So What Do We Do Now?

A wonderfully apt sign in Blackheath, Surrey

WARNING: CONTAINS STRANGE SEXY TALK (Strange in that it came from an Englishman)

Had the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club started 25 years ago, it would have been quite a quiet, pleasing and delightfully tatty newsletter with articles about such exotic things as that new Mountain Bike fad or trying to understand Moultons or maybe a recommended cycle tour to Glastonbury.

Nowadays, the casual reader might be forgiven for thinking that cycling is facing the end of its very existence. Thanks to technological advancement of the Internet, every day seems to bring a new horror story requiring  journalists and blog writers to constantly downgrade their forecasts and dispositions from ‘bad’ to ‘’catastrophic’.

Before we begin today’s sermon, it needs reiterating that the end of the World is not nigh for cycling and never will be. Like sex, cycling is too fun, it gets you hot and sweaty (if you like it fast), it makes you more alive and sexier the more you do it, it gets you to where you want to go and, being cheap, it is a filthy, slutty transport mode that will never be disciplined (which is why a few repressed British citizens don’t like the idea of it). Phew!….erm….forgive me! All that smutty talk aside, let’s look at the Britain we find ourselves in;

 

CTC

From their website

CTC Today

Today CTC has around 60,000 members encompassing all ages and types of cyclists with elected representation at national and local level backed by a professional staff.

CTC provides a wide range of activities and services designed to enhance the riding opportunities for existing cyclists and make it easier for new entrants to take up cycling. These include CTC Cyclists Helpline for advice on all cycling matters, local groups with a huge range of rides, local and national events. Our services have been refined by thousands of cyclists to make sure they are exactly what you need to get enjoyment and security whether you ride 100 miles or 100 yards. In particular third party insurance and legal aid are free to all members. CTC also offers a wide range of insurance and public liability products tailored to the needs of cyclists, employers, clubs and associations, cycle hire centres etc. If you are not out on your bike, the members’ magazine, Cycle, is free six times a year and sets your imagination free to plan your next ride. Search the site for lots more

CTC has campaigned for cyclists’ rights throughout its existence. Major successes include the development of the National Cycling Strategy and representing the cyclists’ voice in the countryside, protecting the right to ride on roads, paths, trails and towpaths. The CTC’s Right to Ride Network has over 500 accredited local representatives throughout the UK and Ireland working for all cyclists.

In 1936 CTC created a first cycling proficiency scheme in response to increasing cyclists’ casualties at the time. This was adopted as a national programme run by RoSPA in 1948 and has been in use almost ever since. Today CTC is at the forefront of a next generation of cycle training initiatives enabling people to cope with the conditions of today.

What we are aiming for

CTC is committed to a vibrant and broad base that encompasses all sectors including offroad and adventurous cycling, sport and leisure. CTC believes that all cyclists must defend all elements of the existing road and trail network as safe and comfortable places to ride, so the diversity of cycling can be maintained. We use the phrase “Making cycling enjoyable, safe and welcoming for all” to summarise our aspirations.

Being a member and ex-employee, I’ll always have great affection for CTC. However, it’s that last paragraph that I have issues with. It seems to completely ignore the soaring rates of car use that have occurred over the last few decades. You can train people all you like, but if a road looks dangerous, it counts for nothing. I have a few hair-raising moments on my commute every week and I’ve raced Mountain Bikes at World Cup level and have thousands of leisurely miles under my tyres, just as you probably have, dear reader.

CTC is a membership organization made up of very experienced cyclists that haven’t a clue how to project themselves to the general public. They have voluntary regional representatives (Right to Ride reps) who diligently turn up to every local cycle meeting and Council Forum, correctly berating councils for trying to shovel cyclists off the roads onto poorly designed infrastructure but instead pushing for vehicular cycling provision that you know no novice in their right mind is going to use so back to square one.

Sustrans

From their website

Sustrans makes smarter travel choices possible, desirable and inevitable. We’re a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. We work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, with better places and spaces to move through and live in.

It’s time we all began making smarter travel choices. Make your move and support Sustrans today.

We’re a catalyst – we make smarter travel choices possible.

We campaign – we make smarter travel choices desirable.

We influence – we make smarter travel choices inevitable.

All stirring stuff until you realise that their solutions often bring pedestrians and cyclists into direct conflict with no space ceded by the motor car. When their paths work, they are very, very good. However, more often then not, they don’t and are in fact pavements. This creates a further problem because when a cycle route inevitably peters out on a pavement doesn’t mean that a novice cyclist is then going to rejoin the road. They will simply continue to use any pavement, whether the council has painted a bicycle symbol on it or not there by creating further conflict.

British Cycling

From their website

British Cycling is the National Governing Body for cycling in Great Britain whose aim is to inspire participation in cycling as a sport, recreation and sustainable transport through achieving worldwide success. British Cycling manages all elite aspects of the sport including events and performances at GB level and governs the development of cycle sport in England. It also represents Great Britain at UCI, the World Governing Body for Cycling, which oversees the sport at an international level.

British Cycling also provides essential services to the Home Country Governing Bodies in Scotland and Wales, the Scottish Cycling Union (SCU) and the Welsh Cycling Union (WCU) who are involved in the promotion and development of cycling at all levels including the focus on the Commonwealth Games. British Cycling provides essential services to these governing bodies including the administration of membership, licences and insurance as well as providing strategic guidance and support on all aspects of cycling.

British Cycling is entering an unprecedented period of expansion in the run up to London 2012 through increased funding from UK Sport, Sport England and commercial partnerships and will drive a real and tangible legacy for cycling beyond 2012. The legacy has to be one of an increased volunteer workforce and a large British Cycling membership base. Full details of British Cycling’s Whole Sport Plan 2009-2013 will be announced over the coming months.

British Cycling has achieved much in cycle sport and has much to be proud of. However, although they mention sustainable transport, they are to everyday cycling what the X-Factor is to tasteful discretion.

It would be easy to paint a depressing picture of where to go from here, now that Cycling England is to be disbanded in March 2011. But Cycling England was always on shaky foundations being a Quango that could be held at arms length by ministers. I also acknowledge that I’ve glossed over a lot of good works achieved by organisations such as CTC and Sustrans. However, what can’t be denied is the relentlessly low modal share that cycling has had for decades. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to tentatively put forward the following ideas;

A Non-Vehicular Union with organisations such as CTC, Sustrans, Living Streets and Disability Groups given representation. There should also be representation from the cycle industry, health professionals and architects with any interest in streetscape design and public transport interchanges. There needs to be firm partnerships struck with the Fietsberaad and other European partners. There has to be better infrastructure guidelines set with less conflict between non-vehicular modes of transport. There must be a push for lower speed limits in towns and cities with reallocation of road space where necessary. We shouldn’t be creating crap facilities for cyclists anymore. We should be creating decent facilities for people that don’t know they’re cyclists or pedestrians yet.

As I’ve written before, the public won’t necessarily support an exclusively cycling campaign. But they will support something that benefits them as pedestrians, potential cyclists and even motorists.  

Above all there needs to be a relentless education of ministers and, in the spirit of Big Society, decent well honed campaigns with volunteers including handsome cycling bloggers standing up and being counted.

These are early rough thoughts obviously and more will be added.  But anything that gets a debate going is better than doing nothing. Which worryingly is what seems to be happening. Whatever happens next is either going to be fascinating or infuriating.

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