The Bristol Broadcast

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at a Scrutiny Committee held by Bristol City Council.

Sustrans were also there along with Dr Adrian Davis (Chair), Dr Fiona Spotswood of UWE & Ed Plowden of Bristol City Council.

I was speaking immediately after Dr Dave Horton, who was one of the team behind the excellent Understanding Walking & Cycling project last year (and blogs wonderfully about it too). I have given public talks on behalf of the Embassy before so I was not only extremely happy to put the our view to Local Government, but also to the general public who attended – many of whom were probably gearing up for a nice juicy Local-Newspaper-Comments-With-A-Dash-Of-Jeremy-Vine-Show-And-A-Twist-Of-Daily-Mailathon. Many (particularly groups representing the Elderly) had a particular and justified grievance against that doyen of local media, the pavement cyclist.

They were a bit taken aback when I started showing them what has been achieved overseas. In my allotted 15 minutes, I was able to convey the fact that; bicycles, pedestrians & motorists don’t have to be in constant gladiatorial combat with the correct provision and planning, that the economies and societies of the Netherlands and Denmark did not plunge into anarchy or boarded up ruin by designing the private car out of town and city centres and that providing inviting conditions for walking and cycling as valued modes of transport means all ages and abilities can get around equitably and without fear or the need for safety wear to mitigate that fear. This to me is the mark of a civilized society.

It went down very well.

From This is Bristol

RESEARCHERS have called for improvements to cycling conditions in Bristol, which they say could solve the problem of cyclists using pedestrian walkways.

Speaking at a council meeting yesterday, they argued that safer cycling networks in the city will help to discourage cyclists from mounting the pavements.

Judith Brown, chairwoman of the Bristol Older People’s Forum, which has been campaigning against cyclists using pavements, attended the Sustainable Development and Transport Scrutiny Commission meeting. After the meeting she told the Post that the council should listen to what had been said and change its “inadequate” policy.

Five experts addressed the public meeting and backed an investment in infrastructure that would pull cyclists away from the pavements and avoid conflict.

Dr David Horton, a sociologist focusing on cycling, said that his research showed how potential cyclists were put off by “terrifying” road conditions. He said: “Too often words like ‘petrified’ and ‘terrified’ crop up in surveys when people are asked why they don’t cycle around town.

“In urban Britain, at the moment, we are really struggling to provide for cyclists. There’s a real mismatch between policy and practical work leading to improvements.”

Jim Davis, chairman of the cycling embassy of Great Britain, said that planners should look to examples in Europe, where the provisions for cyclists make travelling by bike more “normal”.

He added that the changes abroad had also led to less conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.

Leading the debate, Adrian Davis, a public health and transport consultant, said: “There’s no doubt that the debate in the city is often very polarised. We want to move on from this by looking at the harsh realities.”

Following the meeting, Mrs Brown told the Post: “I think the council has to think seriously about its inadequate policy for all.

“As Bristol is a cycling city, the council must think how it accommodates them properly.

“What countries have done in Europe looks promising and it’s certainly worth thinking about how they can make life safer for everybody.

“I’m going to take this away to digest and tell my members.”

Mark Bradshaw, a Labour councillor and chairman of the cross-party commission, said: “What we are trying to do is get a bit more recognition and understanding about the cycling debate.

“Whether you are a cyclist or an elderly person, your views are just as important and valuable.

“As a commission, we want to share this with the rest of the council and with their officers.”

A common argument against having high quality cycle infrastructure is that there is ‘no political will’. That’s certainly true but political will comes from a mandate from the masses and how can the masses get behind something they don’t know about yet? The assembled audience had no idea what was being practiced abroad with proven success (why should they know?) and, when presented to them in a non-campaigning way that they could understand and buy into, they realised that if there had to be an ‘enemy’ it certainly wasn’t cyclists, pedestrians or motorists – it was the transport system we all have to navigate on a day-to-day basis. Society has simply been playing the cards that have been dealt them by successive Governments. And for decades the British deck has been stacked in favour of unfettered car use.

What the Netherlands did was to essentially prize apart the different modes of travel and put them back together into a coherent, integral whole. We seem light years away from even grasping the fact that, to make a decent, equitable, sustainable transport system you need to make the simple modes of transport simple and the complex modes of transport complex.  Convincing the British public that this works could be simpler than we think. We just have to give them the correct information for a start.

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Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea

Worthing Promenade looking toward Brighton. Now a shared use path and part of NCN2.

