The Sound of Silence

If a tree falls in the middle of the forest, and no-one is around to hear it, it would still make more noise than the British cycle campaigning establishment

 

Being an only child, I was fairly used to quiet and solitude; the purr of a chain combined with birdsong whilst cycling along local bridleways or the wind through the trees where I used to occasionally sit and read anything by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. Now I’m older I seem to get increasingly nervy around silence; not hearing my son breathe or stir via the intercom at night for example and not hearing a peep from the Cycle Campaigning establishment since the furore regarding Cycling England a month or two ago also puts my teeth on edge.

About a month ago, it was declared that Cycling England would cease to be as of March 2011. Cycling blogs were alight with hot debate over why such a small concern should be abolished when it also became apparent that there would be no real provision for cycling within the Department for Transport. We learned that cycling was literally going to have to sing for its supper with funding thrown out to the provinces and the ‘Sustainable Transport Fund’. If you needed to feel even more nervous, it would appear that the parameters for what constitutes ‘Sustainable Transport haven’t been set by the Department for Transport and Philip ‘no clever funny middle name as he’s just a tosser’ Hammond MP. This means that the Council can make the same ridiculous interpretation as Central Government  – that adding lanes to a motorway can constitute ‘Sustainable Transport’ as it ‘improves traffic flow’ which reduces emissions (conveniently sidestepping the fact that it creates more traffic but that can be dealt with at a later date or preferably by a later generation). This is a bit like BP arguing that they have done the Gulf of Mexico a favour by releasing catastrophic amounts of oil into the eco-system; it ensures that only the fittest creatures survive thereby creating a stronger, more efficient Gulf of Mexico for future generations.

What I’ve found a little disturbing is the way that the wrath and fury seems to have subsided save a few handsome journalists and blog writers. I like to think that the major players are just recovering from the shock and are now in a room somewhere, with secret plans  being drawn up to produce an all new campaigning, lobbying, gnashing of teeth version of Cycling England built on sturdier foundations. Then again, I also have a direct debit for the National Lottery.

Shortly after Hammond’s statements, including the hilarious assertion that electric cars would be the way forward, well and truly putting the ‘car’ in carbon, the CTC and Cycle Nation held a conference in Edinburgh hosted by SPOKES (the Lothian Cycle Campaign). Lots of people spoke and gave presentations including the very nice Philip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England. Notes of all the topics covered can be downloaded from the excellent Spokes website – at least, nearly all. Roger Geffen gave a chinwag on ‘The Segregation Debate – Reflections from Copenhagen’

The only notes of this segment were kindly compiled by a Spokes representative and reads as follows

Roger Geffen (CTC Right-to-Ride). Why is he sceptical of segregation, if it works in practice in parts of Europe like Denmark and Netherlands? CTC doesn’t reject it outright but supports the Government’s ‘hierarchy of solutions’: Traffic reduction and speed reduction; re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure; and segregation last – though it’s appropriate in some circs, eg inter-urban dual carriageway.

Problems of segregation in town – junctions more dangerous, need 270′ vision instead of 90′;cyclist/pedestrian conflict.

Success stories: Copenhagen, New York, Bogota. (Lo Fidelity Note: And Amsterdam, and Groningen and…)

Main issue is two legal framework differences – 1 driver liability, and 2 drivers give way to peds/cyclists when turning, even if have green light. Different legal framework leads to different driver behaviour. Needs lot of political will to change this in UK – possible strategy for future. Boris suggests allow cyclists to turn L at red light but this leads to cycle/ped conflict.

According to one source, it ended up as a slightly heated debate. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would have pointed out that the Governments ‘hierarchy of solutions’ are intrinsically car-centric and methods of traffic reduction and speed reduction, re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure always translates as ‘pinch points’, converted pavements, lethal on-road cycle lanes that terminate at parking bays and so on. Lest to say, none of CTC’s contribution has made their weekly emailed newsletters.

This post isn’t about the segregation/vehicular debate however (although like the Netherlands, the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that engineers should start properly designing out the private car from urban areas before looking at segregation instead of the UK method of tinkering around the edges so as not to annoy the ‘poor beleaguered motorist’). This post is about how we take cycle campaigning to a more coherent, robust level that can shout loud. And it will need to.

