I always used to be sceptical about the adverts I saw on buses; I never thought that a particular brand of deodorant would make me more desirable or that buying a particular car would make me more desirable or that Bran Flakes were actually very, very tasty and would make me more desirable.
The bicycle as a mode of transport has never really been advertised to the British public in a sexual or sensual way which is one of the plethora of reasons levels of bicycle usage are very low. Those in the bicycling world, be it campaigner, journalist or policy maker, when trying to push the bicycle as a mode of transport sadly let themselves down by using boring old proven facts, demonstrable knowledge and verified statistics in their messages to the wider world.
Recently an advert was put on the side of a bus that many Britons bought into. The claim was that £350 million a week paid to the EU could be diverted to the NHS. It was proved to be an outrageous lie, but it got a job done. However, it started me thinking how much the NHS could save each week if the bicycle was more integrated into the nations policies. Probably an eye-watering amount worthy of the side of a bus.
Another thing that I couldn’t help but notice over the last couple of years is that the Second World War has been bandied about even more than usual as the de facto sign of British grit and stoicism. Bandied, often by people whose biggest interaction with this event is watching ‘Dad’s Army’. A small point that’s often overlooked, setting aside the fact that it was a truly horrific period of history that no one else in Europe wishes to repeat and no one that did have an involvement is that the humble bicycle was a vital mode of transport and faithful servant during this period and the years immediately afterwards. The Spitfire was always going to nab the headlines.
In times of adversity, the bicycle was the people’s transport either on the front line or in peacetime. The 1973 oil crisis, when Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil exporters imposed an embargo on the US, Britain, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war caused a surge in the price of oil. In a televised address, the Dutch prime minister informed the people of the Netherlands that changes had to be made in energy conservation. The Dutch knew a national crossroads when they saw one and over the following decades gradually re-engineered the crossroads with red bicycle paths as a National Insurance policy. There are Dutch people alive today that might not have been had the nation taken a wrong turn, like the UK did.
However, the UK has reached a national crossroads of its own, albeit one of its own construction. This perversely could be the bicycle’s time to shine again as it is the answer to many of the problems predicted by experts; it protects against oil shocks, it is the antidote against the increasing need for medicines and healthcare. It is a social, friendly, egalitarian mode of transport for all ages, genders, creeds, colours and abilities that cares not if you are a part of a disaffected community or the establishment elite.
The problem is that, in these very un-British fractious, polarised times, the people that keep invoking the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ as ‘us versus them’ whilst deftly airbrushing out the French troops that gallantly gave their lives defending the retreat, usually think the same way about the bicycle and those that use them. The humble bicycle user is also a ‘them’; decades of begging for the scraps at the transport table have led to a group of people using their bicycles in spite of the conditions as opposed to because of them, with all the specialist kit, body armour and surveillance equipment that this mitigation involves.
Decent infrastructure is helping to bridge our nations disconnect, despite the froth and vitriol of those that see the removal of a car lane as an act of terrorism. The seeds have thankfully been planted in time through protected Superhighways and ‘Mini Hollands’. These schemes help remove the need for specialist kit, body armour and surveillance equipment and make the act of riding a bicycle for transport simple, even a bit boring – as it should be. There will always be people wearing specialist kit of course. The bicycle offers a very wide palette for a very broad canvas.
Above all, positive data is already emerging and will continue to emerge from these schemes in turns of usage, efficiency and even money spent in local businesses affected by the schemes. Still no lying necessary. The bicycle is from our nations past and can easily be a productive part of our nation’s future. Stick that on the side of a bus.
I now reside on the edge of Godalming, Surrey and have done for just over 2 years. It is only 4 miles from my home village where my mother still resides, my Father having finally passed away from cancer in 2014.
The highways authorities that design bicycle infrastructure in my home county of Surrey carry out their work in the style of Salvador Dali with the soul of Katie Hopkins. We shall be uncovering more of this Third World of Transport in future posts.
I live very close to the Wey Navigation. There were many reasons why canals such as this were built from the mid 18th century; roads had not really developed from medieval times, the Industrial Revolution meant Great Britain was becoming a true global power with all the goods that needed to be transported efficiently as a result, and of course the transport had to be inland as opposed to coastal due to a mistrust of the French. But that’s still around today. The canals were the Amazon Prime of their time but with boats instead of drones. Kind of.
