Firstly, I hope that all Lo Fidelity Readers had a delightful Christmas and New Year. My first one as a parent involved a lot of personal admin, particularly at the nappy changing mat so apologies that this is my first post in a while. The Guardian recently published an article that interested me.
‘The government’s flagship training scheme for young cyclists is hugely popular with both children and parents, according to a study, boosting the chances that it will survive funding cuts despite the abolition of the quango which currently runs it. A total of 98% of parents said they were happy with the Bikeability scheme, launched three years ago as a replacement for the defunct cycling proficiency test, according to an Ipsos/Mori poll carried out for the Department for Transport (DfT). Three quarters said they were “very satisfied” with the training. Among children who had used the scheme it gained 96% approval.’
I was under the impression that Bikeability funding was going to be ringfenced in some way as part of the Coalition Governments ‘commitment to cycling’ (despite ending Cycling England in March this year) along with it’s other policies such as investment in electric cars and bigger roads and cutting funding for speed cameras. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that the Coalition Government should just have the stones at Stonehenge rearranged to spell ‘Screw You Cyclists’. It’s a cheaper way of expressing how they really feel and would also be a fitting tribute to the Iron Age hill fort that got replaced by the M3 Twyford Down Enhancement.
Anyway, what interested me was it’s very high popularity amongst children and parents. This obviously demonstrates a desire for people to ride bikes. Not cycling in the pure British sense of the word. Just kids wanting to get on bikes and gain a new skill and freedom – after all, they don’t have to just ride between home and school, particularly when there are friends to see and things to do. This kind of thing also pleases the cycle campaigning establishment – it means that there will be lots of new cyclists to help achieve some sort of Critical Mass where everyone else will wake up from it’s collective amnesia and discover cycling again, particularly if taught the right skills.
There’s a fundamental flaw in this. The cycle campaigning establishment seems to have a collective amnesia about the colossal rise in car use over the last few decades. The parents won’t let their children cycle to school unless it’s on the pavement as the roads are too dangerous. All Bikeability is probably achieving is teaching children to ride bikes around Centre Parcs and Mountain Bike Centres in the school holidays (where they are driven to).
The Highways Departments in County Councils are always happy to oblige by painting cycle symbols on pavements and calling them Safe Routes To Schools. The thing is, what about people of all ages considering riding a bike to the shops, or the local sports centre, or to meet friends at the pub but feel that it’s too dangerous to do so? One answer might be to ask the utterly car-sick Highways Departments to paint bicycle symbols on all pavements because that’s where we’re headed anyway, or we could have what cycle campaigners have failed to ask for over the last few decades which is decent infrastructure using best practice from the Netherlands and Denmark.
The Dutch Bicycle Masterplan notes that cycle use suffered a massive decline due to
car-centric policy up to the 1970’s when two things occurred that triggered change; the OPEC fuel crisis and deep concerns about road safety, particularly children trying to get to school. Unlike the Government here however, the Netherlands correctly identified that the big metal boxes were the problem and acted accordingly by raising car parking fees and designing the impact of motoring out of populous areas. Decent cycle Infrastructure was not created for cyclists, it was created for the population at large to carry out their business without the need for helmets or high viz or breakneck aggressive speed. It’s not always perfect, but they managed a modal share that campaigners can only dream of over here.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, campaigns like ‘20’s Plenty’ only work when they are specifically NOT made Cycle Campaigns. The public needs to discover the joys of walking and cycling for themselves again, just as they are allowed to do with events such as the Skyride. With the promise of a safe pootle around the streets of Central London, people of all ages grabbed bicycles out of sheds and turned up in their droves. Provide the facilities and they will come. And we have the money out there to do it.
The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that this should be the same when campaigning for decent infrastructure in the Dutch model. This is not just about improving life for cyclists – this is about benefiting society as a whole and is why I set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to try a new approach. This is about creating decent infrastructure so you may accompany your children to school without having heart palpitations as an HGV sails past too close and too quick. This is about wanting to lose a few pounds and coincidentally trying a healthier way of getting to the post office. We must not be anti-car (most adult cyclists are motorists
too). We must let the people reach their own conclusions to create a culture change, after all, up until now they decided that they weren’t going to cycle anymore as the roads are too dangerous without realising that as motorists, they are part of the overall problem. And there’s the realisation that they don’t have to wear lycra. At all. Ever. Above all, the motor car has its place, but the people must come first.
As far as the Cycle Campaigning Establishment is concerned, I will leave you with this stunning post by Freewheeler at Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest. The statement from Cyclenation beggars belief.
Soon we will have VAT increases to compound already record high fuel prices and thousands of people continue to be killed and seriously injured on our roads each year. This has to be our time for change. I would like to also take this opportunity to thank all those who have expressed support for the Embassy. I look forward to hopefully meeting a few of you in London on January 29th.