Posts Tagged ‘CTC’

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

Apparently, Brooks also dabbled in Surrealism whilst developing their prototypes before they settled on a traditional leather saddle.

According to Wikipedia,

‘Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur…’

‘As they [Surrealists] developed their philosophy, they believed that Surrealism would advocate the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination…’

Although the epicentre of the Surrealist movement is cited as Paris immediately following, and as a reaction to The Great War, I would argue that Highways Authorities in Great Britain in the late 20th/early 21st centuries are a worthy successor through their Surrealist installations across the land, never short on elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-sequiturs.

Ceci n’est pas une cyclepath
(Pease Pottage, West Sussex)

One would have thought it simple to design for the bicycle. After all its so simple, a child can use it. A surrealist juxtaposition forms because Britain excels in making the most complicated mode of transport simple and the simplest modes of transport complicated.

Warrington Cycle Campaign started it’s always entertaining ‘Cycle Facility of the Month’ back in March 2001. They even have a book out first published in November 2007 (proceeds to CTC’s worthy Cyclists Defence Fund). The problem is that 11 years on highways authorities across the land either still haven’t got to grips with the bicycle, or simply see the bicycle as an imposition to ‘progress’, or are utterly hostile to the bicycle based on prejudices that really shouldn’t be lurking in any professional environment. Local cycle campaign groups are only usually consulted when the plans are programmed for construction so even if they object it’s too late, but at least Officials can then say that they’ve consulted with those ‘cyclists’ whilst rolling their eyes and ticking another box.

No funny caption, just marvel at the surreal incompetence (from ‘Facility of the Month – January 2012)

When a new road is constructed, motorists are drawn to it because it offers speed, directness & quality of surface. It is often touted as the ‘solution’ to a problem that nobody seems guilty of creating but that doesn’t matter anymore because, thanks to the new road, the problem will never, ever occur again, apparently. When a new cycle path is constructed, cyclists shy away from it because they don’t need surrealism on the way to work or school. They are often ponderous, indirect and are often barely converted pavements with poor sight lines, overgrown vegetation and of course, pedestrians, who are probably wondering what they did to deserve such Hell.

There are four classifications of cycle infrastructure in Britain [as I see it based on observations at local cycle campaigning level]:

Dirt Cheap

Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under three days – Directional signs only. Inexplicable Dropped Kerbs also fall into this category.

Cheap and You Should Consider Yourselves Grateful

Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under a day – Combination of directional and ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs, some converted pavements and on road cycle-paths (paint only) – some of it possibly paid for by Section 106 money if it runs past a new development. Tactile paving is provided to catch bicycle tyres and trip the elderly (even more lethal in snow). This is to fulfill standards that the designer may have read. These facilities are defined by lycra clad experienced cyclists who correctly and pointedly use the road next to it, often armed with cameras to record abuse from motorists who think they should be using something that Salvador Dali couldn’t have thought up, even after a bottle of ‘White Lightning’. Some ‘safe routes to schools’ often fall into this category – great ideas but the children still have to dress so they are visible from Neptune and are no match for a Land Rover containing children that are more important, apparently.

Ridiculously Expensive [According to Comments Section in Local Newspaper].

This is generally a scheme that has had money donated from an external source such as Sustrans. This fact of course goes straight over the heads of local newspaper letter writers and Wetherspoons Pub Frequenters who never let things like cold, hard facts get in the way of prejudice. Schemes vary from more expensive ‘Town Centre Links’ as mentioned above, ‘Railway Station links’ where at the end of a hard ride we are supposed to have a post-coital cigarette at seeing the amount of cycle parking provided (some of it under cover), converted paths through parks and lightly converted canal paths with strange gates at either end looking like the entrance to Narnia complete with dog walkers. Also Beeching-era railway lines that make great cycle paths accidentally.

F*ck me, HOW MUCH!!

The above phrase is often spoken by both cyclist and member of the general public, but for differing reasons. Still far, far cheaper than a road scheme, this is where we enter Grand Designs such as ‘Cycle Superhighways’ where painting the previous three categories a shade of Barclays blue creates continuity and changes it magically for the better for some reason. This is often the most tragic of categories as so much is often promised and some political will has been found before the cold hands of compromise and lobbying strangle the usefulness out of it, sometimes with the worst possible outcomes. This category also includes well used segregated bi-directional cycle paths that are in reality for unbelievably narrow people or the population of Lilliput, often going from somewhere to nowhere because they aren’t part of a decent, coherant network. These are generally routes that people currently use and would use because they follow the desire lines for the commuting public. As a result, they are generally heavily trafficked and therefore the stakes (and costs) are considerably higher. A lot of the money would have been spent on Feasibility Studies alone.

And we still haven’t mastered junctions.

British Cycle Infrastructure is the result of the end users being treated like flies on a cow – consistently being swatted away as tiny annoyances and occasionally being given dung to feast on (that’s also cheap to purchase). If you look at a Dutch Streetscape, you are often under no illusion what local and national Government thinks of the bicycle. It is also easy to conclude what local and national British Governments think by looking at our streetscapes and this is yet another factor which, to the general public, makes the act of riding a bicycle as appealing as Badger Baiting with Peter Andre. This is yet another reason that makes the simple act of riding a bicycle continue to be seen as a peripheral, specialist and potentially dangerous activity (no movement ever got anywhere telling the general public how they should be feeling. If it looks dangerous, then that, as they say, is that).

Having said that, I do wish to acknowledge at this point that we do have excellent cycle training and trainers in this country doing invaluable work (often for free). I am making the argument that infrastructure done correctly would amplify their efforts a great deal. It’s also worth acknowledging the biggest irony that, thanks to organisations like CTC, there are reasonably good cycle infrastructure guidelines already out there.