Connecting to this is the Downs Link path running from Shalford (just south of Guildford) all the way down to Shoreham by Sea, in West Sussex. When I lived in Worthing for a spell, I’d occasionally cycle its 37 miles to pop up to visit my parents – slowly. I’m more Chris Biggins in shape than Chris Froome.
The path follows the course of two dismantled railways, both of which closed in the 1960’s as a result of the Beeching Axe. As the canals capitulated to the railways so the railways capitulated to the roads from the Second World War and the end of petrol rationing (along with a rather ‘conflicted’ Minister for Transport). However the railways were the Amazon Prime of their time but with trains instead of drones. Kind of.
Canals have enjoyed a Restoration period for a few decades now offering relative tranquility for leisure be it boating, angling, walking and of course, cycling. It would be wrong however to think that these can be part of a meaningful network as far as an efficient transport mode is concerned. Some are blessed to use them for cycle commuting (and the Wey Navigation is stunningly beautiful for the most part) but the conditions I personally feel are often inappropriate – narrow, overgrown, un-surfaced, blind corners and so on. It relies on a lot of mutual goodwill and tolerance from all users (and indeed the volunteer groups that maintain these routes).
Post-Beeching railways that haven’t been lovingly restored by Railway Heritage groups can make excellent long distance routes with the subtlest of gradients. Again, like canals, they can get narrow and overgrown and still require goodwill and tolerance from all users (and indeed the volunteer groups that maintain these routes). But in the case of the Downs Link, the fact that one can cycle 40 relatively easy miles through the South of England with the barest of interactions with motor traffic is wonderful. Don’t however suggest giving them a proper surface and even street lighting where they connect with towns and villages to make them usable in all seasons (the southern end can get horrifically boggy in winter). If you do, cries of ‘urbanisation of the countryside!’ will rain into your local newspaper from people who should be more worried about taking back control of their blood pressure as opposed to our borders.
As I rejoin Surrey’s roads on a bicycle, it’s as though my few years of absence from bicycle campaigning never happened. Below is a picture of some typical British cycling infrastructure. Built with such beautiful contempt for the end user, I don’t know why all pretence isn’t scrapped and ‘THAT’S ALL YOU’RE GETTING FUCKERS!!’ painted at frequent intervals on the pavements. To be fair, Council budgets have been stripped bare over the last decade due to the interesting notion of Central Government of supporting the devolution of powers to the regions and then stripping said regions of any money to do anything. As far as I can ascertain, Her Majesty’s Treasury are basically hiding anywhere outside London in a cupboard under the stairs (except Northern Ireland).
I also had to chuckle when last week, Report No: 1,452 on the benefits of cycling was published (I made that number up, but it feels like 1,452). The Department for Transport commissioned Sustrans amongst others to carry out this particular study – specifically relating to the effects of the Cycling Demonstration Towns and Cycling City and Towns programmes that ran in periods between 2005-2011. It reached the conclusion that where there was investment in urban cycling, there is an increase in the number of trips taken.
Canals, railways and roads will always have money poured into them as long as there is or was monetary return. Well designed and implemented bicycle infrastructure is never a sound investment unless your return is to society in which it pays dividends – a healthier population being less of a financial burden on the NHS into old age, safer communities as more pairs of eyes and ears are outside of metal boxes cycling around, more galvanized communities as people reacquaint themselves with their local shops and amenities from a saddle, less pollution, less congestion, more independence for children, better journeys for wheelchair users and mobility scooters, the list goes on. In these times of Brexit uncertainty and the requirement to be a more self-sufficient Inland Empire, I can’t think of a better time to invest in society.
It’s just a shame that the best ideas are foreign.
Sustrans were also there along with Dr Adrian Davis (Chair), Dr Fiona Spotswood of UWE & Ed Plowden of Bristol City Council.
I was speaking immediately after Dr Dave Horton, who was one of the team behind the excellent Understanding Walking & Cycling project last year (and blogs wonderfully about it too). I have given public talks on behalf of the Embassy before so I was not only extremely happy to put the our view to Local Government, but also to the general public who attended – many of whom were probably gearing up for a nice juicy Local-Newspaper-Comments-With-A-Dash-Of-Jeremy-Vine-Show-And-A-Twist-Of-Daily-Mailathon. Many (particularly groups representing the Elderly) had a particular and justified grievance against that doyen of local media, the pavement cyclist.
