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'We have to drive a lot less', says Chris Boardman, the PM's new travel tsar

·3-min read
Chris Boardman - Paul Cooper
Chris Boardman - Paul Cooper

Cars should not be used for journeys less than a mile, Chris Boardman has said, as he takes up his post as Boris Johnson’s first National Active Travel Commissioner.

The Olympic gold medalist and safer cycling campaigner said he was determined to convince motorists to swap driving for cycling and walking.

"We have to drive less. A lot less," he told The Telegraph in his first major interview since taking over his new role on a permanent basis earlier this week.

Mr Boardman — whose mother was killed on a bicycle by a motorist six years ago — also hit back at critics of “Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods”, accusing opponents of bad faith arguments that boil down to "I don’t want change".

“Who wants a high traffic neighbourhood?” he said.

“If you think about it, there's no such thing as a low traffic neighbourhood. It’s either a neighbourhood or there are cars coming through.

“Define a neighbourhood? We've allowed them to fill up so in the last 10 years alone, there are 20bn more miles being driven around homes. Because we're overusing cars.”

 Olympic Games 1992 Spain - Cycling Chris Boardman racing cyclist who won the individual pursuit gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics - Russell Cheyne/ The Telegraph
Olympic Games 1992 Spain - Cycling Chris Boardman racing cyclist who won the individual pursuit gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics - Russell Cheyne/ The Telegraph

Armed with a £2bn budget, Mr Boardman took the job after being asked by the Prime Minister to get Britons out of the car and into the fresh air. He wants to help local councils build more cycle lanes and safer pedestrian infrastructure to encourage walking.

“People shouldn’t be forced out of their cars. People should be given a viable, attractive alternative.

“Ultimately, we have to give people the choice. We don’t want to say: ‘Don’t drive’. Cars are great [but] we are just overusing them. We have to drive less. A lot less.”

Top of Mr Boardman’s hit list is ending the school run, which accounts for 12pc of morning traffic. Making sure that there are white lines that prioritise pedestrians could be enough to convince parents to switch and ditch the car, he said.

Carol Boardman, 75, was hit by a motorist in July 2016 after she fell off her bike in Deeside, Flintshire. The driver was later sentenced to 30 weeks in prison for his part in the fatality.

Mr Boardman said that her death had spurred him on to make cycling safer. And revealed he could not attend the trial of the motorist involved.

“I couldn’t go,” he says. “I didn’t get anywhere near the trial. It would have just consumed me. So I chose to stop that from happening to other people. That’s the most productive use of [my] life.”

He admitted that the tension between cyclists and motorists would be tough to address.

However he said: “The messaging is a huge part of it. If you ask people: ‘Would you like your kids to get to school under your own steam?’ And then: ‘What would you need to feel comfortable to let them do that?’ Well, that's what we're building.”

“This is culture change, this isn’t transport change. Which is always slow. It’s always painful."

Meanwhile, he said he was opposed to forcing cyclists to wear helmets.

“It needs to be a personal choice,” he says, citing the negative impact on cycling as a mode of transport in Australia and New Zealand from making bike helmets the law.

“They saw a massive drop overnight in bike use. And it was over really simple things. Such as: ‘Where am I going to keep it? Is it going to mess up my hair?

“You want to be able to ride around in normal clothes [doing] normal things.

“That's where my time will be focused, making the environment safe. If you want to wear a helmet, fine. But that’s not safety, that’s danger. And that’s the wrong place to spend public money.

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