Well, Fancy That! No 1: Nice Things Cost Money

What happens when you invest consistently & wisely in people who know what they’re doing

It is a wonderful time for sports cycling in Great Britain; Bradley Wiggins has become the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France with Chris Froome enjoying an equally unprecedented second place. The hard-working men and women of Team GB are no strangers to success in Olympic events and so it has proved in London with medals on the road and the track with performances to give inspiration to all.

Wonders like this don’t happen by accident as other nations are already comfortably aware; This was never about ‘plucky British underdog spirit’. This was about the right talent, the right coaching staff giving the right strategies, confidence and belief and the right mechanics working on the right machinery. Above all, what we have been witnessing over the last few years is what consistent and focussed investment actually looks like by people who know what they are doing and care.

Norman Baker MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport) proudly trumpets the fact that last January he announced the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to the tune of £560 million (which has recently been increased to £600 million) as well as £15 million specifically for cycling infrastructure projects at railway stations to link communities and centres of economic growth. He has also recently announced a further £15 million cycle safety fund to help local authorities deal with high risk junctions.

These are undoubtedly large sums of money. I have no trouble with Norman Baker MP, nor do I doubt his overall commitment to cycling. However, I do have trouble with the fact that Local Authorities have been bidding for this money and are going to oversee the spending of this money. Put simply, the Government is giving sums of money for ‘Active Travel’ projects to people who largely haven’t a clue about the benefits of cycling as a mode of transport or don’t actually care about cycling as it gets in the way of more ‘serious’ modes of transport. Moreover, cycling design guidelines at local level are treated with the same professionalism and reverence as Dr Seuss, and The Netherlands or Denmark with their proven success are regrettably filled with foreigners so, apparently, nothing they do must ever be considered, let alone copied. As a result, we end up with what we’ve seen for many years; inconsistent and unfocused investment by people who don’t really know what they are doing or don’t care.

What happens when you invest sporadically and unwisely in people who don’t know what they’re doing and/or with Councillors who don’t care (Photo: Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the Month’)

I don’t see this as a recipe for the same delirious success as Team GB.

To be fair, there are Local Authorities that are trying to ‘get it’ as far as cycling is concerned and are very proactive. Even trying to see things from a Dutch perspective like my neighbouring Authority of Brighton & Hove.

In a way, it is good that Local Authorities have had to bid for pockets of money. By tendering for funding, we get to see the projects that they have in mind and therefore some sort of benchmark for local active travel groups to monitor (hopefully, they would also have been involved in the consultation). The problem lies in the precedents already set by Local Authorities which are a bit lacking in qualityActually, most are appalling. Generally, the only time bicycle infrastructure works well in Britain is more by accident than by design; usually a converted pre-Beeching railway line or upgraded coastal path or promenade. Even then, because we never seem to be able to think in terms of network and linking stuff, people will often drive to it with their families if it offers the premise of inviting, quality traffic-free cycling.

The simple fact is that nice things cost money and, funnily enough, that includes cycle infrastructure. Why not pay more for a network based on principles of proven success such as The Netherlands and Denmark that people can and would actually use. It has to be better than our current sporadic and, by comparison to Mainland Europe, amateur looking attempts to solve a car-choked problem that has become too big to solve with pockets of cash dotted around Local Authorities that clearly need better guidance from Central Government on how to spend it.

This has to be bad because Jonny Foreigner thought of it.

If this country can even begin to consider schemes such as High Speed Rail, or an entirely new airport for London, then there is no reason why we can’t consider thinking big in terms of providing a consistent quality network for the bicycle with its excellent rate of return in terms of  jobs, transport, health & well-being, greater freedom and subjective safety – especially for more vulnerable sections of society, increased social safety and reduced emissions. If Local Authorities are going to be the agencies providing it (which I’m not actually against believe it or not), then the guidance and funding from central government has to also be high quality, strong and consistent. Nice things cost money, even for a mode of transport so simple, egalitarian and cheap.

Believe it or not, a decent bicycle network can be cheaper than a sodding great airport built in the path of migrating birds

iPhone Apps for Cyclists

I’m currently road testing a new iPhone app for the CTC. I shall say no more as I have no desire to steal the thunder of CTC but my initial response is that it’s ‘utterly amazing’ although this may level out at ‘quite fantastic’.  If they progress with it and you own an iPhone then get it when it’s released even though you have no idea what it is yet. A bit like the iPad really.

As I was cycling to work this morning I started to think about other iPhone apps that could benefit cyclists. Sure, there’s a few for mapping, and a few to measure speed and distance (as you’d expect from a device that probably holds more power than all the computers combined that sent Man to the Moon). However, I would also like to see the following developed:

The Cyclops

You may be familiar with this concept if you follow the Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon each year. If a car overtakes too closely, the phone could emit a loud beep and someone screaming ‘OUT!’

The Col de Hell

I DO NOT advocate using an iPod when commuting at all but…

Imagine you are grinding up some tortuous climb and the spirits are a little bit low. Just put your earphones in to listen to a recording of an enthusiastic crowd on a Tour de France mountain stage. The cries of ‘Allez!’! The shouts of adoring people running alongside you! Then you can punch the air or give a Mark Cavendish two fingered salute as you finally crest the Paris-Roubaix style pave at the top of Guildford High Street. You hero, you! Chapeau!

The Male Lycrometer

You look in the mirror and see the physique of Alberto Contador. Meanwhile the mirror is trying everything in its power to stop itself smashing and sparing your blushes. This app could measure your main bicycle type, your height, weight and BMI. If you go over a certain threshold, or your only bike is a Brompton it emits a loud ‘NO!’ if you look at a piece of lycra or replica team kit. If you pick up a garment and walk towards the till the ‘NO!’s get louder and more urgent. If you purchase a team replica jersey or bib shorts, the sponsor is automatically alerted by email that someone is riding around with their logo on that has all the sleekness and power of a wheelie bin.

The Femail Lycrometer

No comment. I like my legs and kneecaps where they are for cycling, thank you very much.

I’m sure you can think of more, dear reader and I welcome your thoughts.