I leave you with a film I made for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (our AGM is later this month – be there!!); the first three clips were shot on a David Hembrow Study Tour of Assen and Groningen whilst the final clip is of my everyday commute between Worthing and Brighton. When I arrived at the ferry port in the Netherlands, to make a train connection, I cycled the 37km from Hook of Holland to Rotterdam with a friend without consulting any maps or GPS and without hi-viz, helmets, hassle, fear or intimidation. Now think about the last time you rode a bicycle in the UK. Yes, surreal isn’t it?

Please also see:

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

Advertising and Marketing

Goedendag! Sorry, just trying to get in a few Dutch phrases before heading off on the Embassy study tour with David Hembrow to see how the Netherlands designs cycle infrastructure for people who wish to ride bicycles from A to B. In the UK of course, we design cycle infrastructure for people who don’t wish to ride bicycles from A to B unless it’s via Q. In fact, our cycle infrastructure  isn’t really of benefit to bicycle riders at all, but at least it could be appreciated by people who like Abstract Art or Improvisational Jazz or Crack Cocaine.

The always lovely Lazy Bicycle Blog  has beaten me to it but it’s always good to spread the word. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has launched a poster competition to coincide with its official launch in September. Obviously, having started up just 6 months ago, we are very much in our infancy so we ask those dedicated to the cause to create a poster from a photo or piece of artwork that they think best represents the aims and aspirations of the Embassy. Unbelievably, we’ve already started to receive entries which made me choke appreciatively on my afternoon tea and Fererro Rocher. I can’t enter being Chair of the Board so here are a couple of ideas I made up earlier…

I acknowledge that I’m not the most experienced or talented digital artworker and the second one in particular comes from what will become known in future years as my ‘Sarcastic Period’. However, I hope it inspires people who are also inept at slick imagery to just come up with something that conveys a simple message on what improved infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians with all its subsequent benefits would mean for you or your school or your community.

On the subject of advertising and marketing, I would like to look at a couple of other campaigns, one from the UK and one from the Netherlands to see the difference in aims and aspirations. Firstly a Cinema advert by CTC called ‘CycleHero’ in 2007 as part of a wider campaign highlighting the link between cycling and combating climate change.

From the CTC website,

‘The cornerstone of our project will be a Cinema commercial to create awareness and make people really stop and think about Climate change issues. We plan to have our advert in cinemas in the early summer period to maximise the opportunity to encourage more and more people to take their bike from the garage and go for a ride. The film will be supported by a Public Relations campaign to spread the message further and we plan to work with local CTC groups to develop a series of national and local rides, events, meetings, workshops etc, to help involve cyclists and the wider local community in publicising the issues.                                          

‘The CTC film and its accompanying materials will use cycling as a positive image to raise awareness of and attitudes towards climate change. The project involves all those who already cycle regularly as well as those occasional and lapsed cyclists whose bike is waiting in the back of their shed. Cycling is a smart choice. Cyclists are aware of the challenges of climate change and realise, that by cycling, they are not only having fun, staying healthy and enjoying a social / sporting friendship, but also at the same time improving global sustainability. Now is a great time to spread the word.’

Indeed. I think it’s a very well made commercial, particularly for something so pro-cycling in the UK. Alas, I have a couple of issues with it. Firstly, you can hear a marketing check list being ticked off as it moves to its sun drenched climax; sexy woman – check, climate change bad – check, motoring bad – check, children – check, cool person to engage youth – check, elderly person – check, majority in helmets to pass the Advertising Standards Authority - check, representatives from different races and creeds – check and so on. Secondly, the ‘hero’ dresses up to look like someone who Robocop might consider if trying out Internet dating.

There is an instant disconnect with the audience as they are being preached at about climate change (never preach to a British audience) and that there is a difference between cycling to a beautiful traffic free cliff top and the dangerous traffic choked hell holes that the audience sees day in day out. I don’t blame CTC for any of this as they must have had to make an advert with a climate change theme as part of the funding conditions. I actually think they did incredibly well because as people who only eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling, it’s incredibly difficult to see the World any other way, and I’m sure they had great fun making it. In a way, we will encounter the same issues at the Embassy. We feel that we have the best answer to take to the general public. The trick is in how you actually convey that message.

The second ad comes from the Dutch Cycling Union (Fietsersbond) as featured on Lazy Bicycle Blog and Munchenierung

I love this advert, I really do. Marc at Amsterdamize has just informed me that the pay off at the end  (for those that can’t speak Dutch. I can now count to 10 and order a round of drinks sounding like a Dutch Sean Connery) is “Cyclists encounter a lot of obstacles. The Cyclists Union clears the way. Become a member!” Sadly, such a positive outlook would be torn to shreds in Britain. Everyone is wearing normal clothing without helmets for a start which would mean an instant fail with the ASA. The protagonist is also stunt riding with a Devil-may-care attitude that the Daily Mail would state is the dangerous, irresponsible way that all cyclists in the UK behave already (although ‘dangerous’ and ‘irresponsible’ are words that would also describe their take on journalism).

If you reckon you can do better, get your poster to the Embassy. You don’t have to use models or climate change messages or stunt riding. Simplicity is the key, just as getting to the shops or work should be.

Fragile Thoughts

Funnily enough, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain would be happy to not see segregation here..

For a while now I have been in a bit of a quandary as what to write about, not because I had run out of ideas but because at the precise moment I wanted to jot something down, someone else would write a jolly nice blog post or an incident would occur that made me stop to reflect and underlined what had been at the back of my mind already.

