Posts Tagged ‘Cycling England’

Localism for Dummies

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A Wet Parliamentary Bike Ride

Last Tuesday morning, I put on my Cycling Embassy of Great Britain approved attire (just a regular suit for a regular activity) and attended the Annual All-Party Parliamentary Bike Ride, which is now in its twelfth year and is a prelude to Bike Week. Despite the wretched weather, there was a respectable turn out of MP’s (also in Cycling Embassy of Great Britain approved attire) including Norman Baker again (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport).

After the ride, we assembled in the Houses of Parliament to listen as Mr Baker spoke about how wonderful cycling is and took questions (I recorded it for YouTube and it should be going out shortly if you can contain your excitement). One of the key points he made was that cycle campaigners should not be afraid to approach Government Departments other than transport. This, in a way, makes sense; after all riding a bicycle is healthy so the Department for Health should be actively promoting it, it could get kids to school so the Department for Education should be actively promoting it and it is good for the economy where high quality infrastructure would bring rewards both locally and nationally to the exchequer so the Treasury should be actively promoting it. The problem is that we are pretty hopeless at the ‘high-quality infrastructure’ bit – the very thing that has been proven to have success overseas in getting the masses on their bicycles with increased subjective safety. So I guess that brings us back to the Department for Transport, who should be actively promoting it.

Cycling has always been about ‘Localism’ and ‘Big Society’ with local campaigners and activists that have been bashing their heads against the wall of local democracy for years (and for free). This, for me is where the problem lies; it’s all well and good giving local authorities ‘the right tools’ with devolved powers, but what if they don’t know what to do with them (or don’t even want to know). It’s like giving a group of primary school children ‘the right tools’ to design Britain’s successor to Trident – many will be keen as mustard and will give it their best shot. The results they come up with, whilst thankfully not feasible, will be all the more wonderful as a result and fascinating.

…and then it comes back down and blows everything up, Daddy. Next week we’re redesigning Bow Roundabout to give it lots of pretty lights….

The results that local authorities come up with for bicycles are usually far from wonderful and although we’d be fascinated to know how they arrived at their conclusions, local campaigners are usually locked out. It’s as though they are left staring through the railings at some sort of nightmare-ish Willy Wonka factory churning out pointless pavement conversions. Except their Council Tax helped pay for the nightmare.

Where ‘Transport’ and ‘Sustainable Transport’ collide (Worthing, West Sussex)

What’s worse is that when Councils across the land started to make austerity cuts, we didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that the position of Cycling Officer would be the first to go thereby cutting what is usually the only gateway between local campaign groups and the local authority. Worse still is that many councillors are actively hostile towards the humble bicycle, who view it as a symbol of non-aspiration to ferry the great unwashed along the gutter or an imposition to progress in their local area (particularly to the golf club). After all, bike parking doesn’t bring in parking fees, the most consistent issue in any local newspaper. In many cases, asking a Council to organise a consistent quality cycling policy is a bit like asking Nick Griffin to organise the Notting Hill Carnival.

I’m certainly not against localism. There are Local Authorities that are trying at the very least to understand the bicycle and just what a bewilderingly diverse mode of getting about their patch it is. But I personally believe that there has to be stronger guidance from Central Government in terms of consistent infrastructure standards, policy and funding which is at best piecemeal and often utterly soul-destroying for local campaigners. I still cannot fathom why ‘Transport’ and ‘Sustainable Transport’ are still treated as separate entities – We build a major road scheme and then apply the sustainable bits at the side or as an afterthought, which is why it needs to be integral to the Department for Transport, as opposed to a quango whose flame can be snuffed out as easily as Cycling England.

Everyone, from Local Authorities that haven’t yet realised the real benefits of the bicycle from more energised workforce & schoolchildren, better local business and increased tourism (or ‘Localism’) to local campaign groups (or ‘Big Society’) deserve far better than this.

The Winds of Change

The Future. For Britain. In 1992. And now again, apparently.

I was cycling to work this morning through very thick sea mist. The ‘March winds’ have not really materialised here on the South Coast. The winds of change are definitely picking up however.

