From Little Acorns……Or £80.56.

Old Dutch on the train. Next to the automated toilet. Not exactly the Orient Express but...

And so it came to pass that on the 29th January 2011, at Look Mum No Hands on Old Street, London EC1, a new campaign movement was started. A small area of the cafe had been set aside as I anticipated about 20, which would be exceptional for any cycle campaign. However, this is not just any old cycle campaign and double that figure turned up cramming round tables with only the barest hint of lycra and I have to doff my hat to those that stood for an incredibly long time. Reports are are already appearing from the delightful Bristol Traffic team and Goodbye Jacques (thanks both for attending). Some key points are as follows;

  • The Mission Statement and Manifesto are going to be merged into a formal document for download. This obviously has to happen ahead of the launch but with the enthusiasm, ideas and talent I was met with yesterday, I don’t anticipate any problems.
  • The launch date has been set for Friday, 1st April 2011. Venue to be confirmed.
  • Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is going to be a not for profit company. I offered to set up the account and was startled when a saucer was instantly passed around the group and £80.56 was raised. I shall be meeting with my Bank Manager next Saturday morning to formally set up the account with my own contribution (and of course, any further donations would be gratefully received).
The Company Accounts - January 2011
  • With every new company comes a new structure. Roles are going to be defined for two Directors, Secretary and Treasurer. I shall be Chief Executive Director and Overlord. Alright, I made that last bit up. However, a sub-committee has been set up to look into governance. Findings shall be reported back to the Forum so everyone will have a chance to comment and nominate board members.
  • It has been requested that the website expand with a collaborative wiki so instead of going over topics again and again, people may be referred to the relevant wiki page (where the relevant information and references may be found on Dutch infrastructure or accident statistics for example). It shall also facilitate open document editing by Ambassadors.
  • A list will be entered into the minutes of charities, companies and organisations that we shall be hoping to work in partnership with.
  • The minutes, complete with actions and apologies shall be published during the week (I apologise for the tardiness but I have to make sense of hours of audio recordings and notes so please bear with me).

It would be fair to say that I was quite overwhelmed by the level of support I received yesterday – in particular Sally Hinchcliffe for basically becoming Co-Chair of the meeting, David Callaghan who supports the aims of the Embassy to the point that he flew in from meetings in the USA via our meeting in London before heading home to Bristol, Karl McCraken who had travelled down from Newcastle armed with two dozen bagels he had prepared for everyone, Danny from Cyclists in the City, I am not a Cyclist, Fatbob (Geoff) and of course Mark Ames from ibikelondon who, with Joe Dunckley from At War With The Motorist led our first ‘Infrastructure Safari’, seeking out the good, the bad and the ugly of London cycle facilities.

Mark Ames holding court. Lovely speaking voice.

It’s also wonderful to hear that the first Wheelers Brunch in Manchester went very well. I look forward to hearing more as the week progresses but for now I’m going to conclude that I had a wonderfully exhausting day meeting lots of like minded people as well as representatives from established groups such as Cambridge Cycling Campaign and John Mallows from CycleNation to ensure we’re not treading on old toes. I have a lot of high hopes now for the Embassy and with the incredible groundswell of support garnered so far, we are going to succeed.

My New Mug. For coffee, Muscadet or Carlsberg Special Brew depending on the mood and budget.

And, no, I have no idea whether Freewheeler was there but I hope he or she is with us in spirit and Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest is right; we do want what the Dutch have got 🙂

Thank you all.

Advertisements

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Remember, this kind of stuff continues to be built whether campaigners object to it or not. To be fair, at least you can collapse on the soft grass laughing.

As my trusty Batavus Old Dutch and I were slowly grinding it out along the seafront against a biting, bitter 15mph easterly (something else we have in common – we both hate headwinds!) I was doing some more thinking.

The Governments approach to transport is like trying to cram lots of round pegs though a square hole. Instead of considering that there may be too many pegs trying to squeeze in together, or that the hole isn’t suitable, they increase the size of the hole so even more pegs can be crammed through whilst everything else has to squeeze in through the pockets of air that are left. If not as many people are killed and injured as the year before, this is regarded as ‘successful’ and ‘sustainable’. Repeat ad infinitum.

I then thought about some hilarious jokes regarding Moultons but I won’t share those with you yet, dear reader.

Anyway, tomorrow is the start up meeting for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I have to confess, I’m very excited.