They were a bit taken aback when I started showing them what has been achieved overseas. In my allotted 15 minutes, I was able to convey the fact that; bicycles, pedestrians & motorists don’t have to be in constant gladiatorial combat with the correct provision and planning, that the economies and societies of the Netherlands and Denmark did not plunge into anarchy or boarded up ruin by designing the private car out of town and city centres and that providing inviting conditions for walking and cycling as valued modes of transport means all ages and abilities can get around equitably and without fear or the need for safety wear to mitigate that fear. This to me is the mark of a civilized society.
RESEARCHERS have called for improvements to cycling conditions in Bristol, which they say could solve the problem of cyclists using pedestrian walkways.
Speaking at a council meeting yesterday, they argued that safer cycling networks in the city will help to discourage cyclists from mounting the pavements.
Judith Brown, chairwoman of the Bristol Older People’s Forum, which has been campaigning against cyclists using pavements, attended the Sustainable Development and Transport Scrutiny Commission meeting. After the meeting she told the Post that the council should listen to what had been said and change its “inadequate” policy.
Five experts addressed the public meeting and backed an investment in infrastructurethat would pull cyclists away from the pavements and avoid conflict.
Dr David Horton, a sociologist focusing on cycling, said that his research showed how potential cyclists were put off by “terrifying” road conditions. He said: “Too often words like ‘petrified’ and ‘terrified’ crop up in surveys when people are asked why they don’t cycle around town.
“In urban Britain, at the moment, we are really struggling to provide for cyclists. There’s a real mismatch between policy and practical work leading to improvements.”
Jim Davis, chairman of the cycling embassy of Great Britain, said that planners should look to examples in Europe, where the provisions for cyclists make travelling by bike more “normal”.
He added that the changes abroad had also led to less conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.
Leading the debate, Adrian Davis, a public health and transport consultant, said: “There’s no doubt that the debate in the city is often very polarised. We want to move on from this by looking at the harsh realities.”
Following the meeting, Mrs Brown told the Post: “I think the council has to think seriously about its inadequate policy for all.
“As Bristol is a cycling city, the council must think how it accommodates them properly.
“What countries have done in Europe looks promising and it’s certainly worth thinking about how they can make life safer for everybody.
“I’m going to take this away to digest and tell my members.”
Mark Bradshaw, a Labour councillor and chairman of the cross-party commission, said: “What we are trying to do is get a bit more recognition and understanding about the cycling debate.
“Whether you are a cyclist or an elderly person, your views are just as important and valuable.
“As a commission, we want to share this with the rest of the council and with their officers.”
A common argument against having high quality cycle infrastructure is that there is ‘no political will’. That’s certainly true but political will comes from a mandate from the masses and how can the masses get behind something they don’t know about yet? The assembled audience had no idea what was being practiced abroad with proven success (why should they know?) and, when presented to them in a non-campaigning way that they could understand and buy into, they realised that if there had to be an ‘enemy’ it certainly wasn’t cyclists, pedestrians or motorists – it was the transport system we all have to navigate on a day-to-day basis. Society has simply been playing the cards that have been dealt them by successive Governments. And for decades the British deck has been stacked in favour of unfettered car use.
What the Netherlands did was to essentially prize apart the different modes of travel and put them back together into a coherent, integral whole. We seem light years away from even grasping the fact that, to make a decent, equitable, sustainable transport system you need to make the simple modes of transport simple and the complex modes of transport complex. Convincing the British public that this works could be simpler than we think. We just have to give them the correct information for a start.
Here’s a challenge for you – go to any shop selling newspapers and magazines and try to find anything of substance regarding bicycles as transport. Sure, you’ll find lots on the subject of cycle sport from time trialling to triathlon to mountain biking to leisure riding but nothing on just riding to the shops. That’s because it would be commercial suicide to attempt such a thing – cycling as transport should be a boring, humdrum activity as opposed to a particular ‘lifestyle’ or activity filled with thrills and spills requiring the purchase of specialist kit. In Britain however, we don’t do boring and humdrum. Cycling is all about ‘FUN!’ or ‘Olympic Legacy!’ if you like.
