Archive of ‘Campaigning & Advocacy’ category

Back to the Future

Last week was a crucial step for me.

It heralded the arrival of the Annual All Party Parliamentary Bike Ride where MP’s, Peers and Campaigners ride from a particular point in Central London to the Houses of Parliament to start Bike Week. This year and for the second year in a row, the starting point was the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kensington.

It was a crucial step for me because it marked my return to official duties on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain after having to step back for a year after everything else in my life decided to disintegrate quicker than plans for this years Sky Cycling Team Christmas Party.

In years gone by, the ride started from Regents Park, the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the London Eye, when Norman Baker was the Minister for Cycling. That particular ride, 4 years ago, took in Blackfriars Bridge, a battleground with all the associated death and injury that threw into sharp focus London’s misguided Machiavellian strategy of prioritising motorised vehicle flow above everything else.

On a glorious Wednesday morning, I found myself pedalling from Victoria Station through Hyde Park to the Dutch Embassy. As usual, the Metropolitan Police were providing the bicycle escort and were in the front yard of the Embassy carrying out bike marking when I rolled up. They looked ready to melt in their black uniforms under already warm early morning sunshine. I enquired whether they should be issued with fans amongst all the other stuff they had to carry around by bicycle. ‘Not with the cuts we’ve been experiencing Sir’, replied a constable with typically gruff and commendable frankness.

A peleton of police personnel at the Dutch Embassy.

A peleton of police personnel at the Dutch Embassy.

We traipsed into the Embassy where the always likeable Philip Darnton, former head of Cycling England and current Director of the Bicycle Association of Great Britain did his usual Golf Club Dinner Compere bit and words were spoken by the current Minister for Cycling, Robert Goodwill and the Ambassador for the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UK who would be joining us for the ride, Her Excellency, Laetitia van den Assum.

UK cycling legend Chris Boardman trying to look nonchalent

UK cycling legend Chris Boardman trying to look nonchalant

I was extremely pleased that the starting point for the event was the Dutch Embassy for the second year running. I had to wonder where the starting point would have been had the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain never came into being as a continuous aide memoire to Dutch [and Danish] superiority in bicycle infrastructure and culture. Also as a general Thorn in the Side of British cycle campaigning at the beginning of course. I guess it needed an overweight, boorish, mildly alcoholic,  occasional comedian to clear the initial space for a more measured and professional Chair and Board to carry the flame.

For the majority of the journey to the Houses of Parliament, I found myself side by side chatting with the Ambassador. She spoke with characteristic Dutch modesty about cycling in the Netherlands, probably because to them it ranks alongside breathing as a specialist activity. It was a bit like someone from Yorkshire, if asked how they rate their county of origin, stating ‘well it’s, you know, alright, but Lancashire’s probably just as nice really‘. Obviously it is not her job to have any say or push Dutch values on British domestic policy, nor would she or her staff wish to – that’s my job as a campaigner. The one thing that struck us however (not literally of course but that was partly because we had a police escort) was the sheer volume of traffic throughout the city.  London simply doesn’t need its current traffic levels (unless TfL and the Boroughs are doing it for a bet) and the more years that pass, the more ridiculous London’s streets policies seem when set against an increasing number of forward thinking cities overseas designing out private vehicle use and handing areas back to its citizens with often fascinating and proactive results.

The Dutch Ambassador showing the British how this utility cycling thing should be done.

The Dutch Ambassador showing the British how this utility cycling thing should be done.

We eventually arrived at the Houses of Parliament.

Now, due to the very fact that the ride had started from the Dutch Embassy, where we were shown endless images of people of all ages, religions and genders riding bikes in regular clothing doing regular stuff; that the ride had stuttered through the stop start crappiness of London conditions ending in the Merry-Go-Round-in-Dante’s-Playground that is Parliament Square, that since the last ride there have been more deaths and serious injuries and pleas from bereaved families for better conditions, that there had been further protests and campaigns and calls to arms, you’d think that there would be new thinking and words coming from the MP’s, especially with a general election coming up.

Wrong! I couldn’t make the ride last year, but I didn’t have to worry as the same tired old rhetoric was pedalled before us. Every year that I attend, I am informed that there is a ‘cycling revolution’ and that we will achieve some form of ‘critical mass’ if we just keep going on our current trajectory and fighting the good fight. However by this logic year in, year out, we should by now be actually seeing these revolutionary numbers of cyclists on the streets everywhere. In cycling terms, London should resemble some sort of romantic Eugene Delacroix painting. With bikes. Suddenly, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although only in Kensington and indeed the Netherlands, although only across the North Sea started to feel light years away. Or at least 40 years, which is the approxinate length of time it took the Netherlands to elevate the bicycle back to where it should be in society.

Labour’s Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh couldn’t help herself. If you get the chance, please read Mark Treasure’s account of proceedings as he writes with a more restrained hand than I. As some words tumbled from her mouth in some sort of order, I was left wondering if she was perhaps describing another London where Prozac had been introduced into the drinking water. As my mind wandered, I recalled a ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ conference held nearby, hosted by Dutch Engineering firm Royal Haskoning bv a couple of years ago, where lots of assembled British and Dutch experts and campaigners were shown, amongst others, a presentation that basically seemed to say how wonderful the borough of Hackney is and that they’ve managed quite well without foreign intervention and expertise thank YOU very much. I had to chuckle as I’ve never seen the expression ‘What in the name of F**king Hell are we dong here?’ plastered so beautifully across Dutch faces. Come to think of it, when I glanced out of a window and caught my reflection, that was my expression as Mary Creagh spoke.

It’s almost as if we don’t want to find a way to reduce obesity and other problems such as Diabetes caused by increasingly sedentary lifestyles, that we don’t want more alert and happier children in our schools, that we don’t want a more productive and healthier workforce that would make other companies consider investing in Britain, that we don’t wish to end transport poverty for those that can’t run a car, that we wish to keep handing fines for air pollution over to the EU. Or it’s the case that, even though we know what the solutions are, and there are examples of proven brilliance in other countries, we’re going to muddle through to a low cost bodged solution in a unique British way. I’ll be tackling the contents of this paragraph in my next post.

Sitting in that meeting room in the Palace of Westminster, I found my mind drifting Back to the Future. I was sitting in what felt like 1985 (when cycling in Britain was also probably enjoying a revolution in politicians eyes). If I had a Delorean that could time travel, I, like Marty McFly, would also probably head back to 1955. And run over Earnest Marples before he embarked on his grand road building schemes. Then seeking out Dr Beeching before he did to the railways [in my humble opinion] what the Pope hasn’t done to anybody. It would be horribly fascinating to see hopelessly car-addicted this country would be upon my return and if I’d be as immune from murder then as I would be if I killed someone with a car today.

But at last the weather was lovely. And I’m back campaigning.

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 7: The UK

vicious cycle The promotion and advancement of cycling in the United Kingdom is filled with cycles;

Pitiful amounts of money are given to cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures which look mighty and impressive until they are shown against the budgets normally given to transport projects, or it’s shown that the spending period for this sum is over the same time frame as the existence of the Dinosaurs. Which is when the figures suddenly have the impact of Bertrand Russell on the life of Justin Beiber. ‘But why is the bicycle getting such pitiful amounts?’, ask the cycle campaigners as, although most other people in Britain have access to a bicycle, they have been brainwashed into thinking it is a child’s plaything or something to do in a pastel coloured polo shirt around a Centre Parcs or in a sponsored event with lots of marshalls, high viz tabards and helmets. From Marples to Thatcher, the country has been informed that the car is the aspirational mode of transport and can also be mentioned alongside words such as ‘growth’ or ‘jobs’, particularly by local politicians, to really polarise a public already with recession paranoia. If the money is truly pitiful, it will normally go to promotion schemes and training, but the promotion materials reflect the bleak picture which has existed in Britain until now; Children with helmets cycling on a Sustrans leisure route or with twenty first century levels of traffic driven by people who can’t understand why people persist with the bicycle as it’s not aspirational or within a societal norm. These people are often parents that won’t let their children ride on the road, even if they were trained to laugh in the face of a Red Bull Downhill Challenge because the roads are regarded as dangerous by people who would never admit that they are part of this problem. So the hard work put in by cycle trainers is often tragically wasted as bikes get returned to sheds to collect dust until the next trip to Centre Parcs or Charity Ride. If the money is higher, it gets spent on Infrastructure. British Infrastructure. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. This, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures….and so it goes on.

This triggers other little cycles as well; the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and they often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. Which, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which understandably makes cyclists and non-cyclists alike deeply sceptical when new Infrastructure is suggested. Experienced cyclists also feel that they will lose their right to the road as they have become so battle hardened with all the kit (and surveillance measures on their cycle helmets) that they not only classify themselves as ‘fast commuters’ but often as cycling experts on local cycling forums speaking out against Infrastructure. To an adult with an errand or deadline, the roads offer far more directness and speed than a typical piece of British Infrastructure ever could. All the kit however puts them outside a societal norm on the British streetscape. It makes the art of riding a bicycle to work look like a specialist activity and, subjectively, a dangerous one at that. Which in turn suppresses cycling numbers. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Meaning that the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them…and so it goes on.