At the beginning of March, I went to Portcullis House to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the Labour Cycling Summit, chaired by Ban Bradshaw MP and Maria Eagle MP (Shadow Secretary for Transport). This was triggered by The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign. All the usual suspects were there from safety campaigners, road designers, local government and road users, including HGV operators. It was remarkably cordial and some good points were made such as the need for systemic change in the training of future engineers to stopping thinking car first and foremost. I made the following points:

  • That The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign is an incredible effort that should be acknowledged for, at the very least, taking cycling issues ‘out there’ far, far beyond the realm of Cycling groups and internet chat rooms.
  • That current cycling infrastructure is great if you like ‘abstract art’ (always good to get an early laugh in).
  • If adults need to not only put on body armour to commute to work but also put surveillance measures on that armour, than what hope is there for our nations children wanting to cycle to school?
  • Whilst there’s a lot of incredibly hard work done in the name of Bikeability (which I personally believe should change it’s name back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’. It is a life skill, not a jolly sounding activity) along with Sustrans ‘Safe Routes to School’, there needs to be a quality network of routes to get the 98% considering cycling again through methods with proven success such as those used overseas. Otherwise, parents may indeed ride to school with their children but instead of going on to the shops they nip back and get the car out, due to lack of dedicated ongoing route, lack of subjective safety and the very act of riding a bicycle looking like an overly complicated specialist activity.

What was particularly pleasing was that there was no political point scoring and it was accepted that whatever happens from here on in, it is a cross party issue.

Last week, I went to the House of Commons to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the launch of ‘The Summer of Cycling’ which any organisation, group, shop or magazine can support. All the usual suspects were there in cycling and cycle campaigning. “It’s always the same bloody people” someone quipped (and no, for a change it wasn’t me). It has a shiny new website that will develop as the week’s progress with a facebook page and twitter feed. The premise is simple; if everyone that rides a bicycle pledges to get someone who would not normally ride a bicycle to ride a bicycle then the amount of people riding bicycles would double. Simplest ideas are always the best and all that.

At this point, I would normally write something with distain about promotion being one of usual the soft options we always settle for in campaigning to the detriment of everything else because it’s cheap. However, it would be sheer lunacy to not to get some extra promotional mileage out of the Olympics being held in Britain this year, particularly with the success already achieved on road and track. It helps that Philip Darnton is at the helm. He not only has the uncanny ability to sniff out a fiver in a force nine gale – essential for cycling in Britain as it currently stands, but to amplify the meagre funding that cycling in Britain has come to expect through the years, with Cycling England being the classic example.

Summer of Cycling is run for the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (on which the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain sits) and was created by 23 organisations late last year. It was confirmed at the meeting that Minister for Transport Norman Baker has pledged £20,000 for this venture (slightly less than the list price for a Volkswagen Tigua Crossover 2.0 TDi 140 BlueMotion 5 Door) with another £70,000 going to Bike Week (slightly less than the list price for a BMW 750i 4 Door Saloon).

This lunchtime marked the 2012 Budget delivered by George Osborne. Cycling is mentioned in the official document twice.

  • [The Government] is committed to tackling congestion, improving connectivity and supporting cycling in and around London. The Government will explore the case for using the Planning Act 2008 to streamline the planning process for the proposed additional river crossings in East London, for example at Silvertown, which will reduce peak period delays and congestion in the area……In addition, the Government will grant £15 million to TfL for investments in cycle safety, which will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital under consideration in TfL’s cycle safety junction review’
  • 2.255 London cycle safety grant – The Government will allocate £15 million to TfL for investment in cycle safety. This will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital currently under consideration in TfL’s Cycle Safety Junction Review.

In the same document, £56 million is going to the Bexhill-Hastings link road. Which is slightly more relevant to me as I live in Sussex and not London. I’m not sure what the implications are for the rest of the country.

This very week, the idea of privatising the roads was presented in a speech by David Cameron to the Institute of Civil Engineers. Some commentators were quick to say on Twitter that it was just a smokescreen mainly to detract from the NHS and Social Care Bill and partly because there are many that are convinced that we have reached ‘peak car’. At War with the Motorist believes we shouldn’t worry as cyclists about it anyway as it will only affect Trunk Roads (Motorways in all but name) and Motorways. I personally believe that the Income Tax changes were the smokescreen and what we are actually seeing is a nation three years into a deep recession with a deeply car-centric Government that thinks ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ is a challenge as opposed to a warning.

I can’t help but feel that the proper stuff that will actually succeed in enabling consistent mass cycling is as far away as it ever has been. At least people are starting to listen now and act. High quality cycle infrastructure will cost serious money – nice things generally do. Surely it’s better to get the right measures in now and get to put an end to the well meaning but crap facilities being built in our name as opposed to seeing more roads being made increasingly unusable with no safe, quality alternative. Or new private or publically built roads having the usual dreadful or non-existent provision. It’s always cheaper to get it right at the design stage than to retro fit afterwards.

The winds of change are certainly blowing. But not quite hard enough to clear the mist yet.

