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.
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.