Let me say at this point that I love the CTC; I worked for them so know very well their passion for cycling. I love their proud heritage. Their legal assistance (free to members) has helped me successfully on the two times I was knocked off my bike by careless motoring. They have campaigned for the rights of cyclists through the years, be it on the road or off the road by allowing cyclists on to the bridleways. However, one niggling question always sits at the back of my mind; is the CTC, being a membership organisation representing predominantly touring cycling, the correct mechanism to represent and deliver the interests of all cyclists in the twenty first century?

If it is then at the moment it faces an open goal as no other cycling organisation would have the campaigning/lobbying nous to step into the breech come March. To do this though it would have to start listening to ideas that their membership may find unpalatable, and digest the fact that generations of potential cyclists are continuing to be lost to the pull of the motor car and the society that successive Governments are continuing to build around it.

This is conjecture pure and simple, but The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to see the development of a privately funded (or part public/part private) lobbying group in the same dynamic as the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. It would be like the TfL’s Centre of Cycling Excellence, but this time with the Excellence. It could get companies with green credentials to put their money where their mouth is and lobby the Government directly about the merits of cycling and what Road Safety actually means. Partnerships should be struck with organisations in Britain, mainland Europe and Worldwide such as CTC, Fietsberaad, the Danish Cycling Embassy and New York City Transportation Planners for best practice (as I believe the argument goes way beyond just vehicular/segregated). Architects and engineers with an interest in transportation and urban design could be brought on board. The possibilities are endless if you look beyond the horizon of British cycle campaigning. Philip Darnton could Chair something that didn’t have foundations built on the shifting sands of a Quango.

By lobbying the Government, we need to question the Department for Transport why cycling is peripheral on their agenda, we have to lobby the Department for Health to keep reminding them that we have a solution to obesity, we need to let David Cameron know that he can save a couple of million pounds in happiness surveys by just getting everyone cycling.

Above all, we’ve got to do something. The sound of silence is starting to get deafening.

Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 4 – Driving is Easier

 

Still simpler than cycling through Guildford

‘Driving a car is simpler than riding a bike, why that’s ridiculous!’ I hear you say dear reader. You’re right of course, but in the UK we persistently go out of our way to make the more complicated mode of transport simpler, and the simpler mode of transport more complicated.

I received a thought provoking response to an earlier post from a Lo Fidelity reader in Swindon who wrote the following,

‘….I think most people use their car because their car is more convenient. I’m a cyclist and even I do this. Two real world reasons for not cycling I’ve heard in my office:
– I have to drop the kids off at/pick the kids up from school on time
– I can’t be bothered to maintain a bike
Cars keep you dry and warm/cool, get you places quickly, don’t make you sweaty, don’t need any special clothing, don’t find hills a struggle, easily carry other people, kids and luggage/shopping.

I actually have to go to a lot of effort to cycle. If I wanted to make the 1.5 mile trip to my parents’ house right now I’d have to remember to take the lock, put some hi-viz on, put my gloves on, walk to the shed, unlock the bike, walk back down the garden, lock the back door, tuck my trousers into my socks, take stuff off when I got there and lock the bike only to have to unlock the bike and put it all back on again for the journey home. To drive I’d have to remember to put my glasses on, walk out the front door, get in the car and go.

YES, some of that is because of the bike I use and choices I make. But it’s a real faff!…’

Unfortunately, I think he’s right and has summed up British attitudes perfectly. Here is how I start the day as a cyclist;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, put on Endura Base Layer and Shorts plus jersey and three quarter length Endura baggy shorts (ironically to look less like a cyclist) with reflective Buff and Altura Night Vision jacket (in black) & Mavic MTB shoes, prepare lunch, get bike out of shed, walk it through house (ignoring The Wife gritting her teeth), put on helmet (only to make my wife feel better even though she doesn’t mind me not wearing one when I’m riding the Brompton) & gloves, check lights, ride to work, carry bike into office (I’m allowed to keep it inside as there is no covered parking so no need to carry a lock), shower (we have one at work), sit at desk.