When I visited the Netherlands on a David Hembrow Study Tour last year, I baffled the locals by getting my camera out and taking photos of the cycle infrastructure (at least, I hope that’s why they looked baffled). They simply couldn’t grasp why someone would want to take pictures of something that was, to them, so boring and taken for granted, or photos of them doing such utterly routine stuff like going to a cafe to meet friends, going to school, or to the shop to top up a mobile phone. To be honest, my wife would have agreed with the Dutch. I’m going to be 40 in November.
The fact is, in Britain, going to a cafe to meet friends, or to school or to the shop to top up a mobile phone are not regular activities undertaken by bicycle. Cycling around a forest or seafront or reservoir are activities undertaken by bicycle because it’s ‘FUN’! And you can buy a magazine to assist with all the tips on high-tech equipment to ride and wear (including racks to mount your bicycles to your car to go to that forest or seafront or reservoir). After all, adults and children are advised to get training and read a large manual of advanced techniques before really tackling British roads to go to a cafe to meet friends, go to school or go to the shop to top up a mobile phone.
In the Netherlands [and I would imagine Denmark also], all this boring, humdrum bicycle as transport stuff goes on, and yet they still manage to have an intensive and varied cycle sport scene. They have Road Cycling and Cyclo-Cross and BMX and Track Cycling and Mountain Biking and Human Powered Vehicles (yes, dear Reader, I did write Mountain Biking). See? In cycling terms, even in Europe they know how to have ‘FUN’!!!
It would be easy at this point to say something along the lines of, ‘well, at least the Dutch and the Danes know where to draw the line between sport and transport’ but that would be the wrong, and blatantly untrue distinction to make. Whilst I was cycling around Groningen and Assen on their bicycle infrastructure, our group was frequently overtaken by individuals or groups of cheery club cyclists in full kit on road bikes. However, because we were going through towns and villages where any infrastructure and population was obviously at its most dense, I found that although they were travelling quicker than us, it was respectfully quicker. They were always travelling at what the Starship Enterprise would call ‘Impulse Power’. The distinction I found, and I stress this is based purely on what I observed, is that they were cycling as though they still had a debt of responsibility where people were, the same as motorists. If they just kept their legs ticking over at a not unpleasant speed [for them] they knew they would be able to open up the speed later in their ride (particularly as Dutch Infrastructure is about segregated ROUTES and not the usual British misinterpretation). The point I wish to make is that the bicycle infrastructure provided is suitable for everyone – not always perfect, but more pleasant and often more direct than the road. It’s perfectly possible to travel at speed too.
The Dutch and the Danes know how to have ‘FUN!’ But they also know how to get to the shops and their children to school correctly.
The problem Britain faces is multi faceted but I’m going to quickly focus on two; Firstly, is the fact that practically every piece of bicycle infrastructure designed and implemented to date is diabolical, and one cannot blame the hardened experienced ‘FUN!’ loving cyclist for being deeply sceptical. If motorways were designed in the same cavalier fashion with piecemeal budgets, minimal consultation and guidelines that are readily ignored, then both driving and cycling on specific infrastructure would be ‘FUN!’ but in a white-knuckle, terrifying fairground ride sort of way. I personally think that level of excitement should come from inside a library book as opposed to cycling to the library to get that book.
Second is the fact that we are spectacularly awful at separating the ‘sport’ from ‘transport’. Some Britons like to think that by cycling to work, they have left the ‘Rat Race’ but all they’ve done is lock themselves into new one of their own construction. Consumerism finds a new and unexpected outlet with all the kit, cameras and, thanks to applications such as Endomondo, a smart phone negates the need for a cycle computer telling the rider everything from average speed to how many calories were burned each trip. A daily gauntlet has been thrown for the quick and the brave with a great deal of risk taking. The thought of ‘Going Dutch’ or ‘Danish’ horrifies them as they cling to the some divine right to the road. A right that has been effectively lost to the majority already.
I personally believe that there needs to be a standard in bicycle infrastructure that acts as a quality benchmark as opposed to guidelines that currently exist which, although are quite good, are all too easily discarded in the name of budgets or just simple lack of understanding of the bicycle as a mode of transport. There needs to be continuity, quality and more than a nod to what has enjoyed proven success in Continental Europe. A Standard that is suitable for every type of bicycle and caters for every type of rider.
There should never be a magazine about mass cycling as transport because it should be the routine, everyday thing you do to get to equally routine activities or more exciting adventures that start as soon as you walk away from a safely locked bike. Mind you, if there was such a magazine, I’d probably subscribe to it. I’d keep it hidden from my wife though. One must maintain an image of ‘FUN!’