Meanwhile, Bike Week is held once a year. Primarily, as far as the general public are concerned, to give Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast a chance to repeat the same utter drivel about how all cyclists break red lights thereby sullying the preceding report that tries to be optimistic. Also, the near daily diet of local newspapers writing about ‘cyclists’ in the same way they would describe a terrorist cell. With typo’s.

One of the arguments leveled against cycling infrastructure in the United Kingdom is that there is no political will. Well, that’s certainly true but political will develops as a mandate from the people and how can that mandate arrive if the people don’t know that there is a way to break these cycles. That better worlds exist in transport terms, tried and tested and advanced by other nations not dissimilar to ours with wonderful knock on effects for society. And that there are designers out there who would love to create a cycle scheme that doesn’t look or feel like the Oxford English Dictionary definition of words like ‘hatred’ or ‘brain spasm’. If the answer is ‘losing our right to the road’ then we are asking the wrong questions.

It’s not all total doom and gloom. Where I currently live in Brighton & Hove, there have been definite moves to create decent infrastructure as new cycle tracks on Old Shoreham Road and Lewes Road will testify. We still can’t seem to do junctions as a nation for some reason. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built a damn sight quicker than the London Cycle Superhighways – which, coincidentally offer the same thrills, excitement and tragedy as chariot racing at the Circus Maximus.

Apparently, this was childs play compared to Vauxhall Cross in rush hour.

‘You may have the lead for now, but I’ve done Vauxhall Cross in rush hour….’

This week marks the third anniversary of me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Some amazing people were with me at the beginning and it’s being run by incredible and able people now. Its mission; to highlight what has been done overseas and point out that to do something correctly is cheaper than building something unfit for purpose and unused. To show that it can be done in a way that benefits everyone be they motorists, bicycle riders, wheelchair users, the elderly, the partially sighted, schoolchildren, commuters, shoppers and any combination of the above and more. For all the bluster in Britain, and London in particular, it is clear that there is far, far more to be done.

Whilst this nation continues to tit about and its leaders continue to lie about any commitment to the bicycle, here is a film by Thomas Collardeau set in Amsterdam and Utrecht (where all the streets are extremely wide so can accommodate bicycle infrastructure. Apparently).

Also in this series….

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 1: Class

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 2: Culture of Fear

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 3: DANGER!

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 4: Driving is Easier

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 5: Bicycle Maintenance

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 6: British Cycle Infrastructure

Foster in the Sky with Lycra

London should be a wonderful place to get around by bicycle allowing tourist, resident and commuter alike the chance to enjoy its sumptuous mixture of architecture, culture and heritage at a civilised pace. The bicycle should reduce the pace of city life to a level that people can actually compute, and be able to hear their own thoughts. Lord Foster thinks the same way too, but a solution that he has come up with along with Landscape Consultants, Exterior Architecture Ltd and Transport Consultants, Space Syntax seems to misunderstand the problem somewhat and then come up with an extreme solution that manages to completely disengage bicycle riders from London by elevating them above it.

Here is Lord Foster’s quote from their Press Release..

“Cycling is one of my great passions – particularly with a group of friends. And I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live. To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters”.

There’s already a slight contradiction in his statement. Cities are certainly more congenial places in which to live without as much motor traffic. But then, like an expert conjurer, he pulls out the old ‘but space is at a premium’ nugget from his sleeve and with the wave of his wand (or rendering) promptly makes bicycles vanish from the streetscape.

Here is a statement from Sam Martin & Oli Clark of Exterior Architecture Ltd, also from the Press Release..

“SkyCycle is an urban cycling solution for London. A cycling utopia, with no buses, no cars and no stress. We are incredibly excited at how together with Foster + Partners our idea has been developed and now more recently turned into a truly world changing scenario by Space Syntax for revolutionising cycling in London and possibly the world”.

The original idea to which they allude is when they first touted it in 2012. Below is the original video.

Anyway, back to last month. Here is an image depicting the latest iteration

Image ©Foster + Partners

Image ©Foster + Partners

It certainly looks like the cycling Utopia that they describe, but two things immediately elevated into my mind on stilts when I saw this striking image;

Firstly, one must always bear in mind that this is an architectural realisation. When the shared space scheme for Exhibition Road was first touted, there were equally Utopian images put forward such as this one..

It can actually look like this with the right mixture of valium,  vodka and Lucozade

It can actually look like this with the right mixture of Valium, Vodka and Lucozade

To be fair to the designer, they are trying to sell a positive concept and I’d be even more alarmed if they had presented to their client an image of a still traffic clogged street with some people huddled outside a new Wetherspoons whilst snouting a packet of Superkings.

My second thought was one of the 1950’s-1970’s when architecture was brutilising it’s cold concrete tentacles into the public realm through such luminaries as Sir Denys Lasdun, Basil Spence and Richard Siefert. Planners invisioned specific schemes for specific transport modes to be elevated for comfort and convenience, be it the [thankfully aborted] Pedways in Central London with the hoi polloi of smooth flowing traffic on dual carriageways below to elevated roads such as the Westway, part of the [thankfully aborted] Ringways Project, which is brilliantly covered in this short film by Jay Foreman..

 

 

I certainly get what they are trying to achieve and I like the fact that designers are trying to think laterally – indeed think about the bicycle at all. But the bicycle doesn’t need lateral or ‘out of the box’ thinking. It needs simple dedicated space as, along with walking, the bicycle doesn’t get simpler as a transport mode, which is why it is potentially such a great key to unlocking British towns and cities. Maybe that’s why this country has a fairly appalling record of dealing with it. We consistently make the complicated modes of transport simple and the simple modes more complicated. Another thing to consider is that the bicycle should never be treated in isolation within the urban realm. It is part of a far bigger and complex societal jigsaw and all the other pieces stand to benefit.

On the plus side, the SkyCycle scheme could offer fast, continuous, direct routes from suburb to centre, it would indeed unlock space in the centre of London in an innovative way and could indeed be a prototype for other cities. It even allows cyclists to feel, not only the ‘Bradley Wiggins Effect’ but also the added advantage of ‘The Mary Poppins Effect’ as they waft through London. However it’s when I started to think of the negatives that it starts to stumble off its stilts. I started a rough list and please feel free to chip in with your own positives and negatives:

Access/Egress:
The land grab necessary for the 200 entrances and getting people up to that height.
Access/egress for emergency services should an accident/incident occur
You still have to get all the way up to the deck and that is going to take effort, and I am built more like Chris Biggins as opposed to Chris Hoy.

Transport Authorities:
Local/Metropolitan/National Transport Authorities will be tempted push cycling even further down the pecking order (if that’s possible) in streetscape design as they can now point to schemes such as this.
It reaffirms the nonsense of ‘Dual Network’ where there’s different types of infrastructure for different types and abilities of rider, instead of just creating a decent coherent standard for all.
It will (whether the Designers deny it or not) divert precious funds from schemes that can work at ground level.

Policing:
The Police will need resourcing to patrol this new form of infrastructure (and does this fall under the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police?)

Anti-Social:
Vandalism/graffiti,
Security, particularly for more vulnerable sections of society and especially in the off-peak.

On the Street:
Motorists will pay even less attention  as they now expect cyclists to be a couple of storeys up in the air.
Anyone getting hit by an HGV in the shadow of this scheme will only have themselves to blame, in the eyes of a society that would see this as conveniently tidying cyclists away.
Local business on the street will not feel the benefits of the bicycle as this is in essence a massive bypass and, as a result, will probably scream for more car parking.

The British Weather:
The trains below will enjoy better protection from precipitation than the cyclists above who will also be particularly exposed to the wind,

Vertigo

In short, this really is a country that will do ANYTHING and pay any price to avoid designing a decent sodding junction.

You’ve Been Framed

In the run up to my visit to Amsterdam three weeks ago, I read In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan. I always thought that my first reference of this excellent book would be in relation to my excellent trip. I was wrong.

After Amsterdam’s Three large-scale bike demonstrations in 1974, in the summers of 1975  and 1976 bike demos became annual events that drew ever bigger crowds – 3,000 participants in 1975, 4,000 in 1976. Then in June 1977, an even larger bike demo took place. Nine thousand Amsterdammers – including a great many senior citizens and families with children – rode on a route that originated on Beursplein and ended in Vondelpark. The dense procession of cyclists stretched for two thirds of a mile.

A flyer was distributed to the cyclists at the outset of the 1977 ride. The flyer outlined the planned route and also advised how to handle anyone irritated by the demonstrations “Avoid getting into a wrangle with motorists. You don’t need to come to blows with loudmouths. There are already enough [traffic] casualties. Maybe, due to your dignified demeanour, they’ll join us next time – on a bike”. A number of obstructed motorists did bombard the cyclists with abuse. “Bastards!” shouted one motorist. “Tonight you’ll be asking for a ride again!”