Here’s how it could be if I decided to drive to work;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower (we have one at home), put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car (parked outside in the street at no cost), drive 12 miles to work, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

The car sounds simpler doesn’t it? However that is me overcomplicating the simple and over simplifying the complicated.

Let’s now see how much simpler things would be if I adopted my Grandfathers cycling routine

Wake Up, wash, dress in work clothes, pick up lunch, get bike, ride to work, leave bike outside building.

All of a sudden cycling starts to look easy doesn’t it? I also bet that most cycle commuters on the European Mainland have a routine more similar to my Grandfather than me (even though he has been dead for decades), and that if they were to read my routine they would bury their heads in their palms.

My routine also allows for no spontaneity; I can’t just stop off at a pub to meet a friend because that involves finding somewhere safe to park my bike and not looking so much like a ‘cyclist’. Even stopping at a shop becomes a tiresome chore because I (and I’m sure any others in the UK through no fault of their own) become ‘locked in’ on the commute. In trying to get free of the rat race, I’ve created my own one.

The reason it’s so easy in a car is that UK politicians and society has bent over backwards to make things easy for the car from roads to parking to cost to out of town convenience. This has come at massive expense to communities, businesses and all other forms of transport that are often shoveled off the road onto crap infrastructure in the name of safety. What should be a simple bike ride into the centre of town often looks dangerous, circuitous and not worth the effort.

However, let’s look at my full routine for driving to work.

Organize finance, look for correct car, purchase car, buy insurance, check that car has MOT and the correct Vehicle Excise Duty (based on emissions), change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower, put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car, check that there is enough fuel, pull out (although I’m loathe to surrender the space as I know it will be a struggle to park near my house when I return), get fuel, join queue of frustrated drivers trying to join A27, drive along racetrack that is A27 between Worthing and Brighton within the speed limit with full concentration thus incurring the wrath of  ‘expert’ drivers of more powerful cars, leave A27 at Devils Dyke and join queue on slip road, watch other motorists drive alongside the queue slowly to nip in where a gap appears increasing the levels of rage and frustration of motorists immediately behind, make sure radio is on Classic FM to ease frustration and wonder how and why people do this every day at great cost to their health, wellbeing and environment, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

Not so easy and pleasant put that way is it? Motoring advertisers will of course gloss over a lot of that last paragraph (many new cars come with ‘free’ VED too to save you the hassle but often calling it ‘Road Tax’ even though it hasn’t existed since 1937 and doesn’t pay directly for the roads).

We need to make motoring the expensive, dangerous pain in the arse that it actually is. We need to make our towns and cities civilised again by making walking and cycling more pleasant. We need to improve the nation’s sense of health and wellbeing. We need to reduce the amount of people killed or maimed on our roads day in day out. It has to be addressed in a positive way (because it is) or else it will be deemed by the Complication Merchants as ‘A War on the Motorist’.

By the same token, I am doing my bit to make cycling simpler for me – My bike is in my local bike shop to change it to a pleasing hub geared tourer/roadster. It’s time to enjoy the commute again – and cycling.

We have to make the complicated complicated and the simple simple. It’s really very simple. Not complicated at all.

A Local Group for Local People

This never happens

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS OPTIMISM

On Wednesday night I attended a very productive Worthing Cycle Forum. It’s wonderful to see such cycling enthusiasm regardless of the loss of daylight hours and weather that has been inclement to say the least. What was also gratifying was the mix of people there; we had representatives from local council, the County Cycling Officer, campaigners, ‘civilian’ cyclists and even representation from Worthing’s Youth Council.

In this post I wish to outline how I went about re-establishing a cycle campaign group in Worthing (population: 100,000) and where we are now. The reason I wish to share this with you is that, with funding and knowhow for cycling (if there was any in the first place in the DfT) being thrown to the regions, it may inspire some Lo Fidelity Readers to try and get the ball rolling in their areas, or breathe new life into what’s already there. The money that’s potentially coming our way obviously doesn’t compare to Philip Hammond’s Big Money For Big Roads For Big Business Strategy That’s Very Big (or BMFBRFBBSTVB if you like) and could be hoovered up by bus companies and other ‘sustainable’ transport interests if we don’t get heard at a local level.