When most people think of Worthing, they probably think of the seaside, the elderly, bowls and the place where Oscar Wilde wrote ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. I moved here in 2007 and since then I’ve changed jobs once, moved house twice, got married and now have a beautiful [if loud] baby boy, trained as a comedy new act, kick started the local cycle campaign group back into action, established a town cycle forum, started a national campaign for better infrastructure standards and to try to convince County Councils in Great Britain that the Netherlands and Denmark with their more civilised and superior approaches to transport planning actually exist. It must be the sea air.

The Victorians thought the same way and it became the height of fashion to visit seaside resorts to sample the reviving air, the invigorating water and ‘promenade’. The Promenade (or ‘Esplande’ or the ‘Prom’ to take its abbreviation) was an area where people – couples and families especially – would go to walk for a while in order to ‘be seen’ and be considered part of ‘society’. Nowadays they are just as popular as ever and forward thinking District and Town Councils such as Worthing have allowed the humble bicycle on them.

I have written about Worthing Prom here and road.cc also reported on Worthing Councils decision to reinstate cycling on the Prom (following a dreadful accident that led to the banning of cycling there in 1994)  here

The decision to make Worthing Promenade a shared use facility has been regarded such a success that other resorts like Hastings and Brighton & Hove are taking an interest. I would like to tentatively offer the following advice:

  •  If you are thinking of introducing or reinstating cycling on your promenade, for the sweet, pure, tender love of Victoria Pendleton, do not make it purely about cycling when taking the idea to the public (just like ’20’s plenty’ campaigns). ‘Cyclists’ in the pure British sense of the word means either ‘lycra clad hooligans’ or ‘the unwashed’  or ‘taxdodgers’. By taking your bold decision, you are boosting your town/city’s health and wellbeing, tourism, clean air targets and access for all.
  • This still means that you include your local cycle campaign group in the consultation along with residents and disability groups. Your scheme is going to be heavily scrutinised down to the last slab of tactile paving. Local cycling groups would probably be very keen to assist you with publicity and organising promotional events.
  • Make sure that the scheme is shared use as opposed to a dedicated lane. A cycle lane on a Prom will push cyclists speeds up as they see it exclusively as ‘their territory’ as Worthing once found to its detriment. Promenaders will wander into the lane because they will be [rightly] talking with friends or looking at the sea or guarding their fish and chips from seagulls as opposed to checking where they are putting every single step. Shared use means that cyclists and pedestrians can ‘mingle’ keeping speeds down. Just like everywhere else in Europe.
  • The local press will initially print something negative to whip up their readership. The letters page will become choc full of people stating with a strange authority that there is bound to be a 14 bicycle/pedestrian pile up before long or comparing your new vision of the seafront to the opening 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Be strong, only play to the positives and stress the need for ‘responsible cycling’. Remember that they don’t understand the bicycle as there isn’t a bicycle culture in this country [yet]. 
  • Just because a Council creates Promenade cycling does not mean it can shirk its responsibility to provide decent cycling facilities in the rest of the town/city. The Promenade must only be regarded as a leisure route. Whilst they are great to ride in settled conditions, seafront paths are a grind when pushing into a prevailing headwind for mile after mile. Always look to provide a quality inland route and decent connections from the prom to the centre means local businesses feel the benefit too. This is usually where the schemes are lacking.
  • Bear in mind that in a major public event such as a marathon, carnival or Birdman in the case of Worthing, the Prom will have to be closed to cyclists. Again, the need for an alternate quality route is paramount. particularly when one considers that Worthing Promenade is also supposed to be part of National Cycle Route 2. People may have cycled a long way, often along substandard paths to suddenly get massively inconvenienced.

Finally, here is the newly completed and regenerated ‘Splash Point’ at the eastern end of the Promenade which Worthing Cycle Forum was consulted on. You will notice the blue markings set into the surface treatment indicate without being too obtrusive a route where cyclists and pedestrians can pass through. Now all we need is some sunshine.

Splash Point: Western approach from the Promenade. Seating to the right with fountains. Blue markings to the left to indicate the through route.
Blue shows the way. A bit like a London Superhighway but without the parked cars.
A place to sit. With an umbrella.
Additional bike parking for Splash Point and the cafe opposite. NCN2 to Brighton runs off to the left

Fragile Thoughts

Funnily enough, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain would be happy to not see segregation here..

For a while now I have been in a bit of a quandary as what to write about, not because I had run out of ideas but because at the precise moment I wanted to jot something down, someone else would write a jolly nice blog post or an incident would occur that made me stop to reflect and underlined what had been at the back of my mind already.