Just before I set off for David Hembrow’s Study Tour in The Netherlands late last year, people jokingly said to me, ‘don’t forget to put aero bars on your Dutch Bike’. I thought these were quasi-hilarious jibes about the aerodynamic qualities of my Dutch Bike or lack thereof. It wasn’t until I was enjoying a coffee and looking out of a delightful Dutch Bed & Breakfast window one morning that I actually understood what they meant – amongst the legions of young people cycling to school and college were bikes with aero bars fitted onto them. Although they were probably to assist in persistent headwinds (as some students cover quite a distance on their commutes from outlying suburbs and villages), they were also remarkably handy for resting ones arms on to use a smartphone for social networking – an essential pre-requisite to youth. Indeed the infrastructure provided allows all ages to cycle in groups and chat away which is social networking at its best. There were no shouts from motorists, and I assume no-one froths at the mouth in the local or national newspapers either. Basically, the Dutch have created an environment where their children can be children and don’t have to pay anything like the ultimate price if they make a mistake. I think that’s very honest, civilised and quite incredible.
This situation came at a cost. The Netherlands and the UK both saw widespread decline of the bicycle from the 1950’s as the car became the symbol of modernity. A lot of old cycle infrastructure was ripped out to make way for such progress. The result? In 1972, a total of 3264 people were killed on Dutch roads, and in 1973, 450 road deaths were of children, mostly travelling to and from school. Since that point, and partly due to the launch in 1973 of the ‘Stop De Kindermoord’ (‘Stop the Child Murder’) pressure group along with the OPEC fuel crisis, the Dutch gradually took the decision to return to the bicycle and acknowledge that the car has its place but people come first. Nearly 40 years on and Britain is still struggling with this concept to its detriment. More on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ can be found here, here and from this excellent film.
If the Famous Five went for a bike ride in today’s Britain, they would find a landscape ripe for adventures, but not necessarily children’s adventures. If they were actually allowed out in the first place on their own, there would still be the odd patchwork quilt of fields and woods to enjoy (but not to play in of course. They’ll only create trouble). Swallows, Sparrows & The International Space Station would see our pubescent peloton venturing down country lanes due to their Hi-Viz and helmets. The motorists won’t of course as they steam through at jolly impolite speeds. Eventually, sweaty and defeated at trying to have adventures in a Britain ruined by ‘progress’, they head home for lashings of Ginger Beer. Or Crabbie’s, probably.
I fully appreciate why people feel compelled to wear cycle helmets in today’s hostile British road environment. However we must strive to create conditions where helmets and protective clothing are seen as irrelevant as opposed to essential. If adults currently feel compelled not just to wear cycle helmets and high visibility clothing but also to put surveillance measures on their helmets in the form of cameras, then what hope is there for our children wishing to simply cycle to school? It is not really the most cordial invite to a mode of transport that should be everyday, safe, even a bit boring and not classified as an extreme sport.
Note, that like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, or indeed CycleNation and CTC, I am not anti-helmet but anti-compulsion for cycling as transport. On this, all cycling groups stand united.
However I have a confession to make; when I cycle with my two and a half-year old son on the Dutch Bike, I put a helmet on him. I do this not because of safety concerns but because I feel that I look like a bad parent if I don’t with scathing looks and comments (mainly from people who don’t cycle yet but do like writing letters to local newspapers due to anger management issues from not cycling). I don’t wear a helmet for the simple reason that when I used to wear one when commuting from Morden to Camden Town in London, it was like a subconscious cloak of invincibility and I put myself in road positions that were, at best daring. At worst, lethal. I’ve often observed since that people who wear a helmet ride as though they need a helmet. Without a helmet, I don’t put myself or any passengers in that danger in the first place. Also when off the bike, my son has received more bumps to the head than Laurel & Hardy in his short toddling career. I assume I’m a bad parent for not keeping the helmet on him at all times but curiously no-one seems to be having a serious debate on this.
I’m now going to give out a piece of information that I think has been lost in this debate but it always helps to remind ourselves.
Children don’t always do what you tell them because they are children.
