Sometimes a dog will gnaw away at something it shouldn’t. I’ve found that the best way to distract the dog is to find a nice stick and throw it, instantly releasing the thing that you don’t want gnawed. This is basically the same attitude that the Government & Local Authorities take with cycle campaigners.
The stick in this case is usually a document that either ends in ‘Action Plan’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Travel Plan’ or that perennial favourite, the Local Transport Plan (LTP). Cycle campaigners sometimes get very excited by such documents. Some will even have copies of the original ‘Action Plan’ or ‘Strategy’. These will often be between 10 and 20 years old and incredibly long and verbose with pictures of people in stonewash jeans on Raleigh touring or shopper bikes.
When I worked at CTC, there used to be regular meetings where we would all discuss what was happening in each department and what was happening in the wider World of cycling. Although I have the utmost respect and admiration for Roger Geffen (CTC Campaigns Director), my heart would sink when he would enthusiastically outline CTC’s involvement in the latest Government Cycling Strategy or 10 Year Plan. If I closed my eyes I could hear the Ministers saying ‘fetch the stick cyclists! Fetch! Go on! Over there!
Some of you may have just responded to your local authorities Local Transport Plan (or LTP3). This document will mention the word ‘sustainable’ quite a lot along with the usual airy fairy commitment to reducing carbon and regeneration. However, you will realise as you read further that to a Highways Department, this is best achieved by sorting out traffic bottlenecks to ease congestion on their strategic road network – in essence, not looking at the sheer amount of cars as a problem and using engineering to try and arrive at a solution. In the past, it would have been Bypasses, Inner Relief Roads and the stunning decision that dual carriageways in town and city centres would be a good idea to relieve congestion. Nowadays, with reduced budgets, it just involves expensive consultation fees and tinkering around the edges.
These documents will mention cycling in the same way that Samuel Beckett mentioned Godot. It will use phrases such as ‘upgrading infrastructure’ and ‘linking networks in town centres’ in a beautifully ethereal way but won’t actually commit to reducing car space in favour of walking and cycling, which is the solution.
As far as cycle infrastructure is concerned, there needs to be a concerted push for a National Standard based preferably on the Dutch model, which favours better streetscape design and segregated facilities where appropriate – basically giving the streets back to the residents. Until then we should be telling Local Authorities NOT to proceed with any more Cycle Paths or Shared Use Facilities as they are nearly always badly compromised by developers and Highway Departments’ agendas and designed by Rolf Harris on ecstasy.
For the moment, like Beckett’s famous characters, we’re left waiting, being treated like tramps on the roadside for an answer that will never appear if we continue with this drivel. Until the next round of Local Transport Plan Consultation or Government Cycling Action Travel Strategy, of course! Maybe THIS time will be different!!