Being an only child, I was fairly used to quiet and solitude; the purr of a chain combined with birdsong whilst cycling along local bridleways or the wind through the trees where I used to occasionally sit and read anything by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. Now I’m older I seem to get increasingly nervy around silence; not hearing my son breathe or stir via the intercom at night for example and not hearing a peep from the Cycle Campaigning establishment since the furore regarding Cycling England a month or two ago also puts my teeth on edge.
About a month ago, it was declared that Cycling England would cease to be as of March 2011. Cycling blogs were alight with hot debate over why such a small concern should be abolished when it also became apparent that there would be no real provision for cycling within the Department for Transport. We learned that cycling was literally going to have to sing for its supper with funding thrown out to the provinces and the ‘Sustainable Transport Fund’. If you needed to feel even more nervous, it would appear that the parameters for what constitutes ‘Sustainable Transport haven’t been set by the Department for Transport and Philip ‘no clever funny middle name as he’s just a tosser’ Hammond MP. This means that the Council can make the same ridiculous interpretation as Central Government – that adding lanes to a motorway can constitute ‘Sustainable Transport’ as it ‘improves traffic flow’ which reduces emissions (conveniently sidestepping the fact that it creates more traffic but that can be dealt with at a later date or preferably by a later generation). This is a bit like BP arguing that they have done the Gulf of Mexico a favour by releasing catastrophic amounts of oil into the eco-system; it ensures that only the fittest creatures survive thereby creating a stronger, more efficient Gulf of Mexico for future generations.
What I’ve found a little disturbing is the way that the wrath and fury seems to have subsided save a few handsome journalists and blog writers. I like to think that the major players are just recovering from the shock and are now in a room somewhere, with secret plans being drawn up to produce an all new campaigning, lobbying, gnashing of teeth version of Cycling England built on sturdier foundations. Then again, I also have a direct debit for the National Lottery.
Shortly after Hammond’s statements, including the hilarious assertion that electric cars would be the way forward, well and truly putting the ‘car’ in carbon, the CTC and Cycle Nation held a conference in Edinburgh hosted by SPOKES (the Lothian Cycle Campaign). Lots of people spoke and gave presentations including the very nice Philip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England. Notes of all the topics covered can be downloaded from the excellent Spokes website - at least, nearly all. Roger Geffen gave a chinwag on ‘The Segregation Debate – Reflections from Copenhagen’
The only notes of this segment were kindly compiled by a Spokes representative and reads as follows
Roger Geffen (CTC Right-to-Ride). Why is he sceptical of segregation, if it works in practice in parts of Europe like Denmark and Netherlands? CTC doesn’t reject it outright but supports the Government’s ‘hierarchy of solutions': Traffic reduction and speed reduction; re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure; and segregation last – though it’s appropriate in some circs, eg inter-urban dual carriageway.
Problems of segregation in town – junctions more dangerous, need 270′ vision instead of 90′;cyclist/pedestrian conflict.
Success stories: Copenhagen, New York, Bogota. (Lo Fidelity Note: And Amsterdam, and Groningen and…)
Main issue is two legal framework differences – 1 driver liability, and 2 drivers give way to peds/cyclists when turning, even if have green light. Different legal framework leads to different driver behaviour. Needs lot of political will to change this in UK – possible strategy for future. Boris suggests allow cyclists to turn L at red light but this leads to cycle/ped conflict.
According to one source, it ended up as a slightly heated debate. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would have pointed out that the Governments ‘hierarchy of solutions’ are intrinsically car-centric and methods of traffic reduction and speed reduction, re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure always translates as ‘pinch points’, converted pavements, lethal on-road cycle lanes that terminate at parking bays and so on. Lest to say, none of CTC’s contribution has made their weekly emailed newsletters.
This post isn’t about the segregation/vehicular debate however (although like the Netherlands, the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that engineers should start properly designing out the private car from urban areas before looking at segregation instead of the UK method of tinkering around the edges so as not to annoy the ‘poor beleaguered motorist’). This post is about how we take cycle campaigning to a more coherent, robust level that can shout loud. And it will need to.
Let me say at this point that I love the CTC; I worked for them so know very well their passion for cycling. I love their proud heritage. Their legal assistance (free to members) has helped me successfully on the two times I was knocked off my bike by careless motoring. They have campaigned for the rights of cyclists through the years, be it on the road or off the road by allowing cyclists on to the bridleways. However, one niggling question always sits at the back of my mind; is the CTC, being a membership organisation representing predominantly touring cycling, the correct mechanism to represent and deliver the interests of all cyclists in the twenty first century?
If it is then at the moment it faces an open goal as no other cycling organisation would have the campaigning/lobbying nous to step into the breech come March. To do this though it would have to start listening to ideas that their membership may find unpalatable, and digest the fact that generations of potential cyclists are continuing to be lost to the pull of the motor car and the society that successive Governments are continuing to build around it.
This is conjecture pure and simple, but The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to see the development of a privately funded (or part public/part private) lobbying group in the same dynamic as the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. It would be like the TfL’s Centre of Cycling Excellence, but this time with the Excellence. It could get companies with green credentials to put their money where their mouth is and lobby the Government directly about the merits of cycling and what Road Safety actually means. Partnerships should be struck with organisations in Britain, mainland Europe and Worldwide such as CTC, Fietsberaad, the Danish Cycling Embassy and New York City Transportation Planners for best practice (as I believe the argument goes way beyond just vehicular/segregated). Architects and engineers with an interest in transportation and urban design could be brought on board. The possibilities are endless if you look beyond the horizon of British cycle campaigning. Philip Darnton could Chair something that didn’t have foundations built on the shifting sands of a Quango.
By lobbying the Government, we need to question the Department for Transport why cycling is peripheral on their agenda, we have to lobby the Department for Health to keep reminding them that we have a solution to obesity, we need to let David Cameron know that he can save a couple of million pounds in happiness surveys by just getting everyone cycling.
Above all, we’ve got to do something. The sound of silence is starting to get deafening.