A feature of the 1977 demo was a carefully coordinated stop on Museumplein, where thousands of cyclists lay down with their bikes to commemorate the 3,000 traffic fatalities suffered annually in Holland. After a moment of silence and a short eulogy, the cyclists then arose and rang thousands of bicycle bells. Then they “cycled for their lives” to the closing festivities in Vondelpark”

stop-de-kindermoord-museumplein

The above image is from the events just described and in the sublime film ‘How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths’ by Mark Wagenbuur. I had the pleasure of riding through the newly reopened bicycle path through the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum with my not so reopened or refurbished host, Marc van Woudenberg. I was already familiar with the post war years of struggle in Amsterdam and the Netherlands generally and as I coasted through this glorious piece of infrastructure looking out across Museumplein it felt deeply fulfilling that such protest and anger were not in vain. However, my experiences will have to wait.

Let’s fast forward to London, November 2013.

Photograph: Rory Jackson/Stop Killing Cyclists

Photograph: Rory Jackson/Stop Killing Cyclists

To say it had been a macabre month for the nations capital city would be reckless understatement. In the space of two weeks, six cyclists had lost their lives taking the death toll in London up to 14.

Although an initial vigil was held at Bow Roundabout organised by London Cycling Campaign following yet another tragedy involving a left turning HGV, sadly events even overtook that resulting in a ‘Die-In’ vigil, organised outside the headquarters of TfL by a new ‘grass roots’ campaign called Stop the Killing of Cyclists, I assume based on Stop de Kindermoord (‘Stop the Child Murders’). By the way, here is an excellent BBC World Service Podcast on how the 1973 Dutch grassroots movement got underway.

The demands [in London] are as follows:

1.The Mayor and Boroughs to spend at least the same per person on cycling provision as The Netherlands (the UK spends about £1.25 per person – the Netherlands spends about £33 per person)

2. A ban on vehicles whose drivers cannot see adjacent road-users.

3. A full London-wide segregated network to be built urgently

It got some coverage from news channels and all involved thought it to be a great success. The picture above was actually taken from the point of view of the TfL offices so it must have looked quite dramatic.

All stirring stuff.

I was therefore a little bit taken unawares when Mikael Colville-Andersen, leading bicycle and urbanism advocate, writer of Copenhagenize and direct influence for me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started writing the following tweets:

Lying down and playing dead in intersections doesn’t exactly encourage the 99% to ride a bicycle. #fail
7:38pm · 29 Nov 13 ·

Lack of intelligent, modern advocacy is just another reason why London and UK languish in the basement of the urban cycling league.
8:03pm · 29 Nov 13

In the UK today, a couple thousand people convinced tens of thousands of their fellow citizens never to ride a bicycle again. Well done.
9:36pm · 29 Nov 13

Sub-cultural peacocking – based on protest styles hailing from early 70s – are hopefully ineffective in 2013.
9:41pm · 29 Nov 13

If you look at the two photos, you will notice that, in the Amsterdam picture, not one of the protesters is wearing a helmet, or anything reflective – just ordinary people wanting to get around by bicycle, highlighting the carnage occurring on Dutch roads affecting every citizen at the time whether they rode a bicycle or not as well as taking a stand against the city of Amsterdam being smashed up further to make more space for the motor car.

The more recent photo, of London, tells a different story. Tragic, emotive and thought provoking but for different reasons – it shows what happens when private and commercial motor vehicle dependence continues for a further 40 years unchecked at the expense of everything else from transport equality to social inclusion to health. Those that remain within the Church of Cycling become increasingly radicalised from the rest of society – a society that thinks nothing is wrong in terms of safety because the UK has an alright road safety record from the inside of a motor car and would even see cyclist and pedestrian injury and death as collateral damage in the name of ‘progress’. To the vast majority outside the world of cycle campaigning, the scene outside the TfL headquarters was of an out group, many in the expected uniform of hi visibility jackets, helmets and lycra easily picked out by car headlamp or a journalists camera flash. That picture of London allows cycling commissioners such as Andrew Gilligan to dismiss the protesters and make them look as radical as, say for example, the Republican Tea Party.

But that doesn’t make Andrew Gilligan right, and I have to respectfully agree to disagree with Mikael Colville-Andersen. In fact, had I still been living in London, I would have attended the event myself.

This is because we come onto yet another battleground in the wonderful, trippy wasteland of British bicycle advocacy – ‘Dangerising’. Apparently, by drawing attention to the fact that six people have died in two weeks and the death toll has already matched the previous year, it is in some way going to make cycling look dangerous, and put people off. It also, apparently, undermines the hard work that Boris Johnson, Andrew Gilligan and TfL have been putting in. Statistically, it may be a safe activity, but that only paints part of the picture.

I used to cycle to work every day in my younger years from Morden in deepest, darkest South London, to Camden Town – to be more precise, less than 50 metres from where a young woman faced ‘life changing’ injuries after being hit by an HGV last October. My commute took in such gems as the multi-lane gyratory at Vauxhall Cross. At the time it was an adventure. But I was a fit[ish], confident[ish] young male. Now I am a father and watching the age of 40 fade as it waves me slowly goodbye from the harbour edge, the thought of carrying out the same commute fills me with horror. The thought of carrying out the same ride with my 3 and a half year old boy doesn’t fill me with anything because it simply won’t happen. When I unfold my Brompton at Victoria Station to head to a meeting, I do it with the same look these days as a pensioner being cajoled onto a ride at Alton Towers, being told to stop whining as it won’t last long and might be quite fun. The facilities provided for cycling in London [and the rest of the UK] are the infrastructure equivalent of the riddles and jokes one finds in a box of Christmas crackers. Whenever I see tourists on Boris Bikes at Parliament Square and Embankment (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), they are always on the pavement and for good reason. If they wanted the level of subjective danger presented to them on the roads, they might as well have holidayed in Syria. This is because any plans for the future are anchored to the past  – the incessant need to push as much motorised traffic through a given area under the deluded belief that it means prosperity and individuality.

The people that participated in the Die-In last Friday probably had better things to do on a Friday evening and there are better ways of campaigning but it has all come down to this. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If many were wearing cycle clothing and body armour with all the  reflective bits, it is because the prevailing conditions have made them do so. These are people that have had to look grateful for every poorly designed, underfunded and compromised facility that has been set before them, and then take the flak when they ignore them. 40 years of neglect at the transport table has resulted in that photograph taken from the TfL offices. Most importantly, the remainder of people in the UK regard cycling as a dangerous activity regardless of protests like this.

If things are ever going to move forward, there needs to be greater liaison with elderly groups, disabled groups, pedestrian groups and even, dare I say it, motoring groups. They need to be shown examples of what does work, and why. This goes way beyond ‘space for cycling’ but creating more liveable neighbourhoods and quality networks for all. Otherwise bicycle advocacy will continue to be framed and then discarded with ease.

The Perfect [Fart in a Thunder]Storm

All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling Inquiry

HM Government Response (which may have been tweaked by the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club)

The Department for Transport is pleased to have the opportunity to respond on behalf of HM Government to the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report. The Department welcomes this report, as it has done everything in its power to suppress cycling over the past few decades and now has a golden opportunity to go for it again.

This response is made on behalf of the Department for Transport, which has the responsibility of trying to disperse as much responsibility for cycling policy as it can in England, outside London. Wales, Scotland and London have their own insipid programmes to support cycling.

The ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report’s 18 recommendations, and the Government’s response to these, are below.

1. Create a cycling budget of £10 per person per year, increasing to £20.

Since February 2012 the Department for Transport has made an additional £159 million available for cycling infrastructure in England. Projects include: some racks at railway stations; painting bicycle symbols on pavements in communities; schemes to improve the layout of road junctions to make them even less cycle friendly; and recently announced piecemeal schemes in cities and National Parks with some photos of smiling people in helmets and hi-viz jackets.

Following the £77 million of Cycle Ambition Grants announced by the Prime Minister for eight cities across England, investment in cycling in these areas is now in excess of £10 per head per year. Along with local contributions, this equates to £18 per head of population across the funding period. [1] [2]

Making you think that figure meant the entire UK population was inspired by
[1] Watching old videos of The Paul Daniels Show
[2] …..and the bit from The David Copperfield Magic Show where he makes a Boeing 747 disappear. We’re thinking of drafting him in as a consultant for our Aviation Strategy.

94 of the 96 projects being funded by the Department for Transport’s £600 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund contain a cycling element. Together with local contributions, this is £1 billion of investment. Yes! We can’t believe we had the balls to write this stuff either! We’re thinking of changing our name from DfT to just LOL!!

Bikeability cycle training grant provides funding of up to £40 per child training place which will get forgotten outside the school gates as the roads are seen as too dangerous in the parent’s eyes.

2. Ensure local and national bodies, such as the Highways Agency, Department for Transport and local government allocate funds to cycling of at least the local proportion of journeys done by bike.