The meeting is to be held at Look Mum No Hands in Old Street, London at 12 noon.  This is a new national campaign that I hope offers a bit of an antidote to cycling campaigns in the past. PLEASE NOTE that this is the start up meeting and not the official launch, which will have way more glitz as opposed to people agreeing organisational structure, strategy direction, website development, marketing and actions. The reason we will be able to have more glitz at the launch is because we are catering for the 97% that aren’t regular cyclists in this country that won’t want to clad themselves in ‘rubber knickers’ as a Conservative MP or a casual Scuba Diving fetishist might say.

We have already featured in this lovely article on the Baby London website by Claire Rogers (also featuring David Hembrow and Amsterdamize if you needed a greater incentive to read it).

The Embassy has also now been mentioned on this wonderful blog post from Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest. Freewheeler has basically summed up my personal thoughts entirely as we have both made the steady transition, not from integration to segregation but from integration to segregation and cycling streets and decent cycling infrastructure standards and frankly anything else that tames the bull in a supposedly civilised society. If Freewheeler can make it through the urban jungle that is Outer London cycle infrastructure, he’d be warmly welcomed by all. I shall be wearing a suit, maybe with a carnation.

Apparently Karl McCracken is providing bagels (home made and shipped from the North East, no less!) and Mark Ames  (who sounds almost as well spoken as me) is providing us with our first ‘Infrastructure Safari’ where we go for a little jaunt around London seeking the best and worst of  attempts to squeeze cycling  around the more important modes of transport.

I will be doing more mentions in posts subsequent to the meeting as there has been some lovely support from lots of unexpected quarters, plus a technical review of the Old Dutch as by then I would have ridden it consistently 24 miles a day through very grimy coastal conditions and Central London too.

I will finish for now by saying that the Agenda is here, the Mission Statement is here and the draft Manifesto is here (prepared by our Wordsmith Laureate, Sally Hinchcliffe). If you cannot make it, but would like a comment or statement, or even an apology read out at the meeting, please email me direct on thecyclingjim@gmail.com

Oh, and a Happy Birthday to Mikael Colville-Andersen 🙂

Heads In The Sand

One day cycling levels in the UK will reach a tipping point and its perfectly safe already and......

According to Wikipedia, ‘Contrary to popular belief, Ostriches do not bury their heads in sand. This myth likely began with Pliny the Elder(A.D. 23-79), who wrote that Ostriches “imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.”

It may not be true about Ostriches, but i’ve come to the conclusion that it does apply to politicians, the cycle campaigning ‘establishment’ and the ‘road safety’ lobby.

In my previous post, I pontificated about whether a non-vehicular union should be set up to promote better infrastructure for cyclists & pedestrians with space being ceded by the motor car with the aim of creating safer and more pleasant environments.

Lots of wonderful comments followed including the segregation/vehicular debate (which is being discussed very eloquently on the very good i bike london blog at the moment).

For people new to cycling, firstly welcome to a better and brighter World and I’ll quickly try to explain what that debate means to the UK.

Levels of motorised traffic have soared in recent decades. The bicycle, once a common way of getting about was increasingly seen a bit of an imposition in the way of progress. The car was the way forward and a string of Governments created national infrastructure catering for this with motorways, bypasses and ever bigger trunk roads. This infrastructure begat more traffic which begat more roads which is still happening to this day. Many people who would like to cycle find that the roads are now too dangerous for them. The cycle campaign establishment believes that we should fight for our right to the road come Hell or high water, that we should campaign for better rights to those roads believing that they’re the best cycle network we have and that at some point we shall reach a ‘tipping point’. The modal share of cycling in this country remains dismal however, despite the best vehicular efforts. The Internet has increasingly shown many cycling Britons what is happening in mainland Europe with double figure modal shares through segregated infrastructure. This will never happen in the UK say the vehicular cyclists and if we go down the segregated route as it would lead to more of the crap that we already have which is dangerous and appallingly designed. Ah, say the segregationalists, but if we started to take space away from the motor car, everyone else would have more space to create decent facilities as in the Netherlands for example. But better cycle training will lead to better road sense making segregated infrastructure superfluous say the vehicular cyclists. Yes, say the segregationalists but no-one is cycling because it is perceived as a dangerous activity to all but the most experienced cyclists.

And so on and so on.

The thing is; is this an argument that’s going to continue for another several decades amongst cycling ‘afficionados’, or are we going to take a step back and acknowledge what the real issues are behind road safety and that the solution lies somewhere in the no mans land of cycling debate?

Dr Robert Davis of the Road Danger Reduction Forum made the following comment on my last post

A few thoughts: Many moons ago I tried the idea that we shouldn’t bang on about cycling, but talk about safety. This brings in pedestrians, cyclists and also the more responsible motorists. Of course, I then found out that “road safety” as commonly understood in the world of idiot-proofing the motorist experience is part of the problem – we have to talk about road danger reductionm (RDR) instead.

