Step Into The Unknown

My Wife and I are still fortunate enough to be invited to parties that don’t involve Jelly, cakes with pictures of Postman Pat and tantrums if the participants get tired (but enough about me! ha, ha, ha, ha, ha etc). Although it’s always nice mixing in adult company, inevitably conversations at such affairs will turn to children – most notably, reasons why couples are putting off having them. I find these conversations fascinating (after I’ve got over the fact that they are better presented than me with a healthy, optimistic glow and enough disposable income to pay for yet another foreign holiday to a land so far away, the locations in my sons story books can barely hint at). What I find particularly fascinating is that the reasons given for not having children aren’t too dissimilar to the reasons given by this country for not adopting standards of best practice in cycling infrastructure based on countries that have had proven success.

We can’t afford it yet

When someone says this, what they generally mean is, ‘we want enough money to enjoy our current lifestyle complete with baby’. They have no idea yet as to how much their lives change fundamentally when a child comes into the equation – they can’t do and we wouldn’t expect them to. We could try explaining to them that they will make savings by not going out as much as you will want to be with your new baby at all times. Plus, you will perpetually feel as though you have just cycled the Tour de France on a Raleigh Grifter. You make ‘sacrifices’ only to realise that they weren’t really sacrifices at all and you could have done without long before.

It’s the same with decent cycling infrastructure. We fail to realise that, if implemented correctly with consistent political will and a budget more in line with a serious transport project as opposed to a weekly food shop at Asda, the country’s transport habits could change fundamentally. Massive savings could be made to health, road maintenance, environment and also wellbeing (a safer community is one that has people walking and cycling around it). Decent infrastructure, like all nice things will cost money. But it will be better than carrying along as we are and trying to fit the bicycle around it – seeing the crappy conditions that cyclists are provided with at the moment,  designed with no real knowledge of what a bicycle is actually capable of – which is tantamount to neglect.

We haven’t got the space

My Wife and I made some ‘sacrifices’ to move into a two bedroom house in anticipation of having a child (although we were never extravagant in the first place). We logically took the view in our lazier, more carefree days that one child would need one bedroom. We didn’t anticipate the clothing that lasts two seconds before the next growth spurt or The Battle Of The Grandparents To Save The Local High Street By Buying Everything In It For Your Child. These are nice problems to have and unwittingly puts us in the ‘sexual fantasy’ category for IKEA Marketing Managers looking to sell more storage solutions. Obviously everything can fit. We just needed to think more carefully about how we used our space.

One problem I’ve found recently is that when people think of Dutch Cycle Infrastructure, the word ‘Segregation’ may instantly spring to mind. ‘Segregation’ is a bit of a dirty word in British Cycle Campaigning as it is taken to mean ‘losing one’s right to the road’. This is to miss the point of segregation completely. Quite often Dutch segregation is achieved by getting the cars off the roads rather than building bike paths next to roads. This is something that people very often miss – including the Dutch. They have looked at their public spaces and thoroughfares and found useful and pragmatic ways to put the public first by correctly identifying and reducing the danger or completely removing the danger from the equation.

Quite often British campaigners will try to imagine what a Dutch street looks like and then try to mentally Photoshop it onto a street in their locality, instantly drawing their own weird and wonderful conclusions. This does not take into account vehicle speeds, volume, local networks etc. The Dutch have standards dependant on all these variables and prescribe solutions based on what they find. There’s space alright in the UK – we’re just too used to the car to think any other way and are too used to being beaten into accepting dreadful compromise. One thing is for sure – we have to address the current solutions offered to us.

We’re not ready!

There’s never a ‘right time’ to have a baby. Even with all the books and manuals in the World, it can seem like taking a leap into territory completely unknown to anyone else. If unsure, it helps if you can draw on experience, such as visiting a friend or relative that has a baby so you can get a feel for what’s involved and they can answer any questions you might have.

To get a feel for what is involved in decent cycling infrastructure, I’m leading a party of nine from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to the Netherlands to go on a Study Tour, organised by David Hembrow. We will ask questions, run a tape measure around the country, take too many photos and videos, and try to gain as much knowledge as we can so we can share it with you (just like when a baby arrives, I guess).

It may certainly be the case that some solutions over there won’t work over here.  But our solutions at the moment are appalling and I personally feel that we have a lot to gain. A lot of overseas solutions are not only alarmingly similar to what many in Britain believe is the right way such as reduced speeds, home zones and the like, but some have been campaigning for years to get it. If we can help to widen and clarify the knowledge base, then it won’t be such a step into the unknown.

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10 thoughts on “Step Into The Unknown”

    1. Thanks! In the Embassy, we can ALL be the daddy!! (of course, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, or whether or not you own a Brompton) 🙂

  1. While I am not mature enough to have a baby, far too skint to afford to look after one even if I stopped drinking (no chance of that) and certainly will not have enough room for one in university halls, I hope that in between waking up and going to the bar I will learn enough to help you, even if it merely means trying to snoop around Frenchay and see who the Cycling Front actually is when I should be attending lectures and spending time in the studio. With a hipflask.

    1. So, you’re off to Bristol! I have a lot of time for the West of England so I know that not only will you have a wonderful time studying and appreciating the architecture of pubs, you’ll have the Bristol Traffic team to keep an eye on you in case you get any ideas to help the Embassy such as removing parking or getting rid of rat runs.

  2. Hmm… interesting analogy and entertaining. I don’t want children as there are enough people on this planet already, but I’d really like some cycling infrastructure for everyone else’s kids to ride on safely!

    Don’t stoop too low to assume that child-free couples are flippant.

    1. Thanks. The point I’m trying to make (particuarly through the Embassy) is that where Infrastructure is implemented [in the UK], it should be good enough for schoolchild and adult commuter alike as opposed to this cheap, compromised, often dangerous mish mash that noone in their right mind would use if they wanted to get anywhere even remotely swiftly, parent or not.

      So therefore, no, I would never stoop that low. I take the view that we’re all in this together 🙂

  3. Great post. U r on such thorny ground with childless grownups, especially if you yourself were making those same arguments for a while before having kids. My biggest regret is not starting earlier, because it’s blindingly obvious how weak all the arguments against having kids are!

    1. Thanks. I don’t think that it’s a question of being on thorny ground or whether or not to have children. Obviously as a personal blog post I can only draw on personal experience and that’s where I’m at right now. One concern for me in the past has been ‘safe routes to schools’ so beloved by Local Authorities as it means they can paint bicycle symbols on pavements around schools combined with a badly signed 20mph zone in an act of outrageous optimism. Anyone else rightly electing to use the road can get abuse from motorists or have their safety compromised. Decent, inviting infrastructure should be implemented from the start that all can use regardless of age, marital status, gender, riding skill etc by people that actually know what a bicycle looks like and I think that’s something we can all agree on.

  4. A very clever analogy – thanks. Extending it though, how to we get politicians to fall in love with sexy infrastructure, because getting a critical mass of elected politicians to be courageous is the key.

    Don’t underestimate the pressure from electors questioning councils wasting public money and the fear of a backlash when council tax is increased.

  5. having had kids for ten years or so you’ve completely forgotton what all the fuss was about, the kids run feral on the streets most of the time and require little in the way of attention or care, you laugh quietly when you meet expectant parents at the years of hard work that they have ahead of them. DINKy couples seem a bit wierd. How this fits into an infrastructure analogy I’m not quite sure but what the hell, its friday and I’m off to the pub.

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