Through the Integrated Transport block, the Department for Transport is giving a significant amount of money to local authorities enabling them to design solutions appropriate to their local transport challenges, which is a bit like giving the Taliban funding to promote ‘International Women’s Day’.

The Highways Agency (HA) works with cycling organisations to provide parallel routes, safe access and crossing points to try and keep cyclists away from ‘The Precious’ (or ‘Strategic Route Network’). These schemes are funded within the HA’s portfolio of Microscopic Improvement Schemes, on which the expenditure is approximately £50 million each year across the portfolio (3% of the HA’s operational programme budget of c.£2 billion or ‘Fuck All’ to use basic transport vernacular).

Furthermore, significant junction upgrades and other improvements will help cyclists at locations on the HA’s trunk road network taking the risk factor from ‘Appallingly Designed & Lethal’ to ‘Appallingly Redesigned & Lethal’. A pittance will be invested in upgrades at 14 locations over the next two years, and a further pittance will be invested in 2015/16, with plans in place for many more similar schemes beyond that diluting the funding further so it has about as much impact as this document.

3. Cycle spending that makes a tangible contribution to other government departments, such as Health, Education, Sport and Business, should be funded from those budgets, not just the DfT.

The Government just worked out that cycling improves health (and have officially stopped using Boris Johnson as a gauge. That just confused matters) but not quite sure how to apply this new knowledge. So we are going to chuck £1 million over the next two years to be shared across at least four of the eight Cycling Ambition Grant cities in a desperate hope that someone rides a bicycle or eats an apple or does something healthy or something.

Across the country as a whole, cycling stands to benefit from the Government’s healthcare reforms where it can be used to deliver against local health priorities. Responsibility and funding (worth £5.45 billion over the next two years) for public health has been devolved to local authorities that haven’t a clue about bicycles or are hostile about bicycles. Oh, and £5.45 billion is about the same amount that the NHS spends each year alone on obesity and obesity related diseases.

This places local authorities in a much stronger position to stuff up the wider determinants of health, including transport, through adopting a more holistic approach to the planning and delivery of local services. Statutory guidance from DH specifically mentions the need for Health and Wellbeing Boards to consider transport as a wider determinant of health when drawing up Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and highlights the opportunity to use Health and Wellbeing Strategies to join up health and transport services…………….No, we don’t have a clue what that paragraph meant either……………………..erm…………………….does jogging to catch a bus count?

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport also fund cycling at elite and community levels through the Mr-Tickle’s-arms-length bodies UK Sport and Sport England who both work with British Cycling which is as relevant to mass cycling in Britain as Bonsai conservation or the origins of the litter bin.

On the plus side, a whip-round of £507.34 will be ring fenced to get Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish to shut the fuck up on the subject of helmet compulsion.

4. A statutory requirement that cyclists’ and pedestrians’ needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes, including housing and business developments as well as traffic and transport schemes, including funding through the planning system.

The National Planning Policy Framework introduced in 2011 can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/

file/6077/2116950.pdf

The Department’s technical guidance on designing for residential developments, Manual for Streets, can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil

e/3891/pdfmanforstreets.pdf

The Department’s guidance on providing for cyclists, Local Transport Note 2/08: Cycle Infrastructure Design, can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil

e/3808/ltn-2-08.pdf

The Government has already helped local authorities to provide for cyclists, for example by making it easier to introduce contraflow cycling using ‘no entry except cyclists’ signing. Contraflow cycling means that cyclists can use one-way streets to avoid the busiest roads and junctions in the absence of anything decent there and will cause a welcome orgasm for Editors of Local Newspapers and the expert commenters that they attract.

Through the revised Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, due in 2015, Government will be making further changes to make it easier for councils to install cycle facilities, by removing the requirement for Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists (such as ‘No Right Turn Except Cycles’). At least until Eric Pickles decides to open his trap as it will be seen as ‘anti-car’.

5. Revise existing design guidance, to include more secure cycling parking, continental best practice for cycle-friendly planning and design, and an audit process to help planners, engineers and architects to ‘think bike’ in all their work.

The Department’s guidance for local authorities on providing for cyclists, Local Transport Note 2/08: Cycle Infrastructure Design, was published in 2008. It provides comprehensive advice on designing and installing a wide range of measures which is nearly always ignored with local authorities instead drawing deep draughts of inspiration from the works of Jackson Pollock.

The Department will also consider endorsement and promotion of TfL’s new cycle infrastructure guidance outside London when it is published next year advising red and green paint to be switched to Barclays Blue and junctions worthy of ‘The Krypton Factor’.

DfT will be organising a summit later this year on cycling infrastructure which will focus on training for designers and practitioners. It is intended that input will be sought from professional bodies that haven’t designed a decent cycle facility in their lives.

Many of the measures identified as good practice in other countries are already possible in Britain, for example fully segregated cycle lanes and providing a form of priority for cyclists at side roads. Decisions on how best to provide for cyclists on local roads are just over the North Sea with national government showing a lead but instead we want it handed down to local authorities – not only do they have a duty to put the car first when considering how to design and manage their road networks, but they also tend to despise anything from mainland Europe for some reason.

The Department for Transport also plans to take action to help local authorities to:-

Share a glittering history of appalling practice, lack of knowledge and no experience on the engineering and traffic management solutions sadly all too readily available to address common challenges to making roads more cycle-friendly;

Investigate opportunities for local government collaboration in the preparation and testing of old masquerading as new engineering (think ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ and you get the general idea) and traffic management solutions (to shoehorn badly compromised cycling ‘solutions’ around getting as much motorised traffic through their areas); and

Help local authorities identify how best to involve cyclists themselves in identifying the right solutions to local challenges by consulting with local groups and then building a shared use pavement anyway but now ticking the box that says ‘consulted with cyclists’.

6. The Highways Agency should draw up a programme to remove the barriers to cycle journeys parallel to or across trunk roads and motorway corridors, starting with the places where the potential for increased cycle use is greatest.

In his statement on 12th August 2013, the Prime Minister announced that cycling will be at the heart of future road developments. He committed to ensuring that all new big road developments will incorporate the needs of cyclists into their planning and design (using politically compromised designers, non-existent standards and ignored guidelines) in an ongoing commitment to put infrastructure currently regarded as a joke internationally everywhere.

Work will begin immediately on junction re-hashes and other pointless meddling that will keep cyclists on the trunk road network on their toes. £5 million will be invested in upgrades at 14 locations with design or construction work starting this year and a further £15 million will be invested in 2015 to 2016, with plans in place for many more similar schemes beyond that. Oh, by the way, £28 billion was announced for the Strategic Road Network only last month. I repeat: £28 billion. And I repeat again: £28 billion.

The Highways Agency is working with cycling groups to provide training for highway engineers so that they design cycle friendly road improvements. You might as well have Jeremy Clarkson teaching the works of Socrates through the art of Improvisational Dance.
The Highways Agency liaises with local cycling groups and has recently opened up yet more dialogue with British Cycling. The Highways Agency also hosts the Vulnerable Road Users Committee attended by vulnerable road user groups, including Sustrans and CTC, twice a year. Which is nice. For ‘committee’, read ‘box ticking exercise’ or ‘County Cycle Forum’ for sheer effectiveness.

7. Local authorities should seek to deliver cycle-friendly improvements across their existing roads, including small improvements, segregated routes, and road reallocation.

The Department for Transport expects local authorities to up their game from ‘appalling’ to ‘slightly-appalling-but-we-have-now-been-to-a-conference’ in delivering infrastructure that takes cycling into account from the design stage.

The Department for Transport provides funding to local authorities to implement improvements to their local road infrastructure, but it is for local authorities to prioritise schemes dependent on motorist’s wishes.

Local authorities have a duty to consider the needs of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians as a last resort, when managing their road networks. In making changes they should consider the needs of all users, including vulnerable pedestrians such as elderly people and those other non-driving leeches with mobility issues or visual impairments. This is usually solved with painting a bicycle symbol on the pavement to keep everyone suitably antagonised and energised. Until a car or tradesman’s van parks on it.

8. The Department for Transport should approve and update necessary new regulations such as allowing separate traffic lights for cyclists and commencing s6 of the Road Traffic Act 2004.

It is intended that new regulations will be brought into force in 2015. As well as new traffic lights to give cyclists a ‘sporting chance’ at junctions, other measures being considered include:

Removing the requirement for a lead-in lane for cyclists at advanced stop lines, making it easier for highway authorities to install advanced stop lines at junctions that are ignored by motorists and putting cyclists in a pole position more tense than the start of the Monaco Grand Prix;

Options for joint crossings for use by both pedestrians and cyclists, filter signals for cyclists, options for bigger cycle boxes (advanced stop lines), removing the requirement for Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists, such as ‘no right turn except cycles’. This will make it easier for local authorities to implement the same crap they always have, but even more so.