Such an approach can bring in all the above mentioned organisations, and people like RoadPeace (the National road crash victims’ organisation) who also support RDR – reducing danger at source, and creating “Safe Roads for All”. We also go for a genuinely sustainable and civilised transport strategy.

Simple.

The only thing is: how are the organisations you mention going to work together? A lot of them don’t want to bite the “anti-car” bullet and panic at the thought of alienating Government (which is what lobby groups have to cosy up to). Also, a lot of their members (particularlly the racing cyclists in British Cycling) aren’t happy about perceived restrictions on motorists. A lot are just pretty toothless.

On top of that, there are the differences betwen segregationists and integrationists in cycling, and the fact that many pedestrian and disabled people’s groups just seem to want to bang on about cyclist misbehaviour.

That may seem negative. Actually, I see a lot of positive things – reduced casualty rates among increasing numbers of cyclists on my patch in inner and some parts of outer London. But the fact is that real road safety and sustainable transport has not got on the agenda. There was massive growth in motorised traffic under New Labour, and it’s not getting better under this lot.

What we can and should do is prepare the ideological ground: get across the point that we have a motor traffic and particularly car, lorry and motorbike problem. That’s the problem, both in terms of danger and subsidy towards motorisation. Anything else ignores this gorilla/elephant in the room, is Hamlet without the Prince, or – as Mikael Colville-Anderson puts it, the bull in the china shop…’ (I added the link)

Like an alcoholic in denial, this country has to face up some pretty simple facts about its addiction; that building new roads does not ease congestion, therefore are not ‘sustainable transport solutions’, that we still we still allow traffic to drive to pretty much all points of every city and town in the land at 30mph+, that approximately 9 people a day die each day on our roads and for some reason we just accept this, that those that cause the damage get away with relative impunity and that our roads are only safer because no-one walks or cycles anywhere.

There needs to be an acceptance of this by Government, national cycle campaign groups and the road safety lobby before we can continue with any other cycling debate.

The perverse thing is that cycling unwittingly fits into ConDem ideals with regards ‘Big Society’; Volunteers have always been the backbone of cycling from local campaigners to Sustrans Rangers to British Cycling marshals to devilishly handsome blog writers. Also you would have thought that there would have been more active promotion of cycling with all this localism talk and ‘Save the High Street‘ Campaigns that are hitting the headlines. Cycling keeps local money local and would breathe new life into flagging small businesses.

If we don’t address these issues directly, and learn from places like the Netherlands for proper engineering solutions, then we will certainly become a ‘Big Society’, but for all the wrong reasons.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 1 – ‘Section 106 Money’

 

Please Sir, I want more crappy cycle infrastructure.

 

Yesterday evening I attended a local cycle campaign meeting where we were lucky enough to have the County Cycling Officer present. She kept quoting ‘Section 106 monies’ for cycling schemes as there clearly isn’t a direct budget for cycling at the moment.

In case you may have attended cycle forums or meetings yourself and heard this phrase without fully understanding what it means, or you’re curious to find out how cycling budgets really work, I’ll try and define it below.

Wikipedia Definition

‘Section 106 (S106) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows a local planning authority (LPA) to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission. The obligation is termed a ‘Section 106 Agreement’.

These agreements are a way of delivering or addressing matters that are necessary to make a development acceptable in planning terms. They are increasingly used to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as highways, recreational facilities, education, health and affordable housing.

..Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be:

  • relevant to planning
  • necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms
  • directly related to the proposed development
  • fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development 
  • reasonable in all other respects.

A council’s approach to securing benefits through the S106 process should be grounded in evidence-based policy. ‘

Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Definition

It allows a Council to shift its already meagre cycling budget to other more ‘pressing’ things (like pothole repair) with the promise of lots of Section 106 money for new facilities. Thus cycling infrastructure in many Local Authorities is at the mercy of pockets of cash dotted around the area, linked to where new developments are. If you’re lucky, they will try and build facilities that tie in with their ‘Cycling Strategy’, which might be an overly long, verbose document that’s woefully out of date  as they couldn’t commit funding or resource to update it.

When you start asking the Local Authority as to why you are just relying on Section 106 money they may launch into Middle Management spiel about cuts and times being hard. When you point out that cycling budgets were miniscule when times were good, there usually follows a bit of an awkward silence. If you are in a campaign group, the term ‘Section 106’ may have been used a lot recently, particularly when the recession first kicked in and the Local Authorities realised that they had a lot of capital tied up in Icelandic banks.

This type of funding is piecemeal at best and is just one of the wonderful reasons why we have the poorly designed, sketchy and dangerous infrastructure that exists currently.