After moving  to Worthing in August 2007, I did a bit a bit of research into what local cycle campaign groups were about and found the website of one that hadn’t been updated since about 2001. I decided to establish a group called Worthing Revolutions. It was decided that we add an ‘s’ to make ‘Revolutions’ as ‘Revolution’ would sound a bit too, well, Revolutionary for Worthing. The inaugural meeting was in early 2008.

The person who created the original group turned out to be a very nice chap called Anthony Cartmell. The reason the original campaign group had fallen a bit by the wayside was due to work commitments and he was raising a young family (which ironically is where I’m at now). He is CTC through and through and even created their website. He was welcomed back on board (even doing a sterling job of creating our new website) along with others that were to form a core of regular volunteers. Amongst the volunteers were Sustrans and CTC representatives, but we were also fortunate to get the Borough Council Cycling Champion on board almost from the start (and has barely missed a meeting since).

Worthing Revolutions meets every month in a hotel bar with ample cycle parking outside. We wanted it to be an informal chat about cycling and a review of any cycling stories that had made the local press. That’s where our story could have ended but I didn’t want it to become another campaign group that just met up over a pint without being consulted on anything until it was too late.

We created the Worthing Cycle Forum in 2009 which I chaired. It was our ambition from the start to keep it open to the public. This was because [from experience] I had seen to many Forums disappear behind closed doors where councillors would listen and then ignore everything cyclists said but could now claim that at least they had ‘consulted’ with them. We wanted to keep accountability and transparency. This is where having a councillor on board from the start helped. We were able to not only get a regular booking in the Town Hall, but also awarded a small amount of Council funds to print leaflets and posters to promote the first event. We invited all agencies with an interest in cycling along; Sussex Police, local NHS Trusts, Schools and Town & County Councillors. The NHS couldn’t send anyone because their representative that dealt with such matters was off ‘long term sick’. I’ll let the irony of that sink in.

We now have consistent support from Worthing Borough Council and Simone Makepeace (ex-CTC employee and very knowledgeable West Sussex County Cycling Officer). We have developed a wish list of infrastructure we would like to see in the town and next year we will be holding monthly rides to conduct photo audits of things that work or don’t work (and why). These will end in a pub because I started the group and because I bloody well said so. Worthing Revolutions still meets every month and acts as a steering group for the Forum.

The point of all this is that The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that it is imperative that cyclists of all disciplines and ages engage with all local agencies such as councillors, local NHS Trusts, School and the Police. Not only does it get a dialogue about cycling going, but it should become a two-way street, where cyclists should get consulted about future property and highways developments in their locality. It means cyclists will get a greater say in how Section 106 money is spent. With further spending cuts on the horizon, cyclists are going to have to learn to shout very loud at local level. It must be said that if there isn’t much in the way of local development in your area, there won’t be as much money floating around in the form of Section 106. We’re very lucky in Worthing to have large developments taking place where things like cycle parking and infrastructure are [I believe] part of the planning conditions. Above all, developers want to open a dialogue with our Cycle Forum as its pointless providing what they think are decent facilities that no-one uses.

It would be far more advantageous for a wider range of cycling views to get involved in local matters as opposed to the older gentleman of the vehicular persuasion (that normally turn up at cycle forums and into which age range I am rapidly heading). To be fair, they are dedicated people and their experience is needed. The problem is that through no fault of their own they don’t understand what the novice cyclist really wants and cycling levels won’t just pick up again as though the country has woken up from a long collective bout of amnesia. Above all, we must not be afraid to speak with local politicians and agencies. More often than not, they’re reasonable people and you are after all fighting for the same thing; a better place to live.