It started with Joe Dunckley and his wonderful blog, ‘At War With The Motorist’ when in this post he wrote the following;

‘There was a bit of a monkey fight over the nascent Cycling Embassy of Great Britain recently thanks to an article by Carlton Reid on Road.cc (since rebutted by Jim).  Given that the organisation in question has only had a preliminary meeting and has not even launched yet, I don’t think it’s worth responding to any of the speculation and fantasies that have been flying around.  But the episode revealed something fascinating about the way the minds of veteran British cycling campaigners work.

They are all constantly in a state of abject fear that cycling is just about to be banned.

I found it very difficult following all of the comment threads on and about the Road.cc articles.  Cycling Embassy supporters kept being accused of wanting cyclists to be banned from the roads, but I could never trace the accusation back to anything relevant that the accused people had actually said.  And then I stumbled upon a fabulous forum thread that started with a very simple two sentence post, and it all fell into place:

‘Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’ have it VERY wrong
IMO. Their way will lead to cyclists being banned from Britain’s roads.

The Embassy folk and other onlookers were as baffled as I when it came to the origin of this “ban” theme in the comments.  But I now realise that many of our venerable vehicular cycling campaigners are thinking about cycling bans every second of the day.  Everything they see and do, the first question they ask themselves is: will this lead to cycling being banned in any way?  They can’t get out of bed in the morning without first contemplating what effect such an action might have on the likelihood of a cycling ban……………..’.

Interesting thoughts indeed. From personal local campaigning experience I can partially vouch for this view. After being presented by the Council with a hilarious ‘safe route to school’ involving more dismounts than a Grand National for drunk jockeys, we would say how we would suffer abuse from motorists who would assume that that’s where we should be after this piece of infrastructure that owed more to abstract art than cycling was built. The Council would ignore everything we said as the work was already programmed and we were actually looking at the final ‘Signed Off’ design. But at least now they could claim that they had ‘consulted with cyclists’.

To me, this is creating an even greater nightmare vision portrayed than the recent naysayers – that cyclists get eventually shoveled off the roads onto the crap that has been built already and continues to be built whether CTC, LCC, Cycle Nation, the Cycling Embassy or the Abstract Art Appreciation Society want it or not. All this debate seems to be carrying on based on a premise that Councils have suddenly downed tools and stopped building this dangerous, unfit for purpose rubbish or that they could be stopped at any time, which is equally optimistic at best.

What the Embassy is hoping to create is a decent mix in more ways than one. It will never be an Embassy intention to cede a cyclists right to road and it’s not an Embassy ambition to see a fully segregated cycle path network everywhere either because that’s silly and isn’t happening anywhere else in the World, including the Netherlands. We do believe in Dutch, and other Global best practice, infrastructure standards being applied that supersede the current guidelines alongside new approaches to traffic planning & movement around towns and cities. We feel that this is just one measure but a fundamental one that needs to occur to lift cycling from something viewed as a dangerous and specialist activity by the masses to an everyday activity that also happens to benefit the masses.

The recent exchanges of words about the Embassy from journalist Carlton Reid and Cycle Nation ended amicably enough, and as Embassy ambitions slowly become clarified there should be no reason why a spirit of amicability and collaboration shouldn’t continue (especially as I own an ipayroadtax cycling jersey). However, it made me consider just how fragile the house of cycle campaigning seemed to me. As if by magic, a short article cropped up on Velo Mondial that ended with the following,

‘….The reason why Velo Mondial highlights this article is because the candidate in New York sends the strong signal that stand alone cycling policy is vulnerable. When cycling is not embedded in a wider policy of sustainable mobility politicians can easily use a cycle path in their negative campaigning. A path is easily destroyed so politicians can have a field day promising just that. Cycling policy needs to find itself in a framework of policy ambitions a city should have regarding economic growth, social cohesion and environmental objectives. As long as that has not happened, cycling policy will be under threat in the years to come’.

The BBC picked up on the £22 million spent in Bristol and the City Council are defending their record. I have no doubt that Bristol Cycle Campaign, along with CTC Right to Ride & Sustrans Reps did their damndest to get the money spent correctly. However, I think the whole premise was wrong. Let me explain, or rather I’ll let Geoff explain,

[from road.cc]

‘Conservative councillor, Geoff Gollop, said the new cycle routes had been created at the expense of motorists.

He told the BBC: “The Cycling City initiative brought in match-funding which has delivered new cycling routes but these have largely been achieved at the expense of the majority of road users – by reducing road space or capacity.

“Whilst we recognise the merits of promoting cycling as a leisure activity for the individual – delivering personal health benefits and helping to improve the environment for all – this form of travel is unlikely in the near future to be a major means of commuting.

“We do not believe the £22m project can be said to have been successful even in its own terms.”

This to me typifies the problem. Instead of the act of riding a bicycle being treated as transport getting a deserving share of the transport spend, £22 million is presented as a stand alone (but welcome nonetheless) boost to try and shoehorn cycle-specific projects around the car-centric infrastructure that already exists. Furthermore £22 million sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But as road.cc Editor Tony Farrelly commented,

‘Another comparison would be the £1bn overspend on widening the M25 I think the Public Accounts committee used the word “wasted” to describe that one. All the money spent on cycling over the past few years in this country doesn’t even add up to that one item in the roads budget.’

£22 million is just a headline grabbing figure in the great scheme of things. That anything was built and that new cyclists in Bristol were attracted at all should be considered a miracle when one considers, for example, the consultancy fees that probably leeched funds away.

Being a cycle campaigner in the UK is a bit like sitting in a game of poker where you know you are holding all the best cards and easily deserving of far more chips. However the opponents keep pulling aces out time and time again, barely concealing their cheating and changing the rules as they go along.

