Notes and Queries

A relaxing picture of a meadow

Firstly, apologies to Lo Fidelity readers for the non-posting as of late. The Wife has been plagued since childhood with a condition leading to abscesses in her leg and in particular at the base of her spine. There’s a lot more to it than that but she has just had her eleventh and hopefully final operation which means she might be able to sit down without discomfort for the first time in years. I’ve been tending her and The Boy over the last week and a half as, at nine months old, he is not getting any lighter to carry.

The Wife cycled as a child and her parents were keen cycle tourists. She is always enthusiastic about me cycling and cycle campaigning and does her best to look interested when I ramble on about cycling and cycle campaigning. However, she is adamant that she will never cycle again, partly to the pain and discomfort up until now and the potential to trigger something bad as a result of getting on a bicycle again. She says, quite reasonably, that I should be happy that she’s produced a son to eventually go cycling with. She’s right of course and I’ve accepted that as far as The Wife and cycling is concerned, some things are just not meant to be. In turn, she has accepted that I don’t really like her great love, which is swimming (basically I run like a Dolphin and swim like a Cheetah). The upshot of all this is that she walks everywhere, often with a pushchair for added humour – if you thought facilities for cyclists were bad the UK, I’m getting a taste of my own medicine as she points out the long list of failings for pedestrians with pavement parking, poorly applied work roads and crazy paving. I’ve suggested that she starts a blog called something like ‘Crap Walking in Britain’. She says she’ll think about it.

Anyway, what a week and a half it’s been! Carlton Reid wrote something about the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Then I wrote something in reply. All’s well that end’s well I’m pleased to report.

The Embassy is, at this moment in time only three weeks old with Governance and formal policies to be agreed that hasn’t formally launched yet. However, I know the following applies;

It was never, and will never be our intention to relinquish cyclists’ right to the road. There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway. Personally I accept those fears to a point in the wake of such a car-sick Transport Secretary. However, crap infrastructure continues to be built by Councils who’s Modus Operandi is not to improve the lot of the cyclist, but to clear them off their ‘Strategic Road Networks’. Maybe a situation will arise that’s even worse than Carlton Reid’s vision; that cyclists get shovelled off the roads to the crap that exists already without reform of the guidelines. Now that’s scary. I would envisage the Embassy working in tandem (pardon the pun) with organisations such as CTC as well as Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad so we push for better infrastructure standards based on Dutch, Danish and German best practice, whilst campaigns that enforce the right to the road led by CTC and, continue to fly their standards. Whatever happens, I personally believe we have to cull the crap to enable mass cycling and those that joined the Embassy just want to try something new.

As far as antagonism goes, when a new campaign group starts up, it’s always going to ruffle a few feathers. I sometimes take the microphone as a Comedy New Act (you can’t call yourself a Stand Up Comedian until you’re regularly playing the Comedy Store or Live at the Apollo and you have a DVD out). Sometimes when you first walk out on stage, the collective tension and excitement in the audience builds to a point that someone will suddenly scream something out – not a heckle or anything nasty, but the excitement (coupled with alcohol) has triggered a sudden outburst. They are probably nice respectable people, holding down nice respectable jobs and for that flashpoint, the situation has run away with them. When the cycling public turned up at the Embassy start up meeting, there was a lot of pent up excitement, frustration and anger at what has passed before which also appeared on people’s blogs. However, Embassy policy is not going to be born of frustration and anger either, from blog posts or otherwise (just the excitement at trying something new). Anger is best left to the experts!

When the Manifesto and Policy Documents are agreed, clarity should follow and then people can praise and criticise. Agreed governance will also bring accountability. On one cycle forum, people have already speculated that the Embassy is a shadowy part of the road lobby and that I’ve got my head up my arse. The first point certainly isn’t true and the second point would put my back out and we have had quite enough back problems for one family, thank you.