Phew! That’s my personal view on a local level. My National Plan will follow shortly…

Nice Cycle Lane No 1

Signage at each end of the Prom

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that it has become a bit maudlin as of  late. To brighten the mood a little, I strolled in to Worthing Town Centre last Saturday with The Wife and The Boy and I thought I’d take a few photos for you to show a traffic free shared use facility that works. This is thanks to  a surprisingly positive and progressive Worthing Council, the brilliant volunteers in the cycle campaign group and of course the considerate cyclists and pedestrians of Worthing. Alas, the weather was feeling very maudlin so please believe me when I say that Worthing does actually look very nice when you chuck a bit of sunshine on it.

Above is the prom toward the western end looking east. The lines you can see are the original cycle path which was removed after a pedestrian sustained brain damage after colliding with a cyclist in 1994. The council had to pay £100,000 in damages and cycling was banned. It was a regrettable incident, make no mistake, but could you imagine if cars were banned from stretches of road after a death or serious injury?

We’re getting closer to the town centre now. The Cycle Campaign Group I established 2 years ago successfully argued that shared use in this instance would be better than reinstating the cycle path. This is because it was felt that a marked path would be too narrow – certainly too narrow for leisurely family cycling. In the photo above, please note the fact that in some places the prom is wider than the road that runs alongside it so there was no reason why cyclists and pedestrians couldn’t mingle quite happily. We also felt that if there was a marked path here it would increase the scope for conflict – it wouldn’t stop pedestrians drifting into it, or toddlers toddling into it. Above all it was felt that it would push speeds up as cyclists of a more vehicular bent would see it as their territory and woe betide anyone that strolls into their path. The local paper (Worthing Herald) tried to stir things up (sorry, ‘promote active debate’) printing letters promising an apocolypse if cycling were ever reinstated. It was if they were secretly hoping to report on a 19 bike pile-up. As a campaign group, we remained calm, stated that the incident in 1994 was regrettable but not commonplace and thousands have been killed and injured on our roads since then. Above all, we did our best to promote considerate cycling (even getting bells made with our website address on to hand out to lucky cyclists).

A couple of these signs were put up on the backs of beach huts that face onto the prom. It is to cover all bases from a Local Authority Health & Safety point of view. Toward the bottom it says, ‘Consider wearing a helmet and wearing conspicuous clothing’. One of the gratifying things I’ve noticed since I moved to Worthing is that, not only is there an above average amount of cyclists in the town, but hardly any of them wear helmets or high-viz. Sheffield Cycle Chic came down to the seaside earlier on this year and this fantastic post of happy cyclists in Worthing is well worth a look.

I just like the fact that they put shared use signs on everything, historical or otherwise! As I write this, I can happily report that there have been no  incidences, serious or minor. Every time I take a stroll along the prom [in fairer weather] I only see happy cyclists mixing it up with pedestrians, wheelchair users and mobility scooters. A cycle hire firm has opened up at the eastern end and Councillors have reported that they are doing very good business indeed.

The Eastern end of the prom is being developed and will link the prom with the Worthing to Brighton stretch of National Cycle Network Route 2. Our campaign group was even consulted on the design! NCN 2 is a Sustrans route that is supposed to stretch right the way along the South Coast (Folkestone to Penzance I believe). And that is where we shall stop before we get maudlin again.

Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 3 – DANGER!

The Guildford school run

According to Wikipedia, a ‘Parallel universe or alternative reality is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with one’s own….Fantasy has long borrowed the idea of “another world” from myth, legend and religion. Heaven, Hell, Olympus, Valhalla are all “alternative universes” different from the familiar material realm’. I would also like to tentatively add cycling.

To seasoned cyclists, the World of cycling is a vast one. It’s a World of touring, mountain biking, commuting and racing. Of hybrids, recumbents, fixed wheels, hub gears, single speeds, drop bars, carbon, steel and child seats. Of Bromptons and Moultons and old classic Bikertons. Of segregation, integration, helmets, high viz and ‘cycle chic’. All of this is passionately discussed and debated on cycling websites, forums, blogs, twitter accounts and the good old printed press.

But take just one small side step away from that World, and the average Briton can be happily and totally ignorant of cycling for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t take a lot to make that side step; just looking at the busy roads around where they live usually does it. And then going indoors.

If you were to walk up to a non-cyclist in the street with a clipboard and , once you’ve convinced them that you’re not after any money, ask them why they don’t cycle the main reason will be that the roads are too dangerous.