We all know that cycling is greener, more economic & healthier but we’re made to feel that this is somehow blocking the UK’s progress to becoming greener, more economic and healthier.

One of the aims I had when establishing the Embassy was to stick to Central Government and to point out and keep pointing out that riding a bicycle has implications and societal benefits that cover lots of departments beyond transport. If we don’t join the fray, then an activity that was commonplace in fairly recent memory will continue to be regarded as a stand alone pastime to be abused by Council Highways Departments and ignored by 97% of the population. And they barely know what they’re missing anymore.

Notes and Queries

A relaxing picture of a meadow

Firstly, apologies to Lo Fidelity readers for the non-posting as of late. The Wife has been plagued since childhood with a condition leading to abscesses in her leg and in particular at the base of her spine. There’s a lot more to it than that but she has just had her eleventh and hopefully final operation which means she might be able to sit down without discomfort for the first time in years. I’ve been tending her and The Boy over the last week and a half as, at nine months old, he is not getting any lighter to carry.

The Wife cycled as a child and her parents were keen cycle tourists. She is always enthusiastic about me cycling and cycle campaigning and does her best to look interested when I ramble on about cycling and cycle campaigning. However, she is adamant that she will never cycle again, partly to the pain and discomfort up until now and the potential to trigger something bad as a result of getting on a bicycle again. She says, quite reasonably, that I should be happy that she’s produced a son to eventually go cycling with. She’s right of course and I’ve accepted that as far as The Wife and cycling is concerned, some things are just not meant to be. In turn, she has accepted that I don’t really like her great love, which is swimming (basically I run like a Dolphin and swim like a Cheetah). The upshot of all this is that she walks everywhere, often with a pushchair for added humour – if you thought facilities for cyclists were bad the UK, I’m getting a taste of my own medicine as she points out the long list of failings for pedestrians with pavement parking, poorly applied work roads and crazy paving. I’ve suggested that she starts a blog called something like ‘Crap Walking in Britain’. She says she’ll think about it.

Anyway, what a week and a half it’s been! Carlton Reid wrote something about the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Then I wrote something in reply. All’s well that end’s well I’m pleased to report.

The Embassy is, at this moment in time only three weeks old with Governance and formal policies to be agreed that hasn’t formally launched yet. However, I know the following applies;

It was never, and will never be our intention to relinquish cyclists’ right to the road. There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway. Personally I accept those fears to a point in the wake of such a car-sick Transport Secretary. However, crap infrastructure continues to be built by Councils who’s Modus Operandi is not to improve the lot of the cyclist, but to clear them off their ‘Strategic Road Networks’. Maybe a situation will arise that’s even worse than Carlton Reid’s vision; that cyclists get shovelled off the roads to the crap that exists already without reform of the guidelines. Now that’s scary. I would envisage the Embassy working in tandem (pardon the pun) with organisations such as CTC as well as Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad so we push for better infrastructure standards based on Dutch, Danish and German best practice, whilst campaigns that enforce the right to the road led by CTC and ipayroadtax.com, continue to fly their standards. Whatever happens, I personally believe we have to cull the crap to enable mass cycling and those that joined the Embassy just want to try something new.

As far as antagonism goes, when a new campaign group starts up, it’s always going to ruffle a few feathers. I sometimes take the microphone as a Comedy New Act (you can’t call yourself a Stand Up Comedian until you’re regularly playing the Comedy Store or Live at the Apollo and you have a DVD out). Sometimes when you first walk out on stage, the collective tension and excitement in the audience builds to a point that someone will suddenly scream something out – not a heckle or anything nasty, but the excitement (coupled with alcohol) has triggered a sudden outburst. They are probably nice respectable people, holding down nice respectable jobs and for that flashpoint, the situation has run away with them. When the cycling public turned up at the Embassy start up meeting, there was a lot of pent up excitement, frustration and anger at what has passed before which also appeared on people’s blogs. However, Embassy policy is not going to be born of frustration and anger either, from blog posts or otherwise (just the excitement at trying something new). Anger is best left to the experts!

When the Manifesto and Policy Documents are agreed, clarity should follow and then people can praise and criticise. Agreed governance will also bring accountability. On one cycle forum, people have already speculated that the Embassy is a shadowy part of the road lobby and that I’ve got my head up my arse. The first point certainly isn’t true and the second point would put my back out and we have had quite enough back problems for one family, thank you.

Finally, and particularly if you live in and around Brighton & Hove, one of the only pieces of decent cycle infrastructure costing £550,000 looks set to be removed at double the installation cost. Funnily enough, this is to ‘improve traffic flow’. Details are here along with a petition, which I urge you to sign.

Resolution

Clearly its the trees fault. Maybe if it had High-Viz wrapped around it and.....

 

Firstly, apologies to Lo Fidelity readers about not posting as frequently as I should recently but my laptop broke and I pick it up from Mr Apple Repair Man tomorrow.

In my last post I suggested that along with the DfT, the Department for Health should also be lobbied as encouraging cycling would be of massive benefit to the nation’s health from tackling obesity to increasing general wellbeing.

Yesterday the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley published a White Paper outlining the Governments Public Health Strategy to create healthier lives and people which was given the snappy title of ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for Public Health in England’.

Cycling is mentioned a massive 4 times in its 95 pages and I outline the excerpts below;

3.20 (Page 35) ……This year, the Government is supporting walking and cycling in schools through the Department of Health’s Living Streets ‘Walk Once A Week’ initiative and the Department for transport’s (DfT) funding for Bikeability cycle training. We are working towards every child being offered high-quality instruction on how to ride safely and confidently by the end of year 6 in school.