Imagine that helmets were made compulsory for children under the age of, say, 16. One day my son will want to cycle to a local shop to buy sweets, just like his Dad used to years and years and years and years and years ago. He may realise that his cycle helmet is upstairs in his bedroom and he just can’t be bothered to get it as the shop is only 5 minutes ride away. Even if I made him put it on, there’s nothing to stop him taking it off again when out of sight because it doesn’t look cool (or whatever the word is these days). If you didn’t do anything naughty or without your parents knowledge when you were younger, then you are deluding yourself. So, he cycles off without one and because putting helmets on everything and hoping for the best allows the powers that be to ignore the real issues of road safety, he gets hit by a real issue in the form of a car. Not only would we have the emotional turmoil of an injured child (or worse) but also the legal and social ramifications of him not having a helmet on. This to me is needless insanity, especially allied to the fact that the real answers for keeping children (and indeed all ages) safer, are a simple ferry trip away.
There is of course excellent cycle training available in this country. I did so well in my cycling proficiency in the late 1970’s, I got a copy of the Highway Code as a prize. The bicycle is a very liberating experience for a child and Bikeability (as it is now known) is enjoying a large takeup today. However, a report was published in March this year that you probably haven’t seen. It was written by transport consultancy, Steer Davies Gleave, for the Department for Transport called Cycling to School
This is from the conclusions,
‘Overall this report shows the level of children cycling to school in the last five years has remained stable. There have been small increases in the actual numbers of secondary school age children cycling to school between 2006 and 2011 across the UK. However, this has been almost matched by a very small decline in the proportion of primary school children cycling to school.’
Where there were rises in Secondary Schools, there had been a concentrated efforts on cycle training in the Primary Schools that feed the Secondary Schools in question. There are of course all kinds of variables & factors to take in account when viewing the data. Generally however, I believe that a lot of excellent training is going to waste. We can train all the children we like to cycle on our current road system but if it looks dangerous (especially to the parents) or there is one close pass from a motorist then that, as they say, is that. The bike heads off to the shed to come out maybe at officially sanctioned events such as the Sky Rides or Boris Johnson’s latest elegant parlour trick to avoid addressing the real road safety issues, ‘Ride London‘ – the biggest irony being that although a safe traffic free environment is created, helmets and hi-viz are de rigueur.
Here is a film by Mark Wagenbuur of children cycling to school in Culemborg in The Netherlands. I just want to show this as it deftly addresses the issues touched on in this post; no safety equipment (even students occasionally giving friends a lift in on their rear racks – could you imagine that happening here?!), cycling as groups for greater social safety and also quality time to chat and share gossip. Above all decent infrastructure, that goes where people need it to go, combined with 30kph roads to create segregated routes (ie routes that could not be completed or would take longer by car).
We have created a nation that is still debating 20mph where people live. A nation still debating curtailing someone’s right to drive like an idiot around others. A nation still building cycle infrastructure that is often a dangerous insult whilst ignoring examples that work probably due to fear of cost despite continuing to build ever more expensive and intimidating streetscapes. A nation that expects its young people to stick on a helmet, some hi-viz and hope for the best. I think that’s spineless, uncivilised and quite despicable.
Children will be children. It’s a pity that the adults are behaving even more childishly.
It is a wonderful time for sports cycling in Great Britain; Bradley Wiggins has become the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France with Chris Froome enjoying an equally unprecedented second place. The hard-working men and women of Team GB are no strangers to success in Olympic events and so it has proved in London with medals on the road and the track with performances to give inspiration to all.
Wonders like this don’t happen by accident as other nations are already comfortably aware; This was never about ‘plucky British underdog spirit’. This was about the right talent, the right coaching staff giving the right strategies, confidence and belief and the right mechanics working on the right machinery. Above all, what we have been witnessing over the last few years is what consistent and focussed investment actually looks like by people who know what they are doing and care.
Norman Baker MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport) proudly trumpets the fact that last January he announced the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to the tune of £560 million (which has recently been increased to £600 million) as well as £15 million specifically for cycling infrastructure projects at railway stations to link communities and centres of economic growth. He has also recently announced a further £15 million cycle safety fund to help local authorities deal with high risk junctions.