In advance of the revisions to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions the Government has already made it easier to:

Palm off the Introduction of 20mph speed restrictions to Local Authorities that haven’t the money to implement them properly and police them even less. All of the successful Cycling Ambition Grant cities have plans to introduce area-wide 20mph speed limits as part of their programme to make city streets more cycle-friendly; which is not exactly how it’s implemented in mainland Europe but trying to introduce networks for different modes, and cutting off rat runs involves thinking and doing stuff.

Use “Trixi” mirrors at junctions so that lorry and bus drivers can see cyclists more easily before coming into inevitable and occasionally fatal contact. But at least it can be seen from different angles now.

9. Extend 20 mph speed limits in towns, and consider 40mph limits on
many rural lanes.

Local authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits in line with their local conditions and requirements meaning a national lack of consistency.

It is important that local authorities take a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects and the inevitable guff from the letters page of the local newspaper on how it’s ‘Health & Safety gone mad’, not to mention the Association of British Drivers (think of a UKIP that’s spectacularly more ignorant and you start to get the general idea).

10. Improve HGV safety by vehicle design, driver training, and mutual awareness with cyclists; promote rail freight and limit use of HGVs on the busiest urban streets at the busiest times, and use public sector projects to drive fleet improvements.

DfT Ministers are treating this issue (the risk posed to cyclists by HGVs) as a priority, because it’s keeps grabbing the headlines (although it always appears to be ‘cyclist collided with…..’ in the press) and have had a number of discussions with the Mayor of London which was like negotiating a migraine. He even used ‘lassitude’ which made things even less clear.

The Department for Transport is now updating some guidance which can also be ignored as we’re shoving yet more responsibility out to the provinces without giving a steer or lead or anything.

Government is promoting the further development of the Strategic Rail Freight Network and has ring-fenced a further £230 million in the period 2014-2019 for the rail industry in Great Britain to take forward its own priority projects on freight. This has nothing to do with what would actually work for cycling but it allows us to insert another ‘headline figure’ in there

We are introducing new standards on Mirrors and camera technology because it’s easier and less tiresome than coming up with standards for quality bicycle infrastructure. And don’t get us started on junctions. No, really – don’t get us started.

11. Strengthen the enforcement of road traffic law, including speed limits, and ensuring that driving offences – especially those resulting in death or injury – are treated sufficiently seriously by police, prosecutors and judges.

All road users have a duty to use the road network in a safe and responsible manner and to obey road traffic law. That’s about all we have to say on the subject other than some meetings are going to be held and some blather about stakeholders. Obviously we can’t bring in US style gun laws so we just wanted the car to be the weapon of choice for people that may have a grievance without all the formal enquiries and calls for controls as the victims of collisions with cars in this country are regarded merely as ‘collateral damage’.

12. Provide cycle training at all primary and secondary schools.

The Department for Transport provides funding to local authorities and School Games Organisers for training that’s promptly forgotten as it’s vetoed by the parents who regard it as a lethal activity making it a tragic waste of trainers time and taxpayers money but ‘c’est la vie’ as Nigel Farrage wouldn’t say. It looks as though we are doing something constructive whilst ignoring the stuff that would actually enhance the hard work of cycle trainers like quality infrastructure but that would involve proper investment and not the pathetic figures we’re bandying about here.

13. Offer widespread affordable (or free) cycle training and other programmes to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to give cycling a try, as evidenced by NICE.

The LSTF invited local authorities to submit bids which may include cycling. All £600 million from the fund has now been committed to deliver 96 packages. Of those 96 packages, 77 contained cycle training which includes 48 adult training packages because they are cheaper than infrastructure and will probably not trouble the minds of the majority of the general public.

Bikeability is not only for children, despite having a revised childish name. There is a range of training available to suit all requirements from the complete beginner wanting to boost their confidence to those wanting to develop more advanced skills such as dualled trunk roads which commenters on some cycle forums think are perfectly reasonable to cycle on.

14. Promote cycling as a safe and normal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Cycle safety is very important, which is why the Department for Transport has given £35m to improve safety at dangerous junctions across England and have helped local councils to design solutions appropriate to their local challenges, including improving their road infrastructure to encourage and is the equivalent of attempting to mop up the River Thames with a ‘J Cloth’ for sheer futility.

The small rise in the number of cyclists seriously injured may be due to the increase in cycling which has been seen in recent years and the Department will continue to progress initiatives to improve cycle safety except the stuff that would actually make a fundamental difference.

Bikeability cycle training provides people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities with the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on modern roads if you ride like Mark Cavendish on a combination of MDMA and Lucozade and realise how uncomfortable cycling in this country is, then put the bike away and go inside, mix a nice Gin and Tonic and book a holiday to the Netherlands. Bikeability is appearing an awful lot here isn’t it?

Government is keen to do more to promote leisure and utility cycling along existing rights of way because our stakeholders excel at this, and to reduce the red tape around the creation and maintenance of multi-use cycle routes so that we have more crappily implemented regional and national cycle networks where cyclists, pedestrians, the visually impaired and dog walkers can swear at each other.

The Government is committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours. This means introducing policies that will make it easier for everyone to cycle, regardless of their age or background. We have already invited colleagues from the Netherlands to conferences here to tell them to their bemused faces that their solutions wouldn’t work here and that their 40 years of engineering expertise in developing incredible and constantly evolving infrastructure for bicycles is cute but they’ve always been cyclists and that Hackney is far better. We should therefore strive toward policies in a unique British idiom using a hotch potch of Danish/British/Nigerian/Dutch/Galapagos Islands/Finnish/Martian and call the end product ‘Dutch Style’.

15. The Government should produce a cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan with annual progress reports.

The Department for Transport has been co-ordinating a cross-departmental effort to promote cycling, in particular with Defra and the Department of Health in a further bid to get our responsibility for cycling out of our building.

Realising our ambition for cycling will require sustained leadership, collaboration and innovation at each level of government and between all sectors. To ensure that robust arrangements are in place to realise the ambition, we will work with stakeholders to assemble a comprehensive delivery plan for publication in the autumn. Did you like that bit of middle management bullshit speak? We will also, moving forward, incorporate ‘blue sky thinking’ into all half arsed meetings with no steer or lead.

The Department for Transport has governance arrangements in place to support the development of cycling policy through the Cycling Stakeholder Forum led by Cycling Minister Norman Baker, a cycling High Level Subgroup and a cross-Whitehall officials Subgroup. Close working relationships will continue as the cycling delivery plan is developed in the same time it took to build the Great Wall of China (including the planning application). The Cycling Stakeholder Forum is probably held in the same reverence as a ‘County Cycle Forum’ and has experts promoting their guides to cycle training, experts on cycling as a sport or recreational activity whilst selling the requisite products to go with it and actually believe the ‘Wiggins Effect’ means something or that promoting the cause of getting women to cycle more will be solved by sponsoring a professional women’s cycling team or drawing their vision of a cycle friendly town as something out of ‘Where’s Wally’ as it elegantly sidesteps taking a serious view on what really works. We don’t really know who they are as its all closed shop with no accountability to mere mortals like you. It’s probably about as useful as tits on a bull anyway.

16. The Government should appoint a national Cycling Champion, an expert from outside the Department for Transport.

The Government has no plans to appoint a national Cycling Champion. However, the Cycle Safety Forum Subgroup provides external expert help and advice and are the reason we have the truly incredible cycling conditions we have now.

17. The Government should set national targets to increase cycle use from less than 2% of journeys in 2011, to 10% of all journeys in 2025, and 25% by 2050.

The Government does not believe that to set national targets for cycling will encourage take up at local level. It is for Local Authorities to decide on hilarious/dangerous ambitions for their local areas. A ‘One size fits all’ approach is not effective. Why, to compare Guildford with Watford is to compare Mars with Mercury. Apparently.

For example, the eight successful Cycling Ambition Grant cities have all set targets that are ‘ambitious’ (which is the control word for ‘spectacularly unachievable’ in British Politics), but with their local circumstances and current levels of cycling, they have set their own unique ways of not meeting these targets.

The Government continues to invest money – £159m has been announced since the beginning of 2012 – and implement measures that enable more people to say ‘why can’t this country just design a decent junction. Just for once. Please for fucks sake’ and use the car instead.

18. Central and local government and devolved authorities should each appoint a lead politician responsible for cycling.

The Government encourages local authorities to identify a senior Officer or Member to take cycling development forward in their authorities and to champion cycling in their area, despite them getting rid of all their Cycling Officers in the spending cuts. The ‘Cycle Champion’ is usually an older councillor who has ‘ridden a bit’, but you’ve generally got more chance of spotting Tim Loughton MP supporting a Pride march than this person on a bicycle.

In central government Norman Baker champions cycling, as Minister for Cycling (or ‘Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport’ for the full and more accurately duller title).

 

Back in the Saddle

Well! Forgive me dear readers but it’s been 7 months since my last confession.

I’ll cut a long story short; My father was diagnosed with Cancer of the throat, I was made redundant and my marriage decided to implode, made more heart breaking by the fact that we have a 3 year old son. I’ve had better starts to a year, I’ll be honest with you.