3.32 (Page 39) Active travel and physical activity need to become the norm in communities. The Department for Health will support local areas by providing good evidence on how to make regular physical activity and healthy food choices easier for their populations, for example by sharing learning from the experiences of nine ‘Healthy Towns’, as well as sustainable travel and cycle towns. Initial evidence from the first round of cycle towns showed that there was an increase in cycling across all social groups combined with a reduction in sedentary behaviour and single car use, when compared to people in similar towns.

Workplace Cycle Challenge (page 47)

CTC, the national cyclists organisation, has led a pilot project to encourage people to cycle to work in Swindon as part of its Cycling Champions programme.

The Cycle Challenge works by encouraging and supporting existing cyclists to persuade colleagues who rarely or never cycle to give it a try. The Challenge was a competition open to all organisations in the Swindon area to get most staff to cycle for just 10 minutes or more. Whole organisations and individual workplaces were encouraged to sign up via the Challenge website – individual cyclists within those organisations could log their personal details and record how much cycling they did.

Overall 853 participants cycled 37,180 miles between them, of which around 35,000 miles were for transport purposes (ie non-recreational travel). It is estimated that they saved 3,157 litres of fuel and £3,630 in reduced motoring costs and burnt about 35 million kilojoules of energy. (www.swindoncyclechallenge.org.uk)

All very nice but at no point does it address the real reasons why people don’t cycle in the first place. At no point does it address the fact that the motor car is a major hazard to public health, in both urban and rural areas and yet nothing is being done to curb its use. You can teach all the children you like to cycle, but if the roads look dangerous outside the school gates then it counts for nothing. You can declare all the urban areas you like to be ‘Cycle Towns’, but if the councils that run them remain as car-sick as they are at present and the roads to town centres and transport interchanges look dangerous, then it counts for nothing. You can create all the ‘Workplace Challenges’ you like, but we are now at the point where many, many adults in the UK have probably never known the joys of cycling, and without training or decent routes for them to learn a new skill with the added freedom that it brings then it all counts for nothing. If road safety isn’t correctly addressed and the car finally named as the chief culprit, then people will continue to fall ill and die from sedentary lifestyles and dangerous roads and it will all be for nothing. Government Cycle policy is a bit like offering the flu jab as a cure but with people continuing to die from influenza because they are afraid of needles.

It’s the councils that should be a primary concern as, like the Sustainable transport budget, this new public health budget is going to also be thrown to the regions with a new body (‘Public Health England’…..yes, it does sound a bit familiar doesn’t it?) overseeing the spend. Much more detail is required as the White Paper is big on rhetoric, but low on detail. As we have already seen, Sustainable Transport can be thrown open to all sorts of interpretation from charging points to electric vehicles to trunk road upgrades to ‘improve traffic flow’ and ‘reduce emissions’. Expect to see some fascinating and very artistic interpretations of the term ‘Public Health’ over the coming months. From a County Councils perspective it will probably mean more ‘Pavement Upgrades’ outside Hospitals and Health Centres, bless them.

I’m setting myself a couple of New Years Resolutions;

  1. I’m trading in my Mountain Bike and buying a Dutch Style Roadster because I had no idea that this shop was open in Brighton. How it slipped under the Lo Fidelity Radar, I’ll never know. I want to do Lo Fidelity cycling, appease the nagging of a certain Dutch Cycle fan & local campaigning friend of mine and write about my findings.
  2. I want to establish a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, committed to forging partnerships with British & European partners, Architects & Urban Planners, attract funding from private companies and lobby all Government Agencies on how the benefits of cycling could save the country billions, make them look cooler and ‘well fit’ (if you talk that way) and make them feel better about themselves. I want to see the rule book on cycle infrastructure design guidance re-written as, although I believe the CTC is correct in principle on ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, it is too open to abuse by County Council Highways Departments. We have to adopt a more robust Dutch model that ‘disarms’ the motor car and creates a level playing field for walking and cycling (although the ‘20’s Plenty’ campaign is making great progress). I want to do this with increasing levels of help through the year as I have a day job, a wonderful wife and 7 month old son, and I would like it to stay that way.
  3. I would like to grow more vegetables and finally use that home brew kit I bought months ago.

The second resolution might be of interest to you. You can make it yours too if you like. If the Government can’t do joined up thinking for cyclists, then cyclists had better do it.

So What Do We Do Now?

A wonderfully apt sign in Blackheath, Surrey

WARNING: CONTAINS STRANGE SEXY TALK (Strange in that it came from an Englishman)

Had the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club started 25 years ago, it would have been quite a quiet, pleasing and delightfully tatty newsletter with articles about such exotic things as that new Mountain Bike fad or trying to understand Moultons or maybe a recommended cycle tour to Glastonbury.

Nowadays, the casual reader might be forgiven for thinking that cycling is facing the end of its very existence. Thanks to technological advancement of the Internet, every day seems to bring a new horror story requiring  journalists and blog writers to constantly downgrade their forecasts and dispositions from ‘bad’ to ‘’catastrophic’.

Before we begin today’s sermon, it needs reiterating that the end of the World is not nigh for cycling and never will be. Like sex, cycling is too fun, it gets you hot and sweaty (if you like it fast), it makes you more alive and sexier the more you do it, it gets you to where you want to go and, being cheap, it is a filthy, slutty transport mode that will never be disciplined (which is why a few repressed British citizens don’t like the idea of it). Phew!….erm….forgive me! All that smutty talk aside, let’s look at the Britain we find ourselves in;

 

CTC

From their website

CTC Today

Today CTC has around 60,000 members encompassing all ages and types of cyclists with elected representation at national and local level backed by a professional staff.