These are undoubtedly large sums of money. I have no trouble with Norman Baker MP, nor do I doubt his overall commitment to cycling. However, I do have trouble with the fact that Local Authorities have been bidding for this money and are going to oversee the spending of this money. Put simply, the Government is giving sums of money for ‘Active Travel’ projects to people who largely haven’t a clue about the benefits of cycling as a mode of transport or don’t actually care about cycling as it gets in the way of more ‘serious’ modes of transport. Moreover, cycling design guidelines at local level are treated with the same professionalism and reverence as Dr Seuss, and The Netherlands or Denmark with their proven success are regrettably filled with foreigners so nothing they do must ever be considered, let alone copied. As a result, we end up with what we’ve seen for many years; inconsistent and unfocused investment by people who don’t really knowwhatthey aredoing or don’t care.
I don’t see this as a recipe for the same delirious success as Team GB.
In a way, it is good that Local Authorities have had to bid for pockets of money. By tendering for funding, we get to see the projects that they have in mind and therefore some sort of benchmark for local active travel groups to monitor (hopefully, they would also have been involved in the consultation). The problem lies in the precedents already set by Local Authorities which are a bit lacking in quality. Actually, most are appalling. Generally, the only time bicycle infrastructure works well in Britain is more by accident than by design; usually a converted pre-Beeching railway line or upgraded coastal path or promenade. Even then, because we never seem to be able to think in terms of network and linking stuff, people will often drive to it with their families if it offers the premise of inviting, quality traffic-free cycling.
The simple fact is that nice things cost money and, funnily enough, that includes cycle infrastructure. Why not pay more for a network based on principles of proven success such as The Netherlands and Denmark that people can and would actually use. It has to be better than our current sporadic and, by comparison to Mainland Europe, amateur looking attempts to solve a car-choked problem that has become too big to solve with pockets of cash dotted around Local Authorities that clearly need better guidance from Central Government on how to spend it.
If this country can even begin to consider schemes such as High Speed Rail, or an entirely new airport for London, then there is no reason why we can’t consider thinking big in terms of providing a consistent quality network for the bicycle with its excellent rate of return in terms of jobs, transport, health & well-being, greater freedom and subjective safety – especially for more vulnerable sections of society, increased social safety and reduced emissions. If Local Authorities are going to be the agencies providing it (which I’m not actually against believe it or not), then the guidance and funding from central government has to also be high quality, strong and consistent. Nice things cost money, even for a mode of transport so simple, egalitarian and cheap.
Right! First things first. I shall be leading a seaside Infrastructure Safari from Worthing to Brighton on Saturday 18th August. We shall be meeting at Worthing Railway Station at 12.30pm to give everyone a fighting chance of making it down to the South Coast. The pace shall be leisurely with frequent stops to discuss, take photos and sometimes just laugh at various cycle infrastructure issues throughout the route.
Everyone is welcome to join me and I shall ensure that there is a pub at the end (more details on that nearer the time) with a chance to stop for snacks en route.
Anyway, apologies for not writing in a while, dear reader, but my wife and I decided to head to Corfu and Paxos for a week. My Mother in Law stupidly volunteered to look after our son for a week so we could get away for a bit. Although we love our son above everything else, opportunities like this do not come readily. This led to a flurry of research and planning from my wife probably not seen since the planning of the Apollo 11 Mission.
We decided to go to Corfu City for an evening. It has a population of around 30,000, it serves as Capital for the region of the Ionian islands and is very, very beautiful feeling Venetian in character. Whilst wandering around a park (next to the only Cricket pitch in Greece – a legacy of British Empire on the Island), I spotted some vague, ethereal lines painted on the wide pathways, barely visible in the simmering Ionian heat. ‘What’s this?’, I thought. It would appear that modern Britain may have left a legacy too in the form of really average cycle lanes. Since I arrived back in Britain, I encountered these rather good blog posts here and here explaining in more detail what cycle infrastructure was installed in the city. I can only comment on what I saw, which was by sheer chance and I have captured for you in the pictures below. I was going to mention to my Wife how I should have brought a tape measure to check the widths of the path but she might have accurately, firmly and, on balance, correctly kicked me in the testicles.
Yes, a car parked beautifully across the lane! I encountered this at almost every access/egress point making it an equally hilarious experience for wheelchair users, shoppers and parents with buggies.
So, we have seen vague paths which are a bit narrow in places with even more vague signage, cars parked blocking them and pigeons everywhere. Actually, reading that line back, I’ve just described London with the heat turned up.
I strongly recommend you pay the island a visit.The chilled beers also have the Lo Fidelity seal of approval. Infrastructure nerds in particular have a pretext now, if one were needed.