And that is where you should conclude your survey.

You could lead them to all sorts of statistics. You can point out that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers. But the same can be said for running with the Bulls in Pamplona – If you run through the streets as a large group, you achieve a critical mass so when the Bull goes charging in only a small percentage get injured.

You could ask them to consider the fact that by driving, they are part of the problem. But the majority of Britons are happy not to ‘rock the boat’, to be a part of the silent majority whilst silently praying that the cost of motoring doesn’t escalate too much. Many would love to cycle, they really would. But they simply don’t know how to start or who to ask for advice or they simply haven’t got the time. And besides, the roads are too dangerous.

It doesn’t matter what the per mile rates for cycling death or injury is. You can train all the adults and children that you like to ride bicycles. But if the roads around them look dangerous, all that effort would have been wasted and some more bicycles are left rusting in sheds. Cycle Campaigners simply cannot grasp the fact that there are many people in the UK that have never cycled. At all. Not just ‘never cycled on a Brooks saddle’, I mean never cycled. What’s worse is that unless campaign organisations start understanding the magnitude of the problem, many more people may never experience the fun and liberation of cycling either.

My 12 mile commute to work is along the A259 from Worthing to Brighton. As I’ve written before, although it quite a wide road in places, it’s very busy with the infamous school runs and white van men and lots of HGV’s serving Shoreham Port. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979. I’ve raced Mountain Bikes at World Cup level, I’ve helped teach beginners how to ride, I’ve commuted through Central London and through open countryside for years and yet I still find that stretch of road quite hostile. At work, my non-cycling colleagues hold me in the same regard as the Jackass team. To reiterate, this is just for riding a bicycle.

If you need further evidence that the roads are dangerous, then you need look no further than that doyen of local newspaper letters pages, the pavement cyclist. These will generally be novice cyclists that find a particular piece of road intimidating (maybe based on how they drive it) or believe that they can cycle on any pavement because the council has painted a bicycle symbol on some of them so it must be alright. Many pavement cyclists simply don’t want to be classified as cyclists or be bound by any of the laws of the land such as lights, reflectors or being the bicycle’s lawful owner.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that two things have to happen in the UK; there has to be seismic change away from draconian car-centric policy (in particular the misguided notion that motoring is the key to growth, jobs and prosperity) to open up our cities, towns and countryside alike, and there has to be a combination of speed reduction and infrastructure based preferably on the Dutch model (meaning a combination of methods and NOT only about segregated cycle paths). Above all, Government Departments and local councils have to realise what the definition of ‘Sustainable transport’ actually is (Hint: not widening or extending roads). If this doesn’t happen, then cycling will remain a counter-cultural curiosity, something that can be held at arms length and forgotten as easily as Cycling England.

There have been massive debates on blogs recently about such issues as segregation versus vehicular cycling or adopting Strict Liability laws such as in most of mainland Europe. Lots of great stuff was discussed by some very knowledgeable and lovely people. But if I was to discuss these issues with my wife’s friends or with acquaintances in my old village local, they would look at me as though I was from a parallel universe. If British cycling limps along its current path, it might as well be.

Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 2 – Culture of Fear

Now, what would Chris Boardman do?

It would be fair to say that I had a very fortunate childhood. I was raised in a Surrey village with great community spirit. Everyone more or less knew each other and looked out for each other. If a crime was committed, the village bobby knew which door to knock on to conclude his enquires. My friends and I were able to get on our bicycles and go on adventures without fear or hindrance, be it heading out across the local commons or cycling to favourite spots by the river. As I write this on my 38th birthday, those days of children being able to take risks, learn from their own mistakes and run free seem more than an age away.

A major problem with having such an individualised car-centric culture is that areas become neighbourhoods without neighbours. As a result people feel less inclined to walk and cycle around their communities as they’re moving amongst strangers and a climate of fear is allowed to manifest itself. What’s very sad is that there are many people out there who know more about the lives of the celebrities in EastEnders than the people living in their own street. Once again the media, while certainly not the cause, is happy to keep it that way. Once upon a time, fear of the unknown would have been a catalyst to go out into the big wide World to gain new experiences and realise that most fears were unfounded. Now it keeps people firmly inside.