CTC provides a wide range of activities and services designed to enhance the riding opportunities for existing cyclists and make it easier for new entrants to take up cycling. These include CTC Cyclists Helpline for advice on all cycling matters, local groups with a huge range of rides, local and national events. Our services have been refined by thousands of cyclists to make sure they are exactly what you need to get enjoyment and security whether you ride 100 miles or 100 yards. In particular third party insurance and legal aid are free to all members. CTC also offers a wide range of insurance and public liability products tailored to the needs of cyclists, employers, clubs and associations, cycle hire centres etc. If you are not out on your bike, the members’ magazine, Cycle, is free six times a year and sets your imagination free to plan your next ride. Search the site for lots more

CTC has campaigned for cyclists’ rights throughout its existence. Major successes include the development of the National Cycling Strategy and representing the cyclists’ voice in the countryside, protecting the right to ride on roads, paths, trails and towpaths. The CTC’s Right to Ride Network has over 500 accredited local representatives throughout the UK and Ireland working for all cyclists.

In 1936 CTC created a first cycling proficiency scheme in response to increasing cyclists’ casualties at the time. This was adopted as a national programme run by RoSPA in 1948 and has been in use almost ever since. Today CTC is at the forefront of a next generation of cycle training initiatives enabling people to cope with the conditions of today.

What we are aiming for

CTC is committed to a vibrant and broad base that encompasses all sectors including offroad and adventurous cycling, sport and leisure. CTC believes that all cyclists must defend all elements of the existing road and trail network as safe and comfortable places to ride, so the diversity of cycling can be maintained. We use the phrase “Making cycling enjoyable, safe and welcoming for all” to summarise our aspirations.

Being a member and ex-employee, I’ll always have great affection for CTC. However, it’s that last paragraph that I have issues with. It seems to completely ignore the soaring rates of car use that have occurred over the last few decades. You can train people all you like, but if a road looks dangerous, it counts for nothing. I have a few hair-raising moments on my commute every week and I’ve raced Mountain Bikes at World Cup level and have thousands of leisurely miles under my tyres, just as you probably have, dear reader.

CTC is a membership organization made up of very experienced cyclists that haven’t a clue how to project themselves to the general public. They have voluntary regional representatives (Right to Ride reps) who diligently turn up to every local cycle meeting and Council Forum, correctly berating councils for trying to shovel cyclists off the roads onto poorly designed infrastructure but instead pushing for vehicular cycling provision that you know no novice in their right mind is going to use so back to square one.

Sustrans

From their website

Sustrans makes smarter travel choices possible, desirable and inevitable. We’re a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. We work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, with better places and spaces to move through and live in.

It’s time we all began making smarter travel choices. Make your move and support Sustrans today.

We’re a catalyst – we make smarter travel choices possible.

We campaign – we make smarter travel choices desirable.

We influence – we make smarter travel choices inevitable.

All stirring stuff until you realise that their solutions often bring pedestrians and cyclists into direct conflict with no space ceded by the motor car. When their paths work, they are very, very good. However, more often then not, they don’t and are in fact pavements. This creates a further problem because when a cycle route inevitably peters out on a pavement doesn’t mean that a novice cyclist is then going to rejoin the road. They will simply continue to use any pavement, whether the council has painted a bicycle symbol on it or not there by creating further conflict.

British Cycling

From their website

British Cycling is the National Governing Body for cycling in Great Britain whose aim is to inspire participation in cycling as a sport, recreation and sustainable transport through achieving worldwide success. British Cycling manages all elite aspects of the sport including events and performances at GB level and governs the development of cycle sport in England. It also represents Great Britain at UCI, the World Governing Body for Cycling, which oversees the sport at an international level.

British Cycling also provides essential services to the Home Country Governing Bodies in Scotland and Wales, the Scottish Cycling Union (SCU) and the Welsh Cycling Union (WCU) who are involved in the promotion and development of cycling at all levels including the focus on the Commonwealth Games. British Cycling provides essential services to these governing bodies including the administration of membership, licences and insurance as well as providing strategic guidance and support on all aspects of cycling.

British Cycling is entering an unprecedented period of expansion in the run up to London 2012 through increased funding from UK Sport, Sport England and commercial partnerships and will drive a real and tangible legacy for cycling beyond 2012. The legacy has to be one of an increased volunteer workforce and a large British Cycling membership base. Full details of British Cycling’s Whole Sport Plan 2009-2013 will be announced over the coming months.

British Cycling has achieved much in cycle sport and has much to be proud of. However, although they mention sustainable transport, they are to everyday cycling what the X-Factor is to tasteful discretion.

It would be easy to paint a depressing picture of where to go from here, now that Cycling England is to be disbanded in March 2011. But Cycling England was always on shaky foundations being a Quango that could be held at arms length by ministers. I also acknowledge that I’ve glossed over a lot of good works achieved by organisations such as CTC and Sustrans. However, what can’t be denied is the relentlessly low modal share that cycling has had for decades. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to tentatively put forward the following ideas;

A Non-Vehicular Union with organisations such as CTC, Sustrans, Living Streets and Disability Groups given representation. There should also be representation from the cycle industry, health professionals and architects with any interest in streetscape design and public transport interchanges. There needs to be firm partnerships struck with the Fietsberaad and other European partners. There has to be better infrastructure guidelines set with less conflict between non-vehicular modes of transport. There must be a push for lower speed limits in towns and cities with reallocation of road space where necessary. We shouldn’t be creating crap facilities for cyclists anymore. We should be creating decent facilities for people that don’t know they’re cyclists or pedestrians yet.

As I’ve written before, the public won’t necessarily support an exclusively cycling campaign. But they will support something that benefits them as pedestrians, potential cyclists and even motorists.  