However, my father, after extensive surgery and radiology has been given an all clear, I have a new job in a freelance capacity meaning I can also write about what I like and get paid for it (if people like it of course) and everything else is as amicable as its ever been – from buildings 12 miles apart, but hey, every cloud and all that.

Anyway, it’s always reassuring to come back to the wild and wacky world of cycle campaigning after what feels like a long yet fitful doze and notice that everything and nothing has happened at the same time.

Firstly the everything – During the last few months I realised that I could not give The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (which I founded and Chaired) anything like the full attention it needed or deserved so with great regret I stood down at the last AGM. The new Chair is a very capable pair of hands called Mark Treasure, who also writes the sublime As Easy As Riding A Bike so things are trundling along ever onwards and upwards for the only cycling organisation that represents the bicycle as transport in Britain and would like it provided for in terms of subjective and sustainable safety based on examples of proven success such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

Now the nothing – I’d like to start, if I may, with a sermon which I think sums up  British cycle campaigning quite well

Asking for Crumbs

(Adapted for this blog with a combination of red wine and snacks from the Book of Matthew 15:21-28)

There once was a British girl that was in great trouble. Evil thoughts filled her mind about her cycle to school or to friends laid waste by the devil in the form of plagues of cars and lorries which made her life so dark and miserable that her mother didn’t know what to do with her. So the poor woman went searching for help, but all was in vain. No one could cure a devil-possessed girl.

One day she heard of Patrick, a healer from Westminster that was coming through their area. But could this man help her daughter? Was there any power stronger than the devil? “Oh, yes! He has such power that he can even cast out devils,” someone said.

“I must speak to him,” the mother decided. “This man’s power must be the greatest there is.” She left her house and quickly joined the crowds that followed the healer. “They call him the Son of David [Cameron] and a prophet of God. He is an important man, but surely he will show mercy to my poor daughter,” she told herself. But no matter how earnestly she cried after him, Patrick never answered her at all. What a terrible disappointment!

“I can’t give up now,” the poor mother said to herself. “If I have to beg all day, I will, because he is my only hope.” As she pressed in closer, she could hear the man’s followers complaining about the racket she was making. What did Patrick tell them? It didn’t matter, because now she was close enough to kneel before him. “Lord, help me,” she prayed, looking up at the one who had the power to make her daughter well.

His answer seemed quite rude. “It’s not right for me to throw the children’s bread to the dogs,” he said. She knew what he meant. He had more worthy people than her to help. She just wanted her daughter to cycle, and he was a man of God.

“That is true, Lord,” she said, humbly, “but even dogs eat crumbs that fall off of their masters’ table.” It was all she could really ask for. But she wanted those crumbs.

Suddenly a smile broke across Patrick’s face. “O woman, you have great faith,” he said. “You shall have what you want.” Her daughter made well and happy? Tears of joy filled the mother’s eyes as she thanked him and hurried home. She arrived home to find the symbol of the bicycle painted on the pavement. ‘Crumbs’ thought the woman…

If you ask for crumbs, you get exactly what we’ve ended up with now; Barely a mention in the Chancellors Spending Review and piecemeal funding. Again. The Government always likes to announce the money spent on cycling as a Big Headline Figure because it not only sounds impressive but it also comes with the air of ‘and you should be bloody grateful for that’.

Christ-on-a-Bike

This never happened
(Christ on a Bike by Alan Macdonald – click the picture to visit the Kilmorack Gallery Website)

However, it is only when the numbers are crunched that the realisation reappears that; funding for cycling is a perpetual ‘limited time offer’ and that funding is cast out to local authorities and designers with no masterplan, quality design standards and barely any comprehension of what a bicycle feels like combined with their political masters 1980’s belief that more cars means more prosperity to their areas. From experience, as far as Surrey and West Sussex County Councils are concerned, asking them to act as custodians of any cycling budget or strategy is like asking McDonalds to look after your cow. This results in yet more cycle infrastructure that can only make sense on a combination of LSD and White Lightning.

A headline figure also conveniently means not having to compare it to the transport budget. It’s a very neat parlour trick as it allows Government to portray the South Downs as mountainous whilst making Snowdonia disappear from our minds.

snowdonia2

Snowdonia: Move along. Don’t let the scale give you any ideas.

I believe there needs to be a coherent Bicycle Masterplan (a bit like friends of ours elsewhere), there needs to be a systematic review of what design standards we have (as some of them aren’t bad at all) and there needs to be a systemic review on how the bicycle is dealt with at national Government level. In particular, an acceptance, however grudging from the Department for Transport that the bicycle is actually quite a useful mode of transport. Then, and only then, can a commitment to secure, long term funding and strategy be found as the bicycle is released from sports/recreation duties and make a welcome return to serving the people.

It’s always difficult trying to write a blog post after returning from the wilderness so sincere apologies for the scattergun or ranty approach. There have been some positive signs in Britain too which I shall be affording the courtesy of more time  in subsequent posts. Sadly, I think I have all the time in the world to get back in the swing of things.

A Question of Sport

Perfectly Normal. And, no she isn't reading 'Sofa Sitting Monthly'

Hello dearest readers! Sorry about the long lay off but I had to take a little step back due to my Father being diagnosed and treated for Cancer of the throat and me being made redundant from day job (although I was informed that it wasn’t me but the role that was being made redundant, which of course made things much better).

Still, with a New Year brings a fresh start, a revamped website which I will expand upon and, it transpires, a Brand New Hope For The Future Of Cycling In Britain which usually happens this time of year (This must not be confused with a Brand New Summer Hope For The Future of Cycling In Britain or the Perennial Brand New Hope For The Future of Cycling In Britain). This year, it comes in the form of a Government Inquiry which comes of the back of some generosity from last years Brand New Hope For The Future Of Cycling In Britain, The Times’s Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, which was launched last February [2012] after a reporter, Mary Bowers, was run over by a lorry on her ride to work in November 2011. According to The Times, ‘she remains minimally conscious and still receives round-the-clock medical attention’, so please pause for a moment, spare her a thought and wish her all the best.

From the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Blog:

The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) will start taking evidence for an inquiry entitled: “Get Britain Cycling” on the 23rd January. There will be six evidence sessions with a panel of MPs and Peers who will take verbal evidence from a selected group of witnesses. The last session will be on the 6th March.

The inquiry will examine the barriers which are preventing more people from cycling in the UK. Cycling makes up 2% of all journeys, compared to 27% in the Netherlands and 18% in Denmark. Some European towns have more than 50% of all journeys made by bike.

I have no trouble with this premise. It’s a very good premise and one on which The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain submitted evidence on which you can read here. However, I have trouble being convinced that the Inquiry will look at cycling, and mass utility cycling in particular, in a fresh and progressive way.

One fundamental problem that I wish to cover in this post stems from how the bicycle is regarded in this country. It simply isn’t viewed as a serious mode of transport, and very rarely advertised as such. It is a piece of sporting equipment, a child’s plaything and something to stick on the back of the car and take to the New Forest provided it isn’t raining. This is a perception that can of course change with proper leadership and Government policy. After all, it was only a little over 5 years ago when smoking inside a public building was perfectly acceptable. However, there seems to be an unbreakable connect between cycle sport and transport, particularly amongst the main cycling groups (CTC, British Cycling & Sustrans) that have been called to give evidence. I believe that a clear distinction has to be made, as sporting success, however uplifting and momentous should not dictate or influence transport policy in any way. I also believe that this is one of the major elephants in the cycle campaigning World and the failure to address it will only lead to further Schizophrenia, particularly amongst the major cycling organisations.

Just before the Inquiry, CTC (the National Cycling Charity) made a public announcement. To support women’s cycling they are going to launch a UK based elite women’s racing team that will take part in key events in the 2013 race calendar. Now, I accept that there is a massive gender imbalance in cycle sport, in fact most other sports too. I also can’t criticise CTC for doing this as a way to redress that imbalance. However, let’s not pretend that this will be some trickle down effect and that women across the land will suddenly start enquiring as to how to ride on busy roads to go to work or meet up with friends which is quixotic at best – the same with most men. This may not be a reason for CTC doing it at all but I have to question the raison d’etre when surely this is the remit of British Cycling (after all the members of a CTC backed team would surely have to get their racing licences from BC). I’m not sure what the actual point of it is. Lizzie Armistead was quoted on the BBC as saying the following…

…Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, one of the shining lights of women’s cycling, told BBC Sport that “the issue is much bigger than simply putting a few jerseys on a few women’s backs”.

The 23-year-old from Otley in Yorkshire, who was talent spotted by British Cycling at the age of 15, first raised the issue on the back of her greatest triumph to date, winning Olympic road race silver – Team GB’s first medal of the London Games.

Moments after her medal presentation she told the media: “The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating.”

Armitstead points to disparity in pay and prize money for women compared to men and the lack of media coverage for women’s cycling.