The Local Transport White Paper – Soft and Very, Very Long

Fetch it cyclists! Go on, fetch the stick!

So the Department for Transport has released a Local Transport White Paper entitled ‘Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon – Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen’

This 99 page document mentions the word ‘cycling’ a stonking 88 times.

It’s filled with nice stuff. Here is the Introduction;

‘Two-thirds of all journeys are under five miles – many of these trips could be easily cycled, walked or undertaken by public transport. We want to make travelling on foot, by bike or on public transport more attractive. Our work indicates that a substantial proportion of drivers would be willing to drive less, particularly for shorter trips, if practical alternatives were available (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2009). That is what this White Paper is about – offering people choices that will deliver that shift in behaviour, in many more local journeys, particularly drawing on what has been tried and tested. ‘

Not bad eh? Here are some more examples;

‘Encourage sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport and cycling and walking more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.’

‘Cycling and walking offers an easy way for people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. The importance of active travel is also emphasised in the Department of Health’s Public Health White Paper (Department of Health, 2010)’

‘Often there are a number of other potential benefits from sustainable transport schemes e.g. greening local transport corridors to encourage walking and cycling may also reduce the heat island effect in towns, improve air quality, provide valuable space for sustainable urban drainage, increase biodiversity in towns and increase the value of neighbourhoods. When devising transport solutions it is important that opportunities to realise wider benefits such as these are identified and properly considered.’

‘Cycling can make men look incredible, especially that Jim Davis with his physical sleekness and prowess (Worthing Herald 2011).’

Oh, alright. I made that last one up.

With all this dynamic language, you feel quite excited as you read through more bits like this;

‘For short distance travel, the challenge is to make the least carbon intensive modes – walking, cycling or public transport – the most attractive options’.

Yeah!

‘Cycling and walking present an easy and cheap way for people to incorporate physical activity in their everyday lives. As well as the health benefits, they offer other benefits when they replace vehicle trips, including reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and reducing congestion.’

Yeah, yeah!

However, then we come to the small matter of the finance to back this bold vision. Cycling, as you know all too well dear reader, receives the thin end of the wedge even when times are good. The document leads you on a bit, like a man trying to end a relationship face to face until eventually we get to a nice box outlining how good Cycling Demonstration Towns are. There’s something written in tiny, tiny print at the bottom that the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club shall enlarge for you,

‘Note: Future funding for cycling will go through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. £13 million has been set aside in 11/12 as a transitional arrangement to fund links to schools, Bike Club, Bike It as well as Living Streets Walk to School campaign and the Cycle Journey Planner. These are discussed further at paragraph 5.14.’

I’ll take you to paragraph 5.14 [and the rest of the gory detail]

5.14 The Department for Transport will support Bikeability for the remainder of this Parliament – until 2015. The focus of Government support for Bikeability will be on providing children the opportunity to receive training when at school. By providing training in year 6 of primary school, the Government will give children the chance to develop a life skill, enable more safe journeys to schools and encourage physical activity – which is good for children’s health. In addition, fewer school journeys by car mean less traffic on the road in rush hour and lower carbon emissions. The training is already popular amongst parents and children, and over 90 local authorities and many Schools Sports Partnerships are delivering it in their area.

5.15 Local authorities will be encouraged to integrate Bikeability fully into their local transport planning. Better cycling routes, cycling parking and adult training are just some examples of local authority measures that could supplement and amplify the impact of Bikeability in their area.

Funding for cycling and walking measures in 2011/12

5.16 The Government believes there is benefit in continuing to fund the Links to Schools programme in 2011/12. This is a transitional arrangement while the Local Sustainable Transport Fund is established. Links to School is a programme run and administered by Sustrans, a national charity, and provides safe walking and cycling routes to schools. The extra year’s funding will enable additional routes to be provided and will complement relevant cycling and walking programmes funded through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund as well as the Bikeability scheme.

More drivel on pavements then.

5.17 We are also funding Cycle Journey Planner in 2011/12 as well as Bike Club, Bike It and Living Streets’ Walk to School Campaign. This funding will enable a smooth transition from the 2010/11 programme to a point where the Local Sustainable Transport Fund is operational. Funding for the Cycle Journey Planner will allow completion of the surveying of all urban areas with a population of 30,000 and will provide local authorities and the public with a ready made journey tool at a national level (England) to help plan cycle journeys.

Or, maps as they used to be called. Unless I’m misunderstanding the situation, this to me does not help people that don’t have access to the internet, or feel intimidated about using it. The same people that probably don’t have access to a car either.