After reading yet another excellent post on Copenhagenize last year, I bought Climate of Fear by Frank Furedi. In one particular section he notes how a community in the past would have had certain unwritten rules that bound them together such as respecting one’s elders, assisting your neighbour if in trouble and so on. It allowed a certain level of order, civility and wellbeing. However, as the years have progressed, society has increasingly shut itself away in their houses to then pour themselves into metal cages to commute ridiculous distances to work in another building. Absolutely no interaction with ones neighbours or any effort on ones part to integrate with the local community necessary. As a result, there has been a complete breakdown in those unwritten rules. An elderly person stepping out into the street to walk to the shops may feel incredibly afraid of a group of young lads on the street corner. The lads are probably very nice if you talk to them but no-one knows each other any more and to engage them in conversation carries the risk of being branded a ‘paedophile’ or something equally horrific. This is a shame as the youths are equally afraid because no-one has taught them the rules or where they fit in society anymore. The Culture of Fear prevails.

Cycling around a neighbourhood is a great way of engaging it. You get to see people. You can even smile at them (not too much) and say hello if you like. After all, in the past, that would have been the default. You get to see things that you would have missed if you had shut yourself away in a cage from the nice things like an interesting café or shop to the more unpleasant things such as fly-tipping or the cycle infrastructure your local council has put in just to show you what engineering could look like on Crystal Meth. Essentially by getting out on a bike or on foot, you become the eyes and ears of your community again, just how it used to be.

The car represents only limited freedom. It’s effectively a cage on wheels that’s probably crippled you financially before you turn the key. It has been reported how animals can lose their minds and develop disturbing habits if confined in a cage. Take a look at the humans you pass on your way to work as the poor things are trapped with only LBC for company. Yes, frightening isn’t it?

The bicycle empowers the people. In the same way that it transcends class it gives any citizen instant freedom and mobility. With a bicycle you can go where you want in your locality when you want under your own steam. Or, if the mood takes you, you can travel the World on it with just a passport, a saddlebag and a smile. You get to meet real people, living real storylines. You also get to burn a few calories and get all the endorphins you need in case the constant bombardment of ‘beauty’ in the media is also scaring you.

In an age where a new Government seems Hell bent in perpetrating the Culture of Fear (the recent elevation in Britain’s terror alert status thereby increasing society’s sense of powerlessness was a particular humdinger), the humble bicycle cuts through all that by giving people back their confidence, happiness and can unite communities. Basically doing that ‘Localism’ thing these Harbingers of Doom keep banging on about and more. It can improve general health and mental health too but please, please don’t use me as a benchmark.

Whoever resurrected this nugget from a time where people were genuinely afraid should be kneecapped

Heads In The Sand

One day cycling levels in the UK will reach a tipping point and its perfectly safe already and......

According to Wikipedia, ‘Contrary to popular belief, Ostriches do not bury their heads in sand. This myth likely began with Pliny the Elder(A.D. 23-79), who wrote that Ostriches “imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.”

It may not be true about Ostriches, but i’ve come to the conclusion that it does apply to politicians, the cycle campaigning ‘establishment’ and the ‘road safety’ lobby.

In my previous post, I pontificated about whether a non-vehicular union should be set up to promote better infrastructure for cyclists & pedestrians with space being ceded by the motor car with the aim of creating safer and more pleasant environments.

Lots of wonderful comments followed including the segregation/vehicular debate (which is being discussed very eloquently on the very good i bike london blog at the moment).

For people new to cycling, firstly welcome to a better and brighter World and I’ll quickly try to explain what that debate means to the UK.

