Posts Tagged ‘Copenhagen Cycle Chic’

Take the Last Train to Clarkson

It would be fair to say that Copenhagenize and indeed Copenhagen Cycle Chic were strong influences that led me to set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I saw images of people on normal bicycles in normal clothing (‘Citizen Cyclists’ to coin a phrase from the author of both sites, Mikael Colville-Andersen). It was guaranteed to make a profound impact as the images seemed completely at odds with the cycling I was experiencing to carry out exactly the same range of tasks as the normally dressed people smiling back at me through the pixels (or doing their best to look European and sultry). I wondered why the act of riding a bicycle in Britain was regarded as, at worst an extreme sport, at best a specialist activity or hobby requiring financial outlay beyond just the bicycle.

Fast forward just over a year and it would appear to have had the same influence on Jeremy Clarkson.

Last weekend, The Sunday Times ran an article by him that read as follows:

“I suspect even the Danes are baffled about why they keep being picked out as a shining example of humanity at its best. Just last week a newspaper in Copenhagen suggested it must be because, while cycling from place to place, visitors enjoy looking at all the pretty Danish girls’ bottoms.

“In fact, I’ve decided that the world’s five best cities are, in order: San Francisco, London, Damascus, Rome and Copenhagen. It’s fan-bleeding-tastic. And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle.

“Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.

“City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.

“In Britain cycling is a political statement. You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube. You have shorts. You have a beard and an attitude. You wear a uniform. Cycling has become the outdoorsy wing of the NUM and CND.

“In Copenhagen it’s just a pleasant way of getting about. Nobody wears a helmet. Nobody wears high-visibility clothing. You just wear what you need to be wearing at your destination. For girls that appears to be very short skirts. And nobody rides their bike as if they’re in the Tour de France. This would make them sweaty and unattractive, so they travel just fast enough to maintain their balance.

“The upshot is a city that works. It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat.”

As to whether Mr Clarkson would join the multitude of people that cycle there is another matter but I’d like to think he would. I’d even pay for him to go on a Hembrow Study Tour to see how another country does it successfully. I personally find it no surprise that he compared cyclists to organisations that railed against the Thatcher era to which his car-centric, and wider views are inextricably linked, NUM and CND. If cyclists have to wear a uniform with a camera, it is surely because they are merely trying to adapt to the utterly hostile cycling landscape they increasingly find themselves in, and feel compelled to capture it for the rest of the World to see. Policies from successive Governments, and Thatcher & Major’s Conservatives in particular (having witnessed firsthand the M3 protests at Twyford Down, nr Winchester) favoured the motor car to the extent that motoring journalists were always going to do slightly well to ride the rising tide of a society basing itself on one mode of transport to the detriment of everything else – even Quentin Willson who still looks like Satan advertising the Brylcreem range. Therefore the irony of a motoring journalist enjoying Copenhagen that made, and is still making a conscious effort to remove motoring from people, is deafening, but also quite heartening. A bit like transporting the Marlboro Man to a modern pub to have a similar epiphany about smoking.

Mr Clarkson’s piece was discussed on the wonderful cycling blogs ’As Easy As Riding A Bike’ and ‘Cyclists in the City’ earlier this week and indeed the cycling websites BikeBiz and Road.cc. The latter contained comments from cyclists who saw it as part of a bigger agenda to get cyclists off the road. I personally believe that what the Sunday Times published was a well-respected albeit controversial journalist reasoning that sometimes the car is not the right tool for getting about and that in densely populated areas in particular, you have to hand that task to more humane and civilised modes of transport. He just wrote it his way, which was always going to get up noses as elegantly as an ounce of snuff in a Victorian Drawing Room.

As I was reading all this, an article sprang to mind from a couple of months back that made me chuckle. As a response to a new law passed recently, allowing Parisian cyclists to go through red lights the wonderful satirical website, ‘The Daily Mash’ wrote the following spoof report:

THE combination of pedal-based transport and motor vehicles on roads is utterly insane, it has been confirmed.

As France changes its laws to give cyclists a small, survival-rate-increasing head start at traffic lights, the Institute for Studies has stated that fast metal boxes and slow, wobbling dangerously-exposed humans can never happily co-exist.