5.18 From 2012 onwards, local authorities may choose to support Links to Schools through their bids to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Councils are facing massive cuts and this puts cycling in an extremely precarious situation indeed. Cycling England had a meagre £60 million to spend each year. The pot has unbelievably got smaller and it takes 99 pages to explain this. I don’t believe that County Cycling Officer is the most secure position in any Council and it will be eerily fascinating to see how many are dropped, along with funding for Bike It officers.

It is the ‘Eddie the Eagle’ of White Papers – great build up but ultimately falls way short on delivery. This is the Department for Transport yet again holding sustainable transport solutions at arms length to detract from the greater levels of funding being handed over to road building schemes and feasibility studies for High Speed Rail 2. Philip Hammond doesn’t feature in this document, it is down to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker MP to introduce and publish it.

There needs to a comprehensive reform of cycle infrastructure design and implementation in this country otherwise all these schemes and airy fairy initiatives will come to nothing.  As discussed before on this blog and indeed elsewhere, you can train all the people you like to cycle, and even experience a slight rise in numbers, but if the roads look dangerous, then the numbers will fall again and the expense would have been in vain. There’s a reason cycling is flatlining at between 3-4% and this document doesn’t address it directly in any way. And metal boxes will continue to whizz through communities, indifferent to the pollution and safety issues that they pose. We need infrastructure standards based on the Dutch model with other best practice from Denmark and around the World. We should do this as a supposedly civilised democracy – giving more people more mobility.

Casting cycle funding out to the provinces also negates the need for the Government to have any rational debate on cycling at national level, particularly with the demise of Cycling England. Once again the stick has been thrown and now it is down to local campaign groups and individuals to obediently chase and fight for it.

They deserve better. We all deserve better.

Here is yet another video of people going about their day on bicycles but this time in the snow.

The Anti-Cycle Campaigning Cycling Campaign

Believe it or not, there is no link between
this and riding your bike to the library

Firstly, I hope that all Lo Fidelity Readers had a delightful Christmas and New Year. My first one as a parent involved a lot of personal admin, particularly at the nappy changing mat so apologies that this is my first post in a while. The Guardian recently published an article that interested me.

The government’s flagship training scheme for young cyclists is hugely popular with both children and parents, according to a study, boosting the chances that it will survive funding cuts despite the abolition of the quango which currently runs it. A total of 98% of parents said they were happy with the Bikeability scheme, launched three years ago as a replacement for the defunct cycling proficiency test, according to an Ipsos/Mori poll carried out for the Department for Transport (DfT). Three quarters said they were “very satisfied” with the training. Among children who had used the scheme it gained 96% approval.’

I was under the impression that Bikeability funding was going to be ringfenced in some way as part of the Coalition Governments ‘commitment to cycling’ (despite ending Cycling England in March this year) along with it’s other policies such as investment in electric cars and bigger roads and cutting funding for speed cameras. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that the Coalition Government should just have the stones at Stonehenge rearranged to spell ‘Screw You Cyclists’. It’s a cheaper way of expressing how they really feel and would also be a fitting tribute to the Iron Age hill fort that got replaced by the M3 Twyford Down Enhancement.

Anyway, what interested me was it’s very high popularity amongst children and parents. This obviously demonstrates a desire for people to ride bikes. Not cycling in the pure British sense of the word. Just kids wanting to get on bikes and gain a new skill and freedom – after all, they don’t have to just ride between home and school, particularly when there are friends to see and things to do. This kind of thing also pleases the cycle campaigning establishment – it means that there will be lots of new cyclists to help achieve some sort of Critical Mass where everyone else will wake up from it’s collective amnesia and discover cycling again, particularly if taught the right skills.

There’s a fundamental flaw in this. The cycle campaigning establishment seems to have a collective amnesia about the colossal rise in car use over the last few decades. The parents won’t let their children cycle to school unless it’s on the pavement as the roads are too dangerous. All Bikeability is probably achieving is teaching children to ride bikes around Centre Parcs and Mountain Bike Centres in the school holidays (where they are driven to).

The Highways Departments in County Councils are always happy to oblige by painting cycle symbols on pavements and calling them Safe Routes To Schools. The thing is, what about people of all ages considering riding a bike to the shops, or the local sports centre, or to meet friends at the pub but feel that it’s too dangerous to do so? One answer might be to ask the utterly car-sick Highways Departments to paint bicycle symbols on all pavements because that’s where we’re headed anyway, or we could have what cycle campaigners have failed to ask for over the last few decades which is decent infrastructure using best practice from the Netherlands and Denmark.

