Living the Dream

Wow, Ambassador! The DfT only handed out Digestives....

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who messaged me on this blog or emailed me privately expressing their support for the idea of an independent Cycling ‘Embassy’ for Great Britain. Whatever happens, it will be based upon the Cycling Embassy of Denmark as I believe we need the same model here in the UK. The ball has already started rolling and a volunteers forum will be starting up as an information exchange/meeting point. The URL has been confirmed and I shall release details shortly (thanks very much to a very willing and able volunteer. The first of many 🙂 ).

An early Mission Statement is as follows

An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.

To develop relations with private companies already committed to Green & Sustainable values and promote the truth that cycling can produce a fitter, healthier, happier workforce saving billions in ‘sick’ days to the British economy.

To lobby relevant Government Departments that cycling is a solution to transport congestion, noise pollution, carbon emissions, deaths and serious injuries on our roads, obesity and illnesses from more sedentary lifestyles, stress and expense.

To politely correct the Department for Transport that ‘Sustainable Transport’ actually means walking, cycling and public transport as opposed to spending further millions on expanding the road network which will only sustain more pollution, deaths & serious injuries and congestion, like the decades that preceded. The idea is to make something sustainable for future generations to inherit.  A bigger M25 isn’t it.

To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups; to highlight what the real dangers are, to enforce a duty of care to the most vulnerable and promoting prevention, rather than cure. This will be through a raft of measures including reduced speed limits in urban areas and changes in streetscape design to put community needs before those just travelling through them. We will strive to create an environment where helmets and other forms of protective wear are seen as unecessary as opposed to essential. We will strive to make riding a bicycle as easy as riding a bicycle.

To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, although well-meaning and correct in principle is too open to abuse or compromise by practitioners that know little about the requirements of cycling (or indeed walking) yet may wish to know more.

To encourage better communication with exchange of knowledge and ideas between architects, transport planners, designers & engineers as to how to get more people cycling [and walking] and improving access for all to town & city centres and transport interchanges. Also working out what makes decent cycle infrastructure work and how it benefits society as a whole.

To protect cycling proficiency for children and adults. It is an essential skill that did us very well in the past, as it can again in the future.

To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.

Obviously I now throw the floor open to suggestions as it’s now or never. As I look out across the still snowy South Downs, I acknowledge that this is going to be a quiet month as far as cycling news and blogging is concerned which gives us a chance over the Christmas period to reflect on the wonderful cycling experiences we’ve all had through the changing seasons of 2010 and set out the stall for 2011.

I am firmly of the belief that there needs to be new way in cycle campaigning; this is not to say that what has gone before has failed. It is simply outmanoeuvred by a car lobby that can market itself as green when accused of polluting and portray itself as a victim when attempts are made to call it to account over danger and subsidy. Cycling England, for all its faults, cost approximately £200,000 p.a. to run. Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.

It’s time to cast off the lycra and put on the charm. More plans follow and please feel free to join me for the ride which may be painfully short or wonderfully long. The doors of the Embassy will be opening shortly and you are welcome if you wish, fellow Diplomats. But don’t nick all my Fererro Rocher, I don’t care if it is Christmas.

29 thoughts on “Living the Dream”

  1. Considering that Denmark came up with the idea of a cycling embassy in the first place, I think we HAVE to have a Cargo Bike Club! Especially as this is principally about bikes as transport.

    I already love Carlsberg (on hot days), Bacon (on cold days) and Lego (on any day). This is just another brilliant idea from the Danes as far as I’m concerned that needs introducing here.

  2. I’ve got a problem with this statement:

    “To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.”

    Not me. I started cycling because it was the fastest, easiest and most convenient way to get to where I was going. I don’t have any complaint against those who have fun cycling. But mass cycling only happens when cycling isn’t done for fun and a bicycle is just a transportation appliance like a toaster or vacuum cleaner.

    There may be a group of vaccum cleaner fans who have blog sites in which they write about their fun vacuuming and customizing their vacuum cleaners and describe all the different vacuum cleaners that they each own. And exchange tips for success in winning competitive vacuuming races.

    But as for me, I just want my vacuum to get my flat clean. And I just want my bicycle to get me to work and everywhere else I’m going.

    1. If you put it like that, I guess the principal reason I started cycling was that it gave me freedom and was an essential form of transport.

      Yes, that last line could be changed in that respect.

      Let’s not even discuss lawn mowers…

      1. Thanks for the message (and the link). The Embassy will need all the help it can get and your help is more than welcome.

        And, yes, T-Shirts and badges will have to be made. 🙂

      2. Budges, budges, we don’t need no steenking badges

        The Cycling Embassy sounds like a brilliant idea, count me in from london. No matter what happens, it can’t suck any more than the LCC which after 30 years of campaigning haven’t even managed to get anything as uncontroversial as adequate cycle parking.

      3. Thank you sir. And I love that film. Particularly ‘that’ scene which made me a fan of baked beans forever. 🙂

  3. “To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups…”
    I’d like to see cyclists working with pedestrian groups for urban improvements. I think that as cyclists we antagonise many motorists but we all pedestrians at some time or another.

  4. “Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.”

    Heh, that’s all part of the plan. I’ve heard that General Motors makes more money from selling finance packages to people to buy its cars, than it does from selling cars. While GM is a big car manufacturer, it’s an even bigger money lender. And since we know that money is debt[1], they also help the US economy grow nicely with all this new debt.