Dunkirk Spirit

‘Dunkirk Spirit’ dates back to the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940. It’s a phrase used to describe the British public’s ability to pull together and overcome times of adversity. It’s a dogged, backs-to-the-wall phrase requiring Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to be played whenever it is invoked. It is a phrase that I believe accurately describes British cycle campaigning over the last 30 years. 

There seems to be an alarming increase in the amount of discussion regarding the compulsion of cycle helmets. Earlier on this year, Jersey voted to make cycle helmets compulsory for under 18’s. The same idea is being mulled over for Northern Ireland. As I have written before on this blog I am not anti helmet but definitely pro-choice. I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute, partly to put my wife’s mind at ease and partly because of the real problem which is that driving standards are sometimes shocking. There is compelling scientific data to promote both sides of the helmet argument. It’s a massive debate that always throws up a lot of emotion, so for now I strongly recommend the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.

However, my view is as follows; if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered as the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed. The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is often a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety groups have consistently failed to address what the real issue is regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important belief that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.

When I worked for CTC as an Information Officer, I realised that we were very good at speaking to the already converted (as you would hope with a membership organisation for cyclists) but the wheels fell off when appealing to non-cyclists to consider it. There is a systematic failure to appreciate that we have lost maybe two generations to the pull of a more sedentary lifestyle with all it’s paranoia about everything Outdoors, computer games and snacks. They now perceive cycling as a dangerous activity and expect to be carted everywhere in a metal box, increasing their chance of ending up in a wooden one early. Cycle training and pushing for the right to the road is all very well but when the public sees cyclists in helmets and high-viz clothing, it’s not going to make them rush to the bike shop.

The point of today’s post is that I believe it’s time to let go. It’s time to stop doggedly hanging on in there in the vain hope of achieving parity with the motor car. We look to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where the benefits of cycling are not only fully understood but taken very seriously.  And then we settle for a cheap, pale, despicable imitation that fizzles out when it requires thought from the designer, such as a junction or roundabout. We have websites and books laughing at these efforts, yet no-one is being brought to account.

Helmet wearing must be regarded as the benchmark of absolute last resort for the Government and highways engineers. We have to be effectively campaigning for a decent, segregated cycle network to Dutch and Danish standards that renders all protective clothing an irrelevance, and normal, stylish (in my own opinion) clothing a necessity. This of course, also means segregation from pedestrians (why can’t they have some quality too?). Let’s make cycling enjoyable again as opposed to a dogfight.  

In conclusion, we have to Copenhagenize if we are to see any meaningful increase in cycling levels in this country, and to make our living areas more liveable. It can be done, contrary to popular myth and to find out how I recommend the blogs and websites below for bedtime reading on best/worst practice.

Anything by Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest

Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, both by Mikael Colville-Andersen

David Hembrow’s brilliant blog, particularly here and here

I Have A Dream…

25 years ago, some friends and I, aged between 13 & 15 decided to go for a bike ride. We packed sandwiches and flasks of squash into bags and cycled from our home village of Elstead, Surrey to Bury Hill, West Sussex. We had intended to cycle further to Arundel or the sea but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We had cycled 40 odd miles (including the stout climb up the South Downs) and had another 40 to get home. The freedom was exhilarating.

The majority of our route was on A roads and it was still a pleasure. We were cycling outside of rush hour on a week day; drivers were courteous, when a lorry slowed down behind us we pulled over to let the driver pass safely and he thanked us with a wave and a toot of the horn. We did all this with no helmets, no high-viz and without fear. Little did we know that Mrs Thatcher and the road building lobby had other ideas.

25 years later, cyclists can still use A Roads (they have a right to) but they aren’t exactly filled with pleasure, unless you’re the Marquis de Sade. Many have been ‘improved’ and ‘engineered’ to the extent that they have become dual carriageways – motorways in all but name that now bypass the very communities the original roads were meant to serve.  They have become incredibly hostile environments for anything that doesn’t have a motor attached to it. It’s strange to think that you can’t cycle in or out of a seaside town such as Worthing due to the A24 being a fast dual carriageway unless you’re Mark Cavendish on amphetamines. There isn’t even a consistant path at the side for pedestrians or horse riders either.

Cycling as a result has become a very schizophrenic activity; on the one hand experienced cyclists claim that we must assert our right to the road and that if enough people do it we will reach some sort of tipping point or critical mass. Others believe that this will never happen all the while that cycling is increasingly perceived as a dangerous activity and that cycle lanes or shared use facilities are the way forward. 

All very engaging stuff, but I would like to propose another way in the same vein as the Conservative road building policy of the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t mean London Cycle Superhighways or the National Cycle Network. No way. That’s for wimps!!