The Dutch Bicycle Masterplan notes that cycle use suffered a massive decline due to
car-centric policy up to the 1970’s when two things occurred that triggered change; the OPEC fuel crisis and deep concerns about road safety, particularly children trying to get to school. Unlike the Government here however, the Netherlands correctly identified that the big metal boxes were the problem and acted accordingly by raising car parking fees and designing the impact of motoring out of populous areas. Decent cycle Infrastructure was not created for cyclists, it was created for the population at large to carry out their business without the need for helmets or high viz or breakneck aggressive speed. It’s not always perfect, but they managed a modal share that campaigners can only dream of over here.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, campaigns like ‘20’s Plenty’ only work when they are specifically NOT made Cycle Campaigns. The public needs to discover the joys of walking and cycling for themselves again, just as they are allowed to do with events such as the Skyride. With the promise of a safe pootle around the streets of Central London, people of all ages grabbed bicycles out of sheds and turned up in their droves. Provide the facilities and they will come. And we have the money out there to do it.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that this should be the same when campaigning for decent infrastructure in the Dutch model. This is not just about improving life for cyclists – this is about benefiting society as a whole and is why I set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to try a new approach. This is about creating decent infrastructure so you may accompany your children to school without having heart palpitations as an HGV sails past too close and too quick. This is about wanting to lose a few pounds and coincidentally trying a healthier way of getting to the post office. We must not be anti-car (most adult cyclists are motorists
too). We must let the people reach their own conclusions to create a culture change, after all, up until now they decided that they weren’t going to cycle anymore as the roads are too dangerous without realising that as motorists, they are part of the overall problem. And there’s the realisation that they don’t have to wear lycra. At all. Ever. Above all, the motor car has its place, but the people must come first.

As far as the Cycle Campaigning Establishment is concerned, I will leave you with this stunning post by Freewheeler at Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest. The statement from Cyclenation beggars belief.

Soon we will have VAT increases to compound already record high fuel prices and thousands of people continue to be killed and seriously injured on our roads each year. This has to be our time for change. I would like to also take this opportunity to thank all those who have expressed support for the Embassy. I look forward to hopefully meeting a few of you in London on January 29th.

Living the Dream

Wow, Ambassador! The DfT only handed out Digestives....

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who messaged me on this blog or emailed me privately expressing their support for the idea of an independent Cycling ‘Embassy’ for Great Britain. Whatever happens, it will be based upon the Cycling Embassy of Denmark as I believe we need the same model here in the UK. The ball has already started rolling and a volunteers forum will be starting up as an information exchange/meeting point. The URL has been confirmed and I shall release details shortly (thanks very much to a very willing and able volunteer. The first of many :-) ).

An early Mission Statement is as follows

An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.

To develop relations with private companies already committed to Green & Sustainable values and promote the truth that cycling can produce a fitter, healthier, happier workforce saving billions in ‘sick’ days to the British economy.

To lobby relevant Government Departments that cycling is a solution to transport congestion, noise pollution, carbon emissions, deaths and serious injuries on our roads, obesity and illnesses from more sedentary lifestyles, stress and expense.

To politely correct the Department for Transport that ‘Sustainable Transport’ actually means walking, cycling and public transport as opposed to spending further millions on expanding the road network which will only sustain more pollution, deaths & serious injuries and congestion, like the decades that preceded. The idea is to make something sustainable for future generations to inherit.  A bigger M25 isn’t it.

To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups; to highlight what the real dangers are, to enforce a duty of care to the most vulnerable and promoting prevention, rather than cure. This will be through a raft of measures including reduced speed limits in urban areas and changes in streetscape design to put community needs before those just travelling through them. We will strive to create an environment where helmets and other forms of protective wear are seen as unecessary as opposed to essential. We will strive to make riding a bicycle as easy as riding a bicycle.

To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, although well-meaning and correct in principle is too open to abuse or compromise by practitioners that know little about the requirements of cycling (or indeed walking) yet may wish to know more.

To encourage better communication with exchange of knowledge and ideas between architects, transport planners, designers & engineers as to how to get more people cycling [and walking] and improving access for all to town & city centres and transport interchanges. Also working out what makes decent cycle infrastructure work and how it benefits society as a whole.

To protect cycling proficiency for children and adults. It is an essential skill that did us very well in the past, as it can again in the future.

To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.

Obviously I now throw the floor open to suggestions as it’s now or never. As I look out across the still snowy South Downs, I acknowledge that this is going to be a quiet month as far as cycling news and blogging is concerned which gives us a chance over the Christmas period to reflect on the wonderful cycling experiences we’ve all had through the changing seasons of 2010 and set out the stall for 2011.