With the emergence of the Wiggle Honda Team, backed by the Bradley Wiggins Foundation,  and another women’s team funded by the national cycling charity CTC,  Armitstead faces the inevitable barrage of questions about whether this tackles the problem.

Her response may be surprising to some.

“For me it’s almost become more frustrating,” she says.

“The general media in Britain don’t understand the ins and outs of cycling, so they fall into the trap of believing that something is going to create real change, when for me I know it’s just a media spin off.

“But, at the same time, if I become too involved in it and let it bother me too much then you become the person who’s the negative person all the time – and I don’t want to be that.

“I’m a passionate and honest person, but I am positive,” she adds…..’

Whilst remaining on the subject of gender, it must be noted that by the end of the second session of the Parliamentary Inquiry on Wednesday [30th January], 18 men and only 5 women would have given evidence. I expect this divide to be a gaping chasm by the end of the Inquiry.

What I’ve tried to draw attention to through this blog, and through the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is that it is perfectly possible to just hop on a bicycle without the need for any specialist equipment whatsoever, that there are bicycles available that facilitate this (you do have to search a bit but the list is growing) and that there are countries that have made the bicycle as transport the norm. This is because they have created inviting conditions through dedicated high quality infrastructure that has had proven success, helping to remove transport poverty and empowering more vulnerable groups. The Netherlands and Denmark have been able to achieve this and still have a thriving cycle sport scene. However, they are regarded as separate things in the same way that Formula 1 and Touring Car racing are separate from everyday motoring (although I do wonder sometimes when driving on the M23).

And here we get to the crux of the matter in Britain. At the moment only the dedicated are cycling as in those that are riding in spite of the conditions as opposed to because of them. A great number of whom wear specialist clothing and equipment whilst riding fast bikes. Every time a mass cycling event or protest ride is held in this country for example, it is always noted, particularly amongst bloggers, how many people are wearing helmets, lycra and hi-viz clothing. It is also noted that this doesn’t help the cause as it merely confirms the suspicions of an already sceptical public – that cyclists are an ‘out group’ and not a societal norm. However, I would make the point that these cyclists would probably be wearing specialist clothing on fast bikes even in a British mass cycling culture as they are also probably covering longer distances, and its always going to be better than gym membership. The difference being that they would suddenly look like sporty, normal commuters in a sea of other normally dressed people just going about their day by bicycle, just like in the Netherlands and Denmark.

This is where the arguments start; the finger is pointed at established cycling groups for failing to understand a group that doesn’t really exist in this country at the moment. The established groups keep making the point that there is no political will. This is certainly true to a point, but political will comes from a mandate from the people and how can the people get behind something that they don’t know about yet? If you were to ask an average British person on the street what the first thing that came in to their minds would be if you were to say ‘The Netherlands’, the responses would range from Edam cheese, windmills, that song by Max Bygraves, or a startlingly mature perceived attitude to class B drugs and sex. ‘Bicycles’ and ‘Infrastructure’ would only be the response of cycling enthusiasts, such as myself (I turned 40 last November). What we do know is that where even mediocre infrastructure has been provided in this country such as the NCN2 near me, the stretch between Worthing and Brighton has seen consistent year on year growth in cycling numbers. We also know that there is a latent demand thanks to tons of research by people such Dr Dave Horton and his sublime and compelling ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’ study.

A fear might be that if high quality infrastructure techniques where introduced to Britain, and a mass cycling culture developed as a result, not many would really want to join a cycling organisation. After all, I quite enjoy sitting down from time to time which, although it is a perfectly normal activity, does not compel me to become a member of a Sofa awareness group.

Perfectly Normal. And, no she isn’t reading ‘Sofa Sitting Monthly’

 

However, if mass cycling was unlocked in Britain, and conditions were made not just tolerable but inviting for all ages, races, genders, faiths and all types of bicycle, then I believe that more people would be compelled to join British Cycling and the CTC for sport, leisure and sound advice. The trickle should be from transport to sport. Not vice versa. But you all know that already.

At this point, I would show some dazzling footage from Mark Wagenbuur on how the Dutch have made the exciting quite deliciously boring but instead I’m going to leave you with Chris Boardman demonstrating how representatives from the British Cycle Sport fraternity ‘get it’ as far as cycling as transport is concerned, which for me is very heartening.

Well, there you go. It was a bit garbled but we got there in the end. More clearer stuff will feature very soon. I promise.

The Bristol Broadcast

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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 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.

Well, Fancy That! No 3: Riding a Bicycle Doesn’t Always Have to be ‘FUN!’

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Team Sky found it easier to cycle as a group to the shop to buy Cycling Weekly and Red Bull for Cavendish as apparently ‘Safety in Numbers’ really works in Britain.

Here’s a challenge for you – go to any shop selling newspapers and magazines and try to find anything of substance regarding bicycles as transport. Sure, you’ll find lots on the subject of cycle sport from time trialling to triathlon to mountain biking to leisure riding but nothing on just riding to the shops. That’s because it would be commercial suicide to attempt such a thing – cycling as transport should be a boring, humdrum activity as opposed to a particular ‘lifestyle’ or activity filled with thrills and spills requiring the purchase of specialist kit. In Britain however, we don’t do boring and humdrum. Cycling is all about ‘FUN!’ or ‘Olympic Legacy!’ if you like.

When I visited the Netherlands on a David Hembrow Study Tour last year, I baffled the locals by getting my camera out and taking photos of the cycle infrastructure (at least, I hope that’s why they looked baffled). They simply couldn’t grasp why someone would want to take pictures of something that was, to them, so boring and taken for granted, or photos of them doing such utterly routine stuff like going to a cafe to meet friends, going to school, or to the shop to top up a mobile phone. To be honest, my wife would have agreed with the Dutch. I’m going to be 40 in November.

The fact is, in Britain, going to a cafe to meet friends, or to school or to the shop to top up a mobile phone are not  regular activities undertaken by bicycle. Cycling around a forest or seafront or reservoir are activities undertaken by bicycle because it’s ‘FUN’! And you can buy a magazine to assist with all the tips on high-tech equipment to ride and wear (including racks to mount your bicycles to your car to go to that forest or seafront or reservoir). After all, adults and children are advised to get training and read ‘Cyclecraft’ (a large manual of advanced techniques) before really tackling British roads to go to a cafe to meet friends, go to school or go to the shop to top up a mobile phone.

In the Netherlands [and I would imagine Denmark also], all this boring, humdrum bicycle as transport stuff goes on, and yet they still manage to have an intensive and varied cycle sport scene. They have Road Cycling and Cyclo-Cross and BMX and Track Cycling and Mountain Biking and Human Powered Vehicles (yes, dear Reader, I did write Mountain Biking). See? In cycling terms, even in Europe they know how to have ‘FUN’!!!

It would be easy at this point to say something along the lines of, ‘well, at least the Dutch and the Danes know where to draw the line between sport and transport’ but that would be the wrong, and blatantly untrue distinction to make. Whilst I was cycling around Groningen and Assen on their bicycle infrastructure, our group was frequently overtaken by individuals or groups of cheery club cyclists in full kit on road bikes. However, because we were going through towns and villages where any infrastructure and population was obviously at its most dense, I found that although they were travelling quicker than us, it was respectfully quicker. They were always travelling at what the Starship Enterprise would call ‘Impulse Power’. The distinction I found, and I stress this is based purely on what I observed, is that they were cycling as though they still had a debt of responsibility where people were, the same as motorists. If they just kept their legs ticking over at a not unpleasant speed [for them] they knew they would be able to open up the speed later in their ride (particularly as Dutch Infrastructure is about segregated ROUTES and not the usual British misinterpretation). The point I wish to make is that the bicycle infrastructure provided is suitable for everyone – not always perfect, but more pleasant and often more direct than the road. It’s perfectly possible to travel at speed too.

The Dutch and the Danes know how to have ‘FUN!’ But they also know how to get to the shops and their children to school correctly.

The problem Britain faces is multi faceted but I’m going to quickly focus on two; Firstly, is the fact that practically every piece of bicycle infrastructure designed and implemented to date is diabolical, and one cannot blame the hardened experienced ‘FUN!’ loving cyclist for being deeply sceptical. If motorways were designed in the same cavalier fashion with piecemeal budgets, minimal consultation and guidelines that are readily ignored, then both driving and cycling on specific infrastructure would be ‘FUN!’  but in a white-knuckle, terrifying fairground ride sort of way. I personally think that level of excitement should come from inside a library book as opposed to cycling to the library to get that book.

Second is the fact that we are spectacularly awful at separating the ‘sport’ from ‘transport’. Some Britons like to think that by cycling to work, they have left the ‘Rat Race’ but all they’ve done is lock themselves into new one of their own construction. Consumerism finds a new and unexpected outlet with all the kit, cameras and, thanks to applications such as Endomondo, a smart phone negates the need for a cycle computer telling the rider everything from average speed to how many calories were burned each trip. A daily gauntlet has been thrown for the quick and the brave with a great deal of risk taking. The thought of ‘Going Dutch’ or ‘Danish’ horrifies them as they cling to the some divine right to the road. A right that has been effectively lost to the majority already.