Above all there needs to be a relentless education of ministers and, in the spirit of Big Society, decent well honed campaigns with volunteers including handsome cycling bloggers standing up and being counted.

These are early rough thoughts obviously and more will be added.  But anything that gets a debate going is better than doing nothing. Which worryingly is what seems to be happening. Whatever happens next is either going to be fascinating or infuriating.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 3 – The Cycling Action Travel Plan Integrated Strategy Solution

Sometimes a dog will gnaw away at something it shouldn’t. I’ve found that the best way to distract the dog is to find a nice stick and throw it, instantly releasing the thing that you don’t want gnawed. This is basically the same attitude that the Government & Local Authorities take with cycle campaigners.

The stick in this case is usually a document that either ends in ‘Action Plan’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Travel Plan’ or that perennial favourite, the Local Transport Plan (LTP). Cycle campaigners sometimes get very excited by such documents. Some will even have copies of the original ‘Action Plan’ or ‘Strategy’. These will often be between 10 and 20 years old and incredibly long and verbose with pictures of people in stonewash jeans on Raleigh touring or shopper bikes.

When I worked at CTC, there used to be regular meetings where we would all discuss what was happening in each department and what was happening in the wider World of cycling. Although I have the utmost respect and admiration for Roger Geffen (CTC Campaigns Director), my heart would sink when he would enthusiastically outline CTC’s involvement in the latest Government Cycling Strategy or 10 Year Plan. If I closed my eyes I could hear the Ministers saying ‘fetch the stick cyclists! Fetch! Go on! Over there!

Some of you may have just responded to your local authorities Local Transport Plan (or LTP3). This document will mention the word ‘sustainable’ quite a lot along with the usual airy fairy commitment to reducing carbon and regeneration. However, you will realise as you read further that to a Highways Department, this is best achieved by sorting out traffic bottlenecks to ease congestion on their strategic road network – in essence, not looking at the sheer amount of cars as a problem and using engineering to try and arrive at a solution. In the past, it would have been Bypasses, Inner Relief Roads and the stunning decision that dual carriageways in town and city centres would be a good idea to relieve congestion. Nowadays, with reduced budgets, it just involves expensive consultation fees and tinkering around the edges.

These documents will mention cycling in the same way that Samuel Beckett mentioned Godot. It will use phrases such as ‘upgrading infrastructure’ and ‘linking networks in town centres’ in a beautifully ethereal way but won’t actually commit to reducing car space in favour of walking and cycling, which is the solution.

As far as cycle infrastructure is concerned, there needs to be a concerted push for a National Standard based preferably on the Dutch model, which favours better streetscape design and segregated facilities where appropriate – basically giving the streets back to the residents. Until then we should be telling Local Authorities NOT to proceed with any more Cycle Paths or Shared Use Facilities as they are nearly always badly compromised by developers and Highway Departments’ agendas and designed by Rolf Harris on ecstasy.

Can you tell what it is yet? (Picture from Weird Cycle Lanes of Brighton & Hove)

For the moment, like Beckett’s famous characters, we’re left waiting, being treated like tramps on the roadside for an answer that will never appear if we continue with this drivel. Until the next round of Local Transport Plan Consultation or Government Cycling Action Travel Strategy, of course! Maybe THIS time will be different!!

So Long, And Thanks For All The Pish

 

Flipper: Charming, funny, been dead for decades and still more familiar to the public than Cycling England

Last Friday, road.cc reported that Cycling England now looks certain to be abolished as part of a Government cull on quangos (or ‘quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations’ to give them their full snappy title).

Christian Wolmar, writer, broadcaster and member of the board of Cycling England anticipated this by writing a very strong open letter to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport outlining why he thinks this is a very bad idea. He outlined the fact that Cycling England runs cycling proficiency in schools and various projects across the country on a pathetically small budget annual budget of £60m (other transport modes get £15.36bn) and a lot of help of volunteers. All strong stuff but I bet Norman Baker MP thought exactly the same thing as I did;

Christian Wolmar is part of Cycling England??!!

I’d imagine that hardly anyone outside the cycling World knows that Cycling England even exists and cares even less what it stands for. Cycling England, like CTC are great for the already converted but utterly crap at projecting out to the non-cycling  public who couldn’t give a hoot what a Cycling Demonstration Town is, or indeed how cycling would benefit them.

Cycling England was never going to set the World alight on a meagre budget of £60m per annum (Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert cost £4.5m alone for perspective). Above all, if Cycling England is a Quango then its foundations were always going to be shaky. Despite having origins far earlier, Quangos will be seen as a Blairite Government mechanism and detested by the public at the best of times (despite many of them doing deeds very much to the public good).  The point of this post is that I believe there must be wholesale reform of the Department for Transport with sustainable transport modes not only being brought ‘in house’ but also receiving a far more integrated share of the transport spend.

Cambridge Cycle Campaign has set up a website (savecyclingengland.org) to bring attention to Cycling England’s good works and to appeal against its abolition. Listed below are the key points:

  • Bikeability: …. the nationwide cycle training scheme, teaching children (benefiting around 300,000 per year) and adults to cycle safely and responsibly, at a time when there is an enormous need to encourage healthy lifestyles, promote safe use of roads, and give children freedom;
  • Cycling Demonstration Towns: Enabling over 2.5m people in 18 towns around the country to benefit from considerably increased levels of infrastructure funding to make roads safer and cycle-friendly, to get more people on their bikes;
  • Health-related projects to promote cycling as a means of addressing the obesity epidemic and tackling sedentary lifestyles;
  • Professional support for Local Authorities to ensure that practitioners on-the-ground get cycling right;
  • Creating design standards and guidance available to highway engineers;
  • Railway/cycling integration, getting train companies to take cycling seriously
  • Events and projects all around the country (including Bike Week), ranging from education initiatives, promoting cycling to minority groups, travel planning for businesses and much more.