I am firmly of the belief that there needs to be new way in cycle campaigning; this is not to say that what has gone before has failed. It is simply outmanoeuvred by a car lobby that can market itself as green when accused of polluting and portray itself as a victim when attempts are made to call it to account over danger and subsidy. Cycling England, for all its faults, cost approximately £200,000 p.a. to run. Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.

It’s time to cast off the lycra and put on the charm. More plans follow and please feel free to join me for the ride which may be painfully short or wonderfully long. The doors of the Embassy will be opening shortly and you are welcome if you wish, fellow Diplomats. But don’t nick all my Fererro Rocher, I don’t care if it is Christmas.

The Sound of Silence

If a tree falls in the middle of the forest, and no-one is around to hear it, it would still make more noise than the British cycle campaigning establishment

 

Being an only child, I was fairly used to quiet and solitude; the purr of a chain combined with birdsong whilst cycling along local bridleways or the wind through the trees where I used to occasionally sit and read anything by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. Now I’m older I seem to get increasingly nervy around silence; not hearing my son breathe or stir via the intercom at night for example and not hearing a peep from the Cycle Campaigning establishment since the furore regarding Cycling England a month or two ago also puts my teeth on edge.

About a month ago, it was declared that Cycling England would cease to be as of March 2011. Cycling blogs were alight with hot debate over why such a small concern should be abolished when it also became apparent that there would be no real provision for cycling within the Department for Transport. We learned that cycling was literally going to have to sing for its supper with funding thrown out to the provinces and the ‘Sustainable Transport Fund’. If you needed to feel even more nervous, it would appear that the parameters for what constitutes ‘Sustainable Transport haven’t been set by the Department for Transport and Philip ‘no clever funny middle name as he’s just a tosser’ Hammond MP. This means that the Council can make the same ridiculous interpretation as Central Government  – that adding lanes to a motorway can constitute ‘Sustainable Transport’ as it ‘improves traffic flow’ which reduces emissions (conveniently sidestepping the fact that it creates more traffic but that can be dealt with at a later date or preferably by a later generation). This is a bit like BP arguing that they have done the Gulf of Mexico a favour by releasing catastrophic amounts of oil into the eco-system; it ensures that only the fittest creatures survive thereby creating a stronger, more efficient Gulf of Mexico for future generations.

What I’ve found a little disturbing is the way that the wrath and fury seems to have subsided save a few handsome journalists and blog writers. I like to think that the major players are just recovering from the shock and are now in a room somewhere, with secret plans  being drawn up to produce an all new campaigning, lobbying, gnashing of teeth version of Cycling England built on sturdier foundations. Then again, I also have a direct debit for the National Lottery.

Shortly after Hammond’s statements, including the hilarious assertion that electric cars would be the way forward, well and truly putting the ‘car’ in carbon, the CTC and Cycle Nation held a conference in Edinburgh hosted by SPOKES (the Lothian Cycle Campaign). Lots of people spoke and gave presentations including the very nice Philip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England. Notes of all the topics covered can be downloaded from the excellent Spokes website - at least, nearly all. Roger Geffen gave a chinwag on ‘The Segregation Debate – Reflections from Copenhagen’

The only notes of this segment were kindly compiled by a Spokes representative and reads as follows

Roger Geffen (CTC Right-to-Ride). Why is he sceptical of segregation, if it works in practice in parts of Europe like Denmark and Netherlands? CTC doesn’t reject it outright but supports the Government’s ‘hierarchy of solutions': Traffic reduction and speed reduction; re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure; and segregation last – though it’s appropriate in some circs, eg inter-urban dual carriageway.

Problems of segregation in town – junctions more dangerous, need 270′ vision instead of 90′;cyclist/pedestrian conflict.

Success stories: Copenhagen, New York, Bogota. (Lo Fidelity Note: And Amsterdam, and Groningen and…)

Main issue is two legal framework differences – 1 driver liability, and 2 drivers give way to peds/cyclists when turning, even if have green light. Different legal framework leads to different driver behaviour. Needs lot of political will to change this in UK – possible strategy for future. Boris suggests allow cyclists to turn L at red light but this leads to cycle/ped conflict.

According to one source, it ended up as a slightly heated debate. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would have pointed out that the Governments ‘hierarchy of solutions’ are intrinsically car-centric and methods of traffic reduction and speed reduction, re-allocation of road space, junction re-design and other infrastructure always translates as ‘pinch points’, converted pavements, lethal on-road cycle lanes that terminate at parking bays and so on. Lest to say, none of CTC’s contribution has made their weekly emailed newsletters.