I want Town Planners and Highways engineers cowering in my wake as I pursue with extreme prejudice Cycle Mega Highways across the land as much as 5 metres wide!! I want them to be fast (or slow. It’s not a race), direct, with priority at junctions. Yes! Priority at junctions! I want ruthless planting of hedgerows and trees to act as windbreaks and encourage wildlife (that won’t get run over). I want to see people of all creeds, colours and ages riding to work and school with stupid grins plastered across their faces. I want to see the mass burning of High-viz tabards and helmets when people realise that cycling isn’t a dangerous activity and that they had been lied to by the motoring lobby and ‘road safety’ groups. I want the designers of ‘Shared Use Facilities’ and other crap cycle infrastructure put in large wooden stocks placed at the side of the Cycle Mega Highways to remind them constantly how it should be done. I want all ‘Cyclists Dismount’ and ‘End of Route’ signs melted down and turned into statues of Tommy ‘Angel of the North’ Simpson, Beryl ‘Angel of the North’ Burton, Sir Chris ‘Angel of the Track’ Hoy and Victoria ‘Angel of Angels’ Pendleton.  I want people’s house prices to spiral upwards out of control when a Cycling Mega Highway stampedes nearby with its deafening levels of peace and quiet and obscene levels of fresh air. I want residents to attempt claiming compensation from the RSPB when the sound of birdsong starts becoming too much. I want pedestrians to worry about whether they’re wearing any deodorant due to no cyclists brushing past them on the pavements. I want towns and cities to become liveable and civilized again! I want local businesses, cafes and farm shops to enjoy rampant good trade due to happy people cycling past and local money staying local. I want the Chancellor to say at a budget ‘we don’t need to raise spending on the NHS because you’re all so fit and stress free. We’re diverting money instead to the treatment of the Top Gear fan base as they’re not getting any younger either.’

Like this. But a bit smaller.

Above all, I want a proper legacy for my son and his children to enjoy. Not a sloppily converted pavement. Nor a strip of paint that fizzles out at the precise moment a cyclist would need it most. I mean a proper sustainable transport network. And I bet it would cost less than the proposed High Speed Rail Link too.

Some people say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Please look at this brilliant blog entry from David Hembrow comparing British & Dutch streets.

I’m a Mutant

On Sunday evening, I sat down with fiancée to watch X Men: The Last Stand (fiancée is a huge fan of Manga and Marvel). As I sat enjoying the movie, I suddenly started thinking that the plight of the X-Men isn’t that dissimilar from us cyclists. I’ll try and explain as it does need explaining:

Sometimes We Look Funny

A typical X-Man will wear a tight uniform to show their sleekness and power. I cycle to work and back 22 miles every day and wear tight lycra to..er..show my erm..sleekness and well, I just wear lycra for longer distances.
Whereas an X-Man would claim they wear what’s comfortable and appropriate for the job in hand it’s the same for cyclists too. I wouldn’t wear lycra to cycle to the shops or cycling around town as normal clothes are quite sufficient and it would put the public off cycling and their lunch. We are however seen as mutants or ‘others’ when we put on the uniform of cycle clothing yet to us we’re only doing what’s normal and appropriate.

Some Think We’re Renegades Above the Law

There are cyclists that don’t let piffling documents like the Highway Code hinder them in their quest for sleekness and power. They fall into two categories; firstly, those who think they’re so experienced, they can come up with Superhuman Logic for breaking red lights and zipping through zebra crossings when pedestrians are present. Then there are those who just don’t know any better or don’t wish to know. They just happen to be on a bicycle weaving up a pavement with no lights because they don’t want to be classed as cyclists and just want to get home from the pub/bookies/crime scene. (It’s the same with motorists too with those that think they’re so experienced they can easily drive after four pints and those that don’t wish to know as long as they get to where they want to go). The public won’t remember the years of hard effort and toil by cycle campaigners, but they will remember the mutant that nearly had them over at a Pedestrian crossing.

We want to be accepted on our terms

Mutants just want to be accepted. They don’t want a ‘cure’. Once upon a time cycling was a ridiculously thing to do. It still is of course but the public’s perception has been changed so much that it appears easier doing a tour of duty in Iraq than cycling to the shops. If we are going to have ‘the cure’ or cycle lanes as the powers that be put it, they should be designed and built to Dutch standards for example or simply don’t bother. Anything else should be regarded as a dangerous embarrassment and we shall remain mutants in the shadows.

I really enjoyed the film by the way. I put on my lycra Monday morning, looked at myself in the mirror and instantly thought of Wolverine. Time for a hair cut I think.