Finally, and particularly if you live in and around Brighton & Hove, one of the only pieces of decent cycle infrastructure costing £550,000 looks set to be removed at double the installation cost. Funnily enough, this is to ‘improve traffic flow’. Details are here along with a petition, which I urge you to sign.

5 thoughts on “Notes and Queries”

  1. You wrote:

    “There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway. Personally I accept those fears to a point …”

    Good! Someone has said it. As a “interested spectator” (very interested but a rather academic interest, not an ‘activist’) I’ve been following the extraordinary row about “roads v segregated paths” for some years and have marvelled at the pointless hostility that it can engender.

    I’ve eventually been persuaded by David Hembrow’s advocacy of the Netherlands arrangements, but I really have a *lot* of sympathy with the ‘opposition’. They have a point – you just *know* how politicians behave, they can only keep one idea in their little heads at one time. We can’t push a line of just “we need segregated infrastrcuture” because, as you say, you know what will happen. We really need to push something more precise – something like “we want cycling conditions which have been shown to work. This means GOOD infrastructure – on a similar line to the Netherlands”.

    Why am I saying “we”? I’m not a cycling activist. In fact I mostly walk everwhere.

  2. The problem is that we’re arguing along the wrong axis. The big shouting match is currently:

    On-road Vehicular vs. Off-road Segregated

    which is completely missing the point. The Vehicular people are correct given the UK’s pathetic and sub-standard segregated cycle provision, the Segregated people are correct given a Dutch-style standard of segregated cycle provision.

    Or, put another way, the Vehicular people (of which I am one) are right in the UK, now. The Segregationalists (of which I am one) are right in the UK as a future aspiration and something to campaign for. Assuming fast heavy motor vehicles stay around, which they might not…

    In my mind we should surely agree that the real campaign arguments should be:

    Terrible Cycle Provision vs. High Quality Cycle Provision

    in other words, stop looking at whether cyclists are provided for on-road or off-road, and instead focus on the actual experience for the cyclists.

    * Good on-road provision (perhaps 20mph limits, traffic reduction, etc. from the HoP) is excellent, and should be campaigned for.

    * Good segregated provision (sadly rare in the UK at the moment, hence it’s bottom-of-the-heap status in the HoP) is also excellent, and should also be campaigned for.

    These are complimentary, not mutually exclusive!

    As I see it, “traditional” cycle campaigning (I’m a local CTC RtR rep) and local councils, and central government, are all going along the “make the best of what we’ve got, there’s no money” route: emphasis on vehicular cycling, cycle training. All very good, and ideal for NOW. But perhaps never likely to get more than 5% of the population using bicycles as transport.

    As I see it, the GEoGB is saying “we should be getting better facilities, there’s plenty of money around”, and would like to see more emphasis on providing top-quality cycling infrastructure, segregated from heavy motor vehicles as much as possible. They’ve seen how People on Bikes work in continental Europe work, where bicycles are just a normal every day thing for everyone.

  3. I’m sure Carlton Reid is a lovely chap, and has done much good work for cycling, but I have to query the statement “The “old campaign groups have not failed”. Unless the “old campaign groups” intended cycling to have a miniscule modal share, laughable levels of investment and scant levels of legal protection, then they clearly have.

  4. “There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway.”

    I noticed a comment by Cartlon Reid on the piece mentioned above, which stated that this is the case in the Netherlands, where it only works due to the quality of the infrastucture.

    One of the things I would like to see the Embassy do is publicise some accurate information on the following:

    On how much of the Netherlands road network is cycling outlawed, in proportion to the total network length?

    On what sort of roads do the bans apply? Are they permanent or time-dependant?

    How does this compare to roads in the U.K. where cycling is currently banned (ie. certain dual carriageways and the motorway network of course)?

    Perhaps this might go some way to answering the ‘be careful what you wish for’ argument.

    I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the Dutch generally don’t see banning cyclists from the roads as necessary, even where the best infrastructure exists.

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