This post isn’t about the segregation/vehicular debate however (although like the Netherlands, the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that engineers should start properly designing out the private car from urban areas before looking at segregation instead of the UK method of tinkering around the edges so as not to annoy the ‘poor beleaguered motorist’). This post is about how we take cycle campaigning to a more coherent, robust level that can shout loud. And it will need to.

Let me say at this point that I love the CTC; I worked for them so know very well their passion for cycling. I love their proud heritage. Their legal assistance (free to members) has helped me successfully on the two times I was knocked off my bike by careless motoring. They have campaigned for the rights of cyclists through the years, be it on the road or off the road by allowing cyclists on to the bridleways. However, one niggling question always sits at the back of my mind; is the CTC, being a membership organisation representing predominantly touring cycling, the correct mechanism to represent and deliver the interests of all cyclists in the twenty first century?

If it is then at the moment it faces an open goal as no other cycling organisation would have the campaigning/lobbying nous to step into the breech come March. To do this though it would have to start listening to ideas that their membership may find unpalatable, and digest the fact that generations of potential cyclists are continuing to be lost to the pull of the motor car and the society that successive Governments are continuing to build around it.

This is conjecture pure and simple, but The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to see the development of a privately funded (or part public/part private) lobbying group in the same dynamic as the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. It would be like the TfL’s Centre of Cycling Excellence, but this time with the Excellence. It could get companies with green credentials to put their money where their mouth is and lobby the Government directly about the merits of cycling and what Road Safety actually means. Partnerships should be struck with organisations in Britain, mainland Europe and Worldwide such as CTC, Fietsberaad, the Danish Cycling Embassy and New York City Transportation Planners for best practice (as I believe the argument goes way beyond just vehicular/segregated). Architects and engineers with an interest in transportation and urban design could be brought on board. The possibilities are endless if you look beyond the horizon of British cycle campaigning. Philip Darnton could Chair something that didn’t have foundations built on the shifting sands of a Quango.

By lobbying the Government, we need to question the Department for Transport why cycling is peripheral on their agenda, we have to lobby the Department for Health to keep reminding them that we have a solution to obesity, we need to let David Cameron know that he can save a couple of million pounds in happiness surveys by just getting everyone cycling.

Above all, we’ve got to do something. The sound of silence is starting to get deafening.

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 5 – ’20’s Plenty’

I can’t wait to hear the Conservative Party reason for eventually scrapping this idea

Before we get started, The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to make the following announcement:

IF YOU START A ‘20’s PLENTY’ CAMPAIGN IN YOUR AREA, FOR THE SWEET LOVE OF VICTORIA PENDLETON DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE IT A CYCLING CAMPAIGN.

A little while ago, my local paper (Worthing Herald) launched an online poll as to whether we should have 20mph as the default in the town. I assume they were expecting ‘poor beleaguered motorists’ to be up in arms resulting in a juicy battle of words on the internet and the letters page. Their pages are usually choked like a peak time school run with moans about NCP as they control the parking in Worthing (so you would assume that high parking costs would be a good incentive to encourage walking and cycling but that’s another story).

Imagine everyone’s surprise when a majority voted in favour of such a scheme. As this would mean printing something positive, the story was dropped like a stone. However, the fact remained that people supported the idea of safer, more pleasant streets.

The principle of 20’s Plenty is simple; instead of having small 20mph zones outside schools, hospitals and shopping areas which are always ignored, make 20mph the default speed limit across a wider area with the exception of strategic or arterial roads which remain at 30 or 40.

The benefits are potentially numerous; reduced casualty rates, walking and cycling suddenly looking like better and safer options for getting around, school zones would be linked to the residential areas that children would be walking/cycling in from and as a result, people would be able to engage with their communities again increasing well being and stronger neighbourhoods.

Basically returning to how things used to be before the car took control.

Although another benefit is the potential reduction of  ‘rat running’ which bedevils many residential streets, The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club thinks that this should eventually go further with the layout of such streets being changed with planting schemes and removal of street markings – in essence to return more pleasant streets back to their residents and physically keep people off the accellerator pedal. It’s not enough to say that a default 20mph limit negates the need for traffic calming. It would have a very positive effect on property prices if you needed another positive.