It started with Joe Dunckley and his wonderful blog, ‘At War With The Motorist’ when in this post he wrote the following;

‘There was a bit of a monkey fight over the nascent Cycling Embassy of Great Britain recently thanks to an article by Carlton Reid on Road.cc (since rebutted by Jim).  Given that the organisation in question has only had a preliminary meeting and has not even launched yet, I don’t think it’s worth responding to any of the speculation and fantasies that have been flying around.  But the episode revealed something fascinating about the way the minds of veteran British cycling campaigners work.

They are all constantly in a state of abject fear that cycling is just about to be banned.

I found it very difficult following all of the comment threads on and about the Road.cc articles.  Cycling Embassy supporters kept being accused of wanting cyclists to be banned from the roads, but I could never trace the accusation back to anything relevant that the accused people had actually said.  And then I stumbled upon a fabulous forum thread that started with a very simple two sentence post, and it all fell into place:

‘Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’ have it VERY wrong
IMO. Their way will lead to cyclists being banned from Britain’s roads.

The Embassy folk and other onlookers were as baffled as I when it came to the origin of this “ban” theme in the comments.  But I now realise that many of our venerable vehicular cycling campaigners are thinking about cycling bans every second of the day.  Everything they see and do, the first question they ask themselves is: will this lead to cycling being banned in any way?  They can’t get out of bed in the morning without first contemplating what effect such an action might have on the likelihood of a cycling ban……………..’.

Interesting thoughts indeed. From personal local campaigning experience I can partially vouch for this view. After being presented by the Council with a hilarious ‘safe route to school’ involving more dismounts than a Grand National for drunk jockeys, we would say how we would suffer abuse from motorists who would assume that that’s where we should be after this piece of infrastructure that owed more to abstract art than cycling was built. The Council would ignore everything we said as the work was already programmed and we were actually looking at the final ‘Signed Off’ design. But at least now they could claim that they had ‘consulted with cyclists’.

To me, this is creating an even greater nightmare vision portrayed than the recent naysayers – that cyclists get eventually shoveled off the roads onto the crap that has been built already and continues to be built whether CTC, LCC, Cycle Nation, the Cycling Embassy or the Abstract Art Appreciation Society want it or not. All this debate seems to be carrying on based on a premise that Councils have suddenly downed tools and stopped building this dangerous, unfit for purpose rubbish or that they could be stopped at any time, which is equally optimistic at best.

What the Embassy is hoping to create is a decent mix in more ways than one. It will never be an Embassy intention to cede a cyclists right to road and it’s not an Embassy ambition to see a fully segregated cycle path network everywhere either because that’s silly and isn’t happening anywhere else in the World, including the Netherlands. We do believe in Dutch, and other Global best practice, infrastructure standards being applied that supersede the current guidelines alongside new approaches to traffic planning & movement around towns and cities. We feel that this is just one measure but a fundamental one that needs to occur to lift cycling from something viewed as a dangerous and specialist activity by the masses to an everyday activity that also happens to benefit the masses.

The recent exchanges of words about the Embassy from journalist Carlton Reid and Cycle Nation ended amicably enough, and as Embassy ambitions slowly become clarified there should be no reason why a spirit of amicability and collaboration shouldn’t continue (especially as I own an ipayroadtax cycling jersey). However, it made me consider just how fragile the house of cycle campaigning seemed to me. As if by magic, a short article cropped up on Velo Mondial that ended with the following,

‘….The reason why Velo Mondial highlights this article is because the candidate in New York sends the strong signal that stand alone cycling policy is vulnerable. When cycling is not embedded in a wider policy of sustainable mobility politicians can easily use a cycle path in their negative campaigning. A path is easily destroyed so politicians can have a field day promising just that. Cycling policy needs to find itself in a framework of policy ambitions a city should have regarding economic growth, social cohesion and environmental objectives. As long as that has not happened, cycling policy will be under threat in the years to come’.

The BBC picked up on the £22 million spent in Bristol and the City Council are defending their record. I have no doubt that Bristol Cycle Campaign, along with CTC Right to Ride & Sustrans Reps did their damndest to get the money spent correctly. However, I think the whole premise was wrong. Let me explain, or rather I’ll let Geoff explain,

[from road.cc]

‘Conservative councillor, Geoff Gollop, said the new cycle routes had been created at the expense of motorists.

He told the BBC: “The Cycling City initiative brought in match-funding which has delivered new cycling routes but these have largely been achieved at the expense of the majority of road users – by reducing road space or capacity.

“Whilst we recognise the merits of promoting cycling as a leisure activity for the individual – delivering personal health benefits and helping to improve the environment for all – this form of travel is unlikely in the near future to be a major means of commuting.

“We do not believe the £22m project can be said to have been successful even in its own terms.”