Levels of motorised traffic have soared in recent decades. The bicycle, once a common way of getting about was increasingly seen a bit of an imposition in the way of progress. The car was the way forward and a string of Governments created national infrastructure catering for this with motorways, bypasses and ever bigger trunk roads. This infrastructure begat more traffic which begat more roads which is still happening to this day. Many people who would like to cycle find that the roads are now too dangerous for them. The cycle campaign establishment believes that we should fight for our right to the road come Hell or high water, that we should campaign for better rights to those roads believing that they’re the best cycle network we have and that at some point we shall reach a ‘tipping point’. The modal share of cycling in this country remains dismal however, despite the best vehicular efforts. The Internet has increasingly shown many cycling Britons what is happening in mainland Europe with double figure modal shares through segregated infrastructure. This will never happen in the UK say the vehicular cyclists and if we go down the segregated route as it would lead to more of the crap that we already have which is dangerous and appallingly designed. Ah, say the segregationalists, but if we started to take space away from the motor car, everyone else would have more space to create decent facilities as in the Netherlands for example. But better cycle training will lead to better road sense making segregated infrastructure superfluous say the vehicular cyclists. Yes, say the segregationalists but no-one is cycling because it is perceived as a dangerous activity to all but the most experienced cyclists.

And so on and so on.

The thing is; is this an argument that’s going to continue for another several decades amongst cycling ‘afficionados’, or are we going to take a step back and acknowledge what the real issues are behind road safety and that the solution lies somewhere in the no mans land of cycling debate?

Dr Robert Davis of the Road Danger Reduction Forum made the following comment on my last post

A few thoughts: Many moons ago I tried the idea that we shouldn’t bang on about cycling, but talk about safety. This brings in pedestrians, cyclists and also the more responsible motorists. Of course, I then found out that “road safety” as commonly understood in the world of idiot-proofing the motorist experience is part of the problem – we have to talk about road danger reductionm (RDR) instead.

Such an approach can bring in all the above mentioned organisations, and people like RoadPeace (the National road crash victims’ organisation) who also support RDR – reducing danger at source, and creating “Safe Roads for All”. We also go for a genuinely sustainable and civilised transport strategy.

Simple.

The only thing is: how are the organisations you mention going to work together? A lot of them don’t want to bite the “anti-car” bullet and panic at the thought of alienating Government (which is what lobby groups have to cosy up to). Also, a lot of their members (particularlly the racing cyclists in British Cycling) aren’t happy about perceived restrictions on motorists. A lot are just pretty toothless.

On top of that, there are the differences betwen segregationists and integrationists in cycling, and the fact that many pedestrian and disabled people’s groups just seem to want to bang on about cyclist misbehaviour.

That may seem negative. Actually, I see a lot of positive things – reduced casualty rates among increasing numbers of cyclists on my patch in inner and some parts of outer London. But the fact is that real road safety and sustainable transport has not got on the agenda. There was massive growth in motorised traffic under New Labour, and it’s not getting better under this lot.

What we can and should do is prepare the ideological ground: get across the point that we have a motor traffic and particularly car, lorry and motorbike problem. That’s the problem, both in terms of danger and subsidy towards motorisation. Anything else ignores this gorilla/elephant in the room, is Hamlet without the Prince, or – as Mikael Colville-Anderson puts it, the bull in the china shop…’ (I added the link)

Like an alcoholic in denial, this country has to face up some pretty simple facts about its addiction; that building new roads does not ease congestion, therefore are not ‘sustainable transport solutions’, that we still we still allow traffic to drive to pretty much all points of every city and town in the land at 30mph+, that approximately 9 people a day die each day on our roads and for some reason we just accept this, that those that cause the damage get away with relative impunity and that our roads are only safer because no-one walks or cycles anywhere.

There needs to be an acceptance of this by Government, national cycle campaign groups and the road safety lobby before we can continue with any other cycling debate.

The perverse thing is that cycling unwittingly fits into ConDem ideals with regards ‘Big Society’; Volunteers have always been the backbone of cycling from local campaigners to Sustrans Rangers to British Cycling marshals to devilishly handsome blog writers. Also you would have thought that there would have been more active promotion of cycling with all this localism talk and ‘Save the High Street‘ Campaigns that are hitting the headlines. Cycling keeps local money local and would breathe new life into flagging small businesses.

If we don’t address these issues directly, and learn from places like the Netherlands for proper engineering solutions, then we will certainly become a ‘Big Society’, but for all the wrong reasons.