I personally believe that there needs to be a standard in bicycle infrastructure that acts as a quality benchmark as opposed to guidelines that currently exist which, although are quite good, are all too easily discarded in the name of budgets or just simple lack of understanding of the bicycle as a mode of transport. There needs to be continuity, quality and more than a nod to what has enjoyed proven success in Continental Europe. A Standard that is suitable for every type of bicycle and caters for every type of rider.

There should never be a magazine about mass cycling as transport because it should be the routine, everyday thing you do to get to equally routine activities or more exciting adventures that start as soon as you walk away from a safely locked bike. Mind you, if there was such a magazine, I’d probably subscribe to it. I’d keep it hidden from my wife though. One must maintain an image of ‘FUN!’

Well, Fancy That! No 2: Children will be Children

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The Dutch even have bins like this by every school because they actually understand that children are lazy little sods…..sorry, I meant the future. That the children are our future. (Picture: David Hembrow – Go on his study tour and try this bin yourself – click on the picture for further details)

Just before I set off for David Hembrow’s Study Tour in The Netherlands late last year, people jokingly said to me, ‘don’t forget to put aero bars on your Dutch Bike’. I thought these were quasi-hilarious jibes about the aerodynamic qualities of my Dutch Bike, or lack thereof. It wasn’t until I was enjoying a coffee and looking out of a delightful Dutch Bed & Breakfast window one morning that I actually understood what they meant – amongst the legions of young people cycling to school and college were bikes with aero bars fitted onto them. Although they were probably to assist in persistent headwinds (as some students cover quite a distance on their commutes from outlying suburbs and villages), they were also remarkably handy for resting ones arms on to use a smartphone for social networking – an essential pre-requisite to youth. Indeed the infrastructure provided allows all ages to cycle in groups and chat away which is social networking at its best.  There were no shouts from motorists, and I assume no-one froths at the mouth in the local or national newspapers either. Basically, the Dutch have created an environment where their children can be children and don’t have to pay anything like the ultimate price if they make a mistake. And I think that’s very honest, civilised and quite incredible.

This situation came at a cost. The Netherlands and the UK  both saw widespread decline of the bicycle from the 1950’s as the car became the symbol of modernity. A lot of old cycle infrastructure was ripped out to make way for such progress. The result? In 1972, a total of 3264 people were killed on Dutch roads, and in 1973, 450 road deaths were of children, mostly travelling to and from school. Since that point, and partly due to the launch in 1973 of the ‘Stop De Kindermoord’ (‘Stop the Child Murder’) pressure group along with the OPEC fuel crisis, the Dutch gradually took the decision to return to the bicycle and acknowledge that the car has its place but people come first. Nearly 40 years on and Britain is still struggling with this concept to its detriment. More on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ can be found herehere and from this excellent film.

If the Famous Five went for a bike ride in today’s Britain, they would find a landscape ripe for adventures, but not necessarily children’s adventures. If they were actually allowed out in the first place on their own, there would still be the odd patchwork quilt of fields and woods to enjoy (but not to play in of course, they’ll only create trouble). Swallows, Sparrows & The International Space Station would see our pubescent peloton venturing down country lanes due to their Hi-Viz and helmets. The motorists won’t of course as they steam through at jolly impolite speeds. Eventually, sweaty and defeated at trying to have adventures in a Britain ruined by adults, they head home for lashings of Ginger Beer. Or Crabbie’s, probably.

Look at that. No lights, no Hi-Viz, no helmets and I bet they don’t have any plastic bags to clean up after Timmy the Dog….

Another contentious area where child and adult Worlds collide is that of helmet compulsion. Annette Brooke MP is leading the latest well-meaning but misguided charge, no doubt following on from Bradley Wiggins, who uses his bicycle to win major sporting events as opposed to buying some milk or getting a library book. Before we take a glance into this emotive side issue, I’ll just give you my ‘official’ stance.

I fully appreciate why people feel compelled to wear cycle helmets in today’s hostile British road environment. However we must strive to create conditions where helmets and protective clothing are seen as irrelevant as opposed to essential. If adults currently feel compelled not just to wear cycle helmets and high visibility clothing but also to put surveillance measures on their helmets in the form of cameras, then what hope is there for our children wishing to simply cycle to school? It is not really the most cordial invite to a mode of transport that should be everyday, safe, even a bit boring and not classified as an extreme sport.

Even Evel Knievel paused for a moment to consider cycling around Vauxhall Cross…

Note, that like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, or indeed CycleNation and CTC, I am not anti-helmet but anti-compulsion for cycling as transport. On this, all cycling groups stand united.

However I have a confession to make; when I cycle with my two and a half-year old son on the Dutch Bike, I put a helmet on him. I do this not because of safety concerns but because I feel that I look like a bad parent if I don’t with scathing looks and comments (mainly from people who don’t cycle yet but do like writing letters to local newspapers due to anger management issues from not cycling). I don’t wear a helmet for the simple reason that when I used to wear one when commuting from Morden to Camden Town in London, it was like a subconscious cloak of invincibility and I put myself in road positions that were, at best daring, at worst,  lethal. I’ve often observed since that people who wear a helmet ride as though they need a helmet. Without a helmet, I don’t put myself or any passengers in that danger in the first place. Also when off the bike, my son, being a toddler, has received more bumps to the head than Laurel & Hardy combined in his short toddling career. I assume I’m a bad parent for not keeping the helmet on him at all times but curiously no-one seems to be having a serious debate on this.

I’m now going to give out a piece of information that I think has been lost in this debate but it always helps to remind ourselves.

Children don’t always do what you tell them because they are children.

Imagine that helmets were made compulsory for children under the age of, say, 16. One day my son will want to cycle to a local shop to buy sweets, just like his Dad used to years and years and years and years and years ago. He may realise that his cycle helmet is upstairs in his bedroom and he just can’t be bothered to get it as the shop is only 5 minutes ride away. Even if I made him put it on, there’s nothing to stop him taking it off again when out of sight because it doesn’t look cool (or whatever the word is these days). If you didn’t do anything naughty or without your parents knowledge when you were younger, than you are deluding yourself. So, he cycles off without one and because putting helmets on everything and hoping for the best allows the powers that be to ignore the real issues of road safety, he gets hit by a real issue in the form of a car. Not only would we have the emotional turmoil of an injured child (or worse) but also the legal and social ramifications of him not having a helmet on. This to me is needless insanity, especially allied to the fact that the real answers for keeping children (and indeed all ages) safer, are a simple ferry trip away.

There is of course excellent cycle training available in this country. I did so well in my cycling proficiency in the late 1970’s, I got a copy of the Highway Code as a prize. The bicycle is a very liberating experience for a child and Bikeability (as it is now known) is enjoying a large takeup today. However, a report was published in March this year that you probably haven’t seen. It was written by transport consultancy, Steer Davies Gleave, for the Department for Transport called Cycling to School 

This is from the conclusions,

‘Overall this report shows the level of children cycling to school in the last five years has remained stable. There have been small increases in the actual numbers of secondary school age children cycling to school between 2006 and 2011 across the UK. However, this has been almost matched by a very small decline in the proportion of primary school children cycling to school.’

Where there were rises in Secondary Schools, there had been a concentrated efforts on cycle training in the Primary Schools that feed the Secondary Schools in question. There are of course all kinds of variables & factors to take in account when viewing the data. Generally however, I believe that a lot of excellent training is going to waste. We can train all the children we like to cycle on our current road system but if it looks dangerous (especially to the parents) or there is one close pass from a motorist then that, as they say, is that. The bike heads off to the shed to come out maybe at officially sanctioned events such as the Sky Rides or Boris Johnson’s latest elegant parlour trick to avoid addressing the real road safety issues, ‘Ride London‘ – the biggest irony being that although a safe traffic free environment is created, helmets and hi-viz are de rigueur.

Here is a film by Mark Wagenbuur of children cycling to school in Culemborg in The Netherlands. I just want to show this as it deftly addresses the issues touched on in this post; no safety equipment (even students occasionally giving friends a lift in on their rear racks – could you imagine that happening here?!), cycling as groups for greater social safety and also quality time to chat and share gossip. Above all decent infrastructure, that goes where people need it to go, combined with 30kph roads to create segregated routes (ie routes that could not be completed or would take longer by car).


We have created a nation that is still debating 20mph where people live, a nation still debating curtailing someone’s right to drive like an idiot around its own people, a nation still building cycle infrastructure that is often a dangerous insult whilst ignoring examples that work probably due to fear of cost, despite continuing to build ever more expensive and intimidating streetscapes, a nation that expects its young people to stick on a helmet, some hi-viz and hope for the best. I think that’s spineless, uncivilised and quite despicable.

Children will be children. It’s a pity that the adults are behaving even more childishly.

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

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