  5. Will we get diplomatic immunity? If so where do I sign! This sounds like a great idea. Let me know what I can do.

    1. In all seriousness, you can look at the roads around where you live and ask yourself if you would be happy to cycle with your family to local amenities or even a nearby town. If not, why not and report back here. It would be good to develop case studies and yours would be particularly interesting as it is a Wiltshire village with an A Road steaming through it (which seems to be par for the course for most Wiltshire towns and villages).

      That won’t earn you diplomatic immunity but may earn you some Fererro Rocher.

      1. A case study? You mean like: “Before remedial measures were implemented I needed triple glazing due to the noise of heavy goods vehicles, but now my 83 year old grandmother rides along the A360 because they put in a nice wide cycle path along the grass verge and where the parking bays used to be, and when she gets into town, they have ASL enforcement cameras so she doesn’t have to worry about being in a blind spot, and she can park her bike in those bike racks from Cyclehoop that are shaped like cars. Then she reminisces about how she used to cycle everywhere in the 1950s before she had kids.”

  6. I think one of the things we should do is find our *favourite* bit of bike infrastructure locally (no sarcasm, honestly) and write to the council responsible and thank them for it and explain why it’s so good. Nobody ever, ever thanks the council for anything, so if they get some actual thanks, maybe they’ll get an attack of the warm fuzzies next time they think about putting in some cycling infrastructure. And also we’ll be first in line for consultation for the next piece because they’ll be hoping for something positive. Of course, we’ll have to find some decent infrastructure first, but there must be some out there, no?

    1. When CTC launched its ‘Fill That Hole’ iPhone app, I wrote to Roger Geffen (CTC Campaigns Director) and Kevin Mayne (CEO) with the suggestion that they create a map where people can not only record crap infrastructure (but with scope to comment on why they think it’s crap and suggest pro-actively what can make it better) but also where people can record decent infrastructure – the Downs Link for example near me offers 35 miles of near traffic free cycling from Shoreham on Sea all the way up to Guildford and is beautiful. It would also encourage others to try stuff out for themselves.
      The problem, as always, was budget which is why I want to try this different route of campaigning (and hopefully funding).

      1. Doesn’t Cyclestreets already an infrastructure map their site, with pictures of inadequate parking and stupid design, as well as some good stuff?

        As for the Downs Link – I haven’t used it for ages, but the cycle path from Guildford to the start of the Downs Link is awful (part of it is just a dirt path with some steps in it). The nearby towpath isn’t any better as part of that has a 30 degree camber towards the water where it runs along the bottom of a steep hill.

        There are, however, some pleasant off road routes through Stoke Park; just a shame they don’t link up to anywhere else in a meaningful way and fizzle out like this.

  7. @disgruntled I beg to differ: 😉

    @thecyclingjim, @Markbikeslondon I LOVE this idea. But I have a question. I think that cycling issues in London are very different to those in smaller towns. Your mission statement isn’t London-centric, but do you think that the practical activities required to fulfil that mission are different in big cities and small towns (and even more different for rural cycling)?

    Thanks! Look forward to the grand opening!

    1. ah, but did you send it to them?

      I mentioned it because we have a couple of cyclists in the transport department of our local council and there are pockets of really nice infrastructure. When I met the guy responsible I asked him if anyone had told him how useful they were and he said rather sadly no…

      1. @disgruntled – I agree with you there! The thing I am always most worried about with participating in the cycling community is the risk of turning only onto the negatives, and missing even that tiny bit of decent infrastructure that may exist. While sometimes focusing on that tiny bit of good stuff and build from there can be just as effective, if not more 🙂

    2. There are certainly different cycling environments (city, town, rural) but the principles should be the same – to get more people cycling safely. In London, they are learning very quickly that the Superhighways would have enjoyed far, far more success if they had followed a more robust Dutch or Danish model of design. We need to take that model and bring it here. I’ve deliberately not made the mission statement London or indeed anything-centric as that can cause fractures in support before we’ve even got off the starting blocks.

  8. This is the only interesting part to me:

    To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘

    Simple question: Is this organisation going to actively push for segregation or not? Not SOLELY obviously but I want to know if this will be one of the primary aims.

    1. The short answer has to be yes, where appropriate. But as you infer, I think even the most ardent segregationalists would have to say that even in the Netherlands it is not the first solution they go for.

      The slightly longer answer is that the new campaigning organisation would also have to properly set what the perameters are before segregation is considered (such as 20mph residential zones, removal of street markings and furniture, planting etc) and that when it is applied, it meets a decent design standard that doesn’t involve shovelling cyclists onto pavements with bicycle symbols on. This is because we also have to re-address the aim of a piece of infrastructure – is it to inprove the lot of the cyclist (and for that matter the pedestrian) or is it in the quaint name of ‘improving’ traffic flow thereby reducing emissions.

  9. I’m keeping a keen eye on this – as a relatively recent return to the saddle I have performed some firsts this year, namely attending a local cycling campaign meeting and joined the CTC.

    Feedback from the local cycling group – lovely people, but the chap from the council who came along for a Q&A session made me realise that nothing will happen in the city I work in soon. There just isn’t enough pressure on the council.

    As for the CTC – I’ll admit the insurance mainly tempted me, and for that it was a choice between British Cycling and CTC. Last week I received the magazine through the post for the first time and there’s way too much for me to comment on from it. But needless to say it left me sure that many members aren’t interested in campaigning, they just want to be part of a members only club.

  10. I’m in! I want to fight for the right to ride a bike to the shops, to work (ok only from London Bridge to work – Mid Sussex to Canary Wharf would be beyond even me most mornings!), to the pub and to the garden centre without having to dress in lycra or wear funny shoes – it works in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark etc but not here!

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