Professor Henry Brubaker said: “One of the key reasons for this whole car/bike thing not working at all is that little eggshell hats offer somewhat different levels of protection to, for example, a big f***-off lorry cab.

“We’d all like this relationship to work, but for the same reason that riding a pogo stick through a herd of panicked bison isn’t a great idea, it doesn’t.

“Cars and bikes playing nicely together is a bit like weekend ‘mini-breaks’ to countries more than three hours away, or the simplistic pacifism of the John Lennon song Imagine – a basically flawed notion that humans can’t resist clinging to.

“Maybe the solution is two separate roads. Or that everyone in the country cycles on a Tuesday.

“I don’t know, it’s a real toughie.”

Cyclist Emma Bradford said: “Cycling to work helps the environment and brings an exciting element of immense peril to my otherwise hum-drum routine.

“Personally I’m pinning my hopes on fossil fuels running out before something really bad happens.”

The fact is that you can lead people to the soundest reports stating that statistically the roads are safe, you can hold all the conferences you like, train all the people you like, young and old but if the roads look dangerous or unpleasant, bikes are going to be returned to sheds to collect dust and all the hard effort and work (often voluntary it must be added) will be for nothing. The articles above from The Sunday Times and The Daily Mash portray, in their own unique ways, what the general public thinks regardless of whatever cycle campaigning organisations may say or do. Indeed, as I was writing this, the Department for Transport has released a report entitled ‘Cycling to School: A Review of School Census and Bikeability Delivery Data’ . The first part of the conclusion reads as follows…

‘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.’

For further reading on this subject, I strongly recommend ‘Cyclists in The City’ and David Hembrow who incredibly have covered this already.

I personally believe two things have to happen that aren’t a million miles away from Jeremy Clarkson’s piece; I think we have to start spending on high grade infrastructure with fully segregated routes (as explained here – it’s probably not what you think) and calming the desire to compress high volumes of motor traffic through our most densely populated areas. Yes, it will cost money, nice things do. But it means that all the hard work put in by cycle trainers will bring change currently beyond their wildest dreams. We also need to return the bicycle to the masses by normalising it (where the promotion comes in). Just normal people of all ages, riding in normal clothing (or lycra if they wish, let’s not be picky), doing normal things without fear, discomfort or prejudice, not even from Mr Clarkson.

On that bombshell, I leave you with this film from Top Gear involving a race across London involving James May in a car, The Stig on public transport, Jeremy Clarkson in a speedboat and Richard Hammond on a bicycle. Mr Hammond of course has to look like Robocop having a crack at speed dating but it’s still good fun with an interesting conclusion.

Talk of Stuff and Things

Everything was going quite well until Jim started talking about his Brompton..

Last Tuesday I gave my first public talk on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the Yorkshire Grey pub in London W1. A packed upstairs room looked on in admiration (I think) as I warbled on for an hour about ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Real Cycling Revolution’. I was rather nervous and mispronounced ‘Utrecht’ a lot. I do hope however, that [with more than a little help from others] I got the message across that; there is an answer, it’s been developed over decades, it has proven success, it lies mainly across the North Sea and its continuing denial in this country is starting to go beyond amusing. If you have a spare hour and you are catastrophically bored, please listen in.

It got a nice mention in Londonist too.

The talk lends itself heavily to the following posts that gave me inspiration over the last few months;

Copenhagenize - Castrating the Sacred Bull in Society’s China Shop

David Hembrow – Stop the Child Murder

David Hembrow – Comparisons of British vs Dutch Streets

Pedal Power – A talk by Mikael Coville-Andersen

Plus the photography of Amsterdamize & Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Also in the talk, I credit Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest as representing the ‘Primal Scream’ of cycle campaigning. Whatever people think of Freewheeler, to me it’s a blog that’s unmissable.

Next month’s talk is being given by Dr Harry Rutter, Director of the National Obesity Observatory on more active travel and apparently July’s talk is being given by Roadpeace so all good stuff to look forward to if you’re in London. Well done to the Movement for Liveable London for organising this.

It’s been a day of mixed feelings at the Embassy, the great news is that we are working on a map of shops and businesses that support cycling as the simple mode of transport that it should be. Thanks to Anthony Cartmell and we of course welcome all your submissions and ideas to add. The tragic news is that the Fererro Rocher heir has died in a cycling accident in South Africa.

