem at all ambitious.”

The report authors believe that to encourage new cyclists, protected cycle routes will be essential:

“Investment in cycling networks separate from the main heavily- trafficked roads has been questioned as a departure from the Hierarchy of Provision favoured by cycling organisations as the most cost-effective way to make provision for cycling. We have no doubts that if the issue was simply how to provide for existing cyclists then the current Hierarchy of Provision is right. However our objective is also to attract large numbers of relatively sedentary people out of their cars and on to bicycles in order to save their lives and we are deeply impressed by the evidence which suggests that this will not happen unless quiet networks are provided because of these current non-cyclists’ perceptions of risk.”

Pushing for a healthy transport policy, Health on the Move 2 stresses the importance of non car use:

“Walking and cycling, which are healthy exercise, do not impose danger on others, and do not generate pollutants.”

There must be more emphasis on:

“road designs that reduce speed of motor traffic, the provision of cycle and pedestrian facilities and, most importantly, changes in driver attitudes.”

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