This to me typifies the problem. Instead of the act of riding a bicycle being treated as transport getting a deserving share of the transport spend, £22 million is presented as a stand alone (but welcome nonetheless) boost to try and shoehorn cycle-specific projects around the car-centric infrastructure that already exists. Furthermore £22 million sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But as road.cc Editor Tony Farrelly commented,

‘Another comparison would be the £1bn overspend on widening the M25 I think the Public Accounts committee used the word “wasted” to describe that one. All the money spent on cycling over the past few years in this country doesn’t even add up to that one item in the roads budget.’

£22 million is just a headline grabbing figure in the great scheme of things. That anything was built and that new cyclists in Bristol were attracted at all should be considered a miracle when one considers, for example, the consultancy fees that probably leeched funds away.

Being a cycle campaigner in the UK is a bit like sitting in a game of poker where you know you are holding all the best cards and easily deserving of far more chips. However the opponents keep pulling aces out time and time again, barely concealing their cheating and changing the rules as they go along.

We all know that cycling is greener, more economic & healthier but we’re made to feel that this is somehow blocking the UK’s progress to becoming greener, more economic and healthier.

One of the aims I had when establishing the Embassy was to stick to Central Government and to point out and keep pointing out that riding a bicycle has implications and societal benefits that cover lots of departments beyond transport. If we don’t join the fray, then an activity that was commonplace in fairly recent memory will continue to be regarded as a stand alone pastime to be abused by Council Highways Departments and ignored by 97% of the population. And they barely know what they’re missing anymore.

Living the Dream

Wow, Ambassador! The DfT only handed out Digestives....

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who messaged me on this blog or emailed me privately expressing their support for the idea of an independent Cycling ‘Embassy’ for Great Britain. Whatever happens, it will be based upon the Cycling Embassy of Denmark as I believe we need the same model here in the UK. The ball has already started rolling and a volunteers forum will be starting up as an information exchange/meeting point. The URL has been confirmed and I shall release details shortly (thanks very much to a very willing and able volunteer. The first of many 🙂 ).

An early Mission Statement is as follows

An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.

To develop relations with private companies already committed to Green & Sustainable values and promote the truth that cycling can produce a fitter, healthier, happier workforce saving billions in ‘sick’ days to the British economy.

To lobby relevant Government Departments that cycling is a solution to transport congestion, noise pollution, carbon emissions, deaths and serious injuries on our roads, obesity and illnesses from more sedentary lifestyles, stress and expense.

To politely correct the Department for Transport that ‘Sustainable Transport’ actually means walking, cycling and public transport as opposed to spending further millions on expanding the road network which will only sustain more pollution, deaths & serious injuries and congestion, like the decades that preceded. The idea is to make something sustainable for future generations to inherit.  A bigger M25 isn’t it.

To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups; to highlight what the real dangers are, to enforce a duty of care to the most vulnerable and promoting prevention, rather than cure. This will be through a raft of measures including reduced speed limits in urban areas and changes in streetscape design to put community needs before those just travelling through them. We will strive to create an environment where helmets and other forms of protective wear are seen as unecessary as opposed to essential. We will strive to make riding a bicycle as easy as riding a bicycle.

To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, although well-meaning and correct in principle is too open to abuse or compromise by practitioners that know little about the requirements of cycling (or indeed walking) yet may wish to know more.

To encourage better communication with exchange of knowledge and ideas between architects, transport planners, designers & engineers as to how to get more people cycling [and walking] and improving access for all to town & city centres and transport interchanges. Also working out what makes decent cycle infrastructure work and how it benefits society as a whole.

To protect cycling proficiency for children and adults. It is an essential skill that did us very well in the past, as it can again in the future.

To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.

Obviously I now throw the floor open to suggestions as it’s now or never. As I look out across the still snowy South Downs, I acknowledge that this is going to be a quiet month as far as cycling news and blogging is concerned which gives us a chance over the Christmas period to reflect on the wonderful cycling experiences we’ve all had through the changing seasons of 2010 and set out the stall for 2011.

I am firmly of the belief that there needs to be new way in cycle campaigning; this is not to say that what has gone before has failed. It is simply outmanoeuvred by a car lobby that can market itself as green when accused of polluting and portray itself as a victim when attempts are made to call it to account over danger and subsidy. Cycling England, for all its faults, cost approximately £200,000 p.a. to run. Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.

It’s time to cast off the lycra and put on the charm. More plans follow and please feel free to join me for the ride which may be painfully short or wonderfully long. The doors of the Embassy will be opening shortly and you are welcome if you wish, fellow Diplomats. But don’t nick all my Fererro Rocher, I don’t care if it is Christmas.