All fairly good points until you realise that cycling as an overall transport mode still languishes in its single figure percentage glory. I would like to tentatively make the following points;

  • A personal preference this, but return the name ‘Bikeability’ back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’ so the public instantly knows what it is. This is, after all, a country that still thinks ‘Road Tax’ exists and I’ve never heard cycle training referred to by the general public as ‘Bikeability’. Also, if it can be claimed that ‘Bikeability’ brings cycle training up to the 21st century, how about the DfT giving new cyclists safer, 21st century roads or decent segregated cycle infrastructure based on a Dutch model to cycle on? Otherwise parents will never let children out on their bikes and gain some freedom, fitness and fresh air as it continues to be perceived as a dangerous activity.
  • Drop the Cycling Demonstration Town nonsense in favour of national policy. Otherwise the money will continue to be swallowed up by Councils desperate to plug other holes in their budgets or ‘Consultancy Fees’.  If Brighton & Hove is a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’, then Milton Keynes is an ‘Architectural Treasure Trove’.
  • There must be proper design guidance on cycling infrastructure based on more robust models (such as the Netherlands). This is not a push to create a fully segregated cycle network but where Cycling Infrastructure is installed it has to meet minimum criteria, that is way and above the dangerous and appalling standards we have currently. Above all the Department for Transport has to integrate sustainable transport into its remit and stop using car-centric policies, particularly for urban areas (for example, favouring blanket 20mph speed limits across residential areas thereby linking the generally ignored School Zones with the streets that children are going to be walking and cycling in from).
  • There needs to be far better promotion of the benefits of walking and cycling. This should be coordinated better with other Government Departments such as the Department for Health – instead of health professionals banging on about things they don’t know, such as the misguided belief that sticking helmets on people will solve everything, they can bang on about things that they do know, such as cycling being a healthy activity.
  • I thought railway/cycle integration meant being able to take a bicycle on a train to allow passengers (sorry, customers) to get to their destination door to door with minimum fuss – One transport mode complimenting another to increase scope and versatility. The railway companies however believe that putting up cycle racks at stations is the only answer and gets them off the hook, whilst praying that everyone buys a Brompton. Rail companies will never take cycling seriously until it becomes a condition of the franchise or is legislated.
  • I believe that every time Philip Hammond releases a report or statement, it must be called ‘The Hammond Organ’.

We needn’t push for the last one.

In summary, I don’t doubt at all the fantastic abilities and knowledge of Christian Wolmar, or indeed Phillip Darnton, the very amiable Chairman of Cycling England. I just think its time for cycling to stop being treated at arms length by a Government Department that hasn’t a clue what sustainable transport or road safety is yet is in its best interests to do so if it’s to achieve anything close to integration. The good folk of Cycling England and all cyclists across England and the rest of the British Isles deserve far better than the current structure.

Cycling – Pleasure or Pain?

'I like cycling around Basingstoke'

I cycle to work. I cycle 12 miles to work to be precise. My route takes me from the seaside town of Worthing to metropolis of Brighton & Hove (a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’ would you believe?) I cycle along the A259 coast road amongst the huge Lorries bound for Shoreham Port and the cars on the work and school run and the vans with the obligatory England flag fluttering forlornly from their roofs.

I cycle around those that turn suddenly without indicating, amongst those that desperately need to make a phone call on the move, avoiding the car doors opening and the buses that overtake to suddenly remember that they are in fact buses and need to pull over once in a while in front of me.

The question is, do I enjoy cycling, or do I enjoy the struggle?

I cycle nearly every day, I go to to cycling meetings and forums, I buy the latest cycling periodicals, I write on internet forums, I write this brilliant blog and enjoy reading the wonderful blogs and opinions of other cyclists. 

But when was the last time I really enjoyed my cycling for nothing more than just cycling?

Two occasions sprang to mind; the first was during the summer when I would bring out the Mountain Bike and in the evening I’d occasionally commute home along the South Downs Way - beautful countryside stretching away to the north, the deep blue sea to the south and other cheerful people on the trail. The other was when I occasionally cycled to my parents which takes in the Downs Link (Shoreham by Sea to Shalford, Surrey) in its 37 mile entirity – beautiful countryside and other cheerful people on the trail.

When I worked as a CTC Information Officer, with the exception of the wonderful Lands End – John O’Groats route pack, the most popular route sheets requested were for exotic items such as Cycling in the Netherlands, the North Sea Cycle Route and the Danube (all traffic free to varying degrees).

Why is traffic free only associated with leisure? Why can’t more road space be given to decent  infrastructure such as the Netherlands that shows cycling off for what it can be? Direct, quiet, fast or slow, healthy and above all fun. I’m not saying that all Britain should be segregated – as has been pointed out to me recently, Highways Engineers have been trying to shovel us off the road for years leading to the dangerous, poorly designed rubbish we have today. Indeed, I could take Sustrans National Cycle Route 2 if I wanted a relatively traffic free option for my commute, but it’s either too narrow, or I have to dismount, or it goes around the houses (and that fully operational port).

This country needs to drop the empty platitudes and actually start getting serious about sustainable transport through removing private cars from the equation, reducing speed limits in towns and installing decent (and by that I mean Dutch and not UK designed) infrastructure where applicable. In short, making the simple things in life like riding a bike or walking to work or the shops actually achievable and attractive for the masses [again]. Until then, commuting will always be associated with pain rather than pleasure.

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

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