..Ferrero, a cycling enthusiast, was riding a bike during a training run in Cape Town while on a business trip to South Africa when he fell off, according to the firm.

The 47-year-old was accompanied on the trip by his father, Michele Ferrero, who transformed the firm from a local to an international sweets producer and invented successes including Nutella and Kinder in the 1960s…’

Very sad news indeed.

Meanwhile on Radio 4 today You and Yours looked at the issue of cyclist safety in the light of recent headline fatalities, particularly with HGVs. What was noticeable in this programme again was the complete absence of tried and tested infrastructure used in Europe. As usual, it descended to the regular arguments about whether cyclists should be taxed and insured and breaking red lights. Whilst the programme makers tried very hard to make it as balanced as possible, it felt like part of the larger campaigning merry-go-round where cycling gets flagged up as an issue in a programme or newspaper and the usual people wheel out the same old debate that gets repeated ad infinitum and round and round we go.

Finally, a campaigning friend of mine in Worthing got his hands on one of those free hanging baskets with free reflective linings that Edmund King of the AA was giving out, I think because the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is nearly upon us. Anyway, he’s put it on ebay with the proceeds going to Roadpeace. The story has even made road.cc. Please bid for a wonderful cause!

Dunkirk Spirit

‘Dunkirk Spirit’ dates back to the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940. It’s a phrase used to describe the British public’s ability to pull together and overcome times of adversity. It’s a dogged, backs-to-the-wall phrase requiring Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to be played whenever it is invoked. It is a phrase that I believe accurately describes British cycle campaigning over the last 30 years. 

There seems to be an alarming increase in the amount of discussion regarding the compulsion of cycle helmets. Earlier on this year, Jersey voted to make cycle helmets compulsory for under 18′s. The same idea is being mulled over for Northern Ireland. As I have written before on this blog I am not anti helmet but definitely pro-choice. I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute, partly to put my wife’s mind at ease and partly because of the real problem which is that driving standards are sometimes shocking. There is compelling scientific data to promote both sides of the helmet argument. It’s a massive debate that always throws up a lot of emotion, so for now I strongly recommend the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.

However, my view is as follows; if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered as the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed. The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is often a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety groups have consistently failed to address what the real issue is regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important belief that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.

When I worked for CTC as an Information Officer, I realised that we were very good at speaking to the already converted (as you would hope with a membership organisation for cyclists) but the wheels fell off when appealing to non-cyclists to consider it. There is a systematic failure to appreciate that we have lost maybe two generations to the pull of a more sedentary lifestyle with all it’s paranoia about everything Outdoors, computer games and snacks. They now perceive cycling as a dangerous activity and expect to be carted everywhere in a metal box, increasing their chance of ending up in a wooden one early. Cycle training and pushing for the right to the road is all very well but when the public sees cyclists in helmets and high-viz clothing, it’s not going to make them rush to the bike shop.

The point of today’s post is that I believe it’s time to let go. It’s time to stop doggedly hanging on in there in the vain hope of achieving parity with the motor car. We look to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where the benefits of cycling are not only fully understood but taken very seriously.  And then we settle for a cheap, pale, despicable imitation that fizzles out when it requires thought from the designer, such as a junction or roundabout. We have websites and books laughing at these efforts, yet no-one is being brought to account.

Helmet wearing must be regarded as the benchmark of absolute last resort for the Government and highways engineers. We have to be effectively campaigning for a decent, segregated cycle network to Dutch and Danish standards that renders all protective clothing an irrelevance, and normal, stylish (in my own opinion) clothing a necessity. This of course, also means segregation from pedestrians (why can’t they have some quality too?). Let’s make cycling enjoyable again as opposed to a dogfight.  

In conclusion, we have to Copenhagenize if we are to see any meaningful increase in cycling levels in this country, and to make our living areas more liveable. It can be done, contrary to popular myth and to find out how I recommend the blogs and websites below for bedtime reading on best/worst practice.

Anything by Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest

Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, both by Mikael Colville-Andersen

David Hembrow’s brilliant blog, particularly here and here