In the Netherlands, over 60% of residential roads are 30kph (18mph) making them much more pleasant for walking and cycling. Its been claimed that on average casualties have dropped by 70%. It must be stated at this point however, that changes to Dutch traffic laws ” require motorists to anticipate unsafe walking and cycling.” If a car-bike collision involves a child or a elderly person, “the motorist is usually judged to be entirely at fault.” “When a crash is caused by an illegal move by a cyclist or a pedestrian, the motorist is almost always judged to be partly at fault.” If you or your campaign group were to succeed in implementing that over here, you would have testicles or the female equivalent the size of Wiltshire and I would fight for a Bank Holiday to commemorate your valour.

In regard to my announcement at the beginning of this post, this is clearly a campaign that could benefit everyone except fans of ‘Top Gear’. Make sure that any 20’s Plenty campaign you instigate or get involved with remains totally separate from cycle campaigning. Many people still regard cycling as something weird people do involving funny clothing or even no clothing at all They have to be allowed to draw their own conclusions and reap their own benefits.

The reason I’m writing this in such an enthusiastic way is because Worthing Borough Council voted unanimously this week to get the 20mph ball rolling in our town. They have also changed a Traffic Regulation Order reducing the requirement for signage which reduces the potential project cost by a sizable margin (to roughly the same cost of running Cycling England for a year, I believe). Basically they’re making 20mph the default limit unless signed otherwise.

For further information please go to the 20’s Plenty for Us Website

To see what’s been happening in Worthing as a good campaigning example, their website is here.

Stay on Target

 

The Department for Transport (Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Impression)

 

EDITED – THANKS MR BLOGS :-)

In previous posts I put across an argument that the demise of Cycling England could be a good thing.  It could mean the reintegration of cycling within the Department for Transport, making it publically accountable and receiving a deserving share of the transport budget. Like the Highways Agency, cycling could be an ‘Executive Agency’. Cycling is after all part of the sustainable transport (and public health and wellbeing and climate change and energy conservation etc) solution.

As you have probably learned today, not only is Cycling England to be abolished from March 2011 but the future for cycling now looks far bleaker than anyone could have imagined. Now there will simply be a Local Sustainable Travel Fund with the mechanism for delivery still to be determined.

What’s worse is that, although Bikeability (Cycling Proficiency), is set to be protected under the Department for Transport, there is nothing to say it won’t be affected by the funding cuts to be announced on October 20th.

With cycling project funding cast out across the provinces, walking and cycling campaign groups will be left fighting for scraps while the DfT marches on, indifferent to the plight of those that prefer simpler, greener, more fun and effective forms of transport, or simply cannot afford a car. This is the Conservative tactic of ‘Divide and Conquer’ at its worst. There is some light at the end of the tunnel however; according to a press release brought to my attention by a Lo Fidelity Reader, ‘DfT is also considering establishing an expert panel on wider sustainable travel which would promote cycling as part of the wider green agenda’. I’d imagine some eco-car manufacturers may also be in the panel too.

As jolly nice and good looking cyclists and pedestrians, we must not be distracted by localism. We must remain fixed now on Phillip Hammond, Norman Baker and the Department for Transport; if a major transport scheme is planned, cycling has to be integrated from the beginning as opposed to fighting to get a crap cycle path running next to it or exposed Sheffield Stands.

 

'The Empire doesn't see small bicycles or pedestrians as a threat or it would have a tighter defence'

 

Above all Cycle Training in whatever form has to be retained or we lose yet another generation to the relentless pull of the sedentary lifestyle, leading to more dangerous roads.

Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, seems to think Sustainable Transport doesn’t incorporate the most sustainable forms of transport of all. Apparently we should all be using electric cars now. This is a man that clearly needs to be reshuffled at the first God given opportunity and the woefully car-centric Department for Transport needs to be reformed as it appears to be languishing decades behind in sustainability.

Whilst we work out what to do next, I’m off to dig out my Chas n Dave ‘Snooker Loopy’ EP, my florescent socks and look for a Sinclair C5 on ebay. I feel we are going back to the Conservative times of old.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 4 – Highways Departments & Cycling Officers

St. Ig – The Patron Saint of County Council Highways Departments

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS AN OFFENSIVE ACRONYM

In the same way that the Department for Transport had Cycling England to keep at arms length at national level, so it holds with Highways Departments and Cycling Officers at County Council level.

From a cycle campaigning perspective, Highways Officers are often like Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army; often spoken of but never seen. You will however be familiar with their work all around you from stunning seaside paths to safe, direct town centre links. You get the chance to comment when these incredible schemes have already been designed and programmed to be built. This is called ‘consultation’ to compliment their range of extensive sustainable strategy consultation solutions, as we have seen before.

You may be lucky enough in your campaign group to get a visit from the County Cycling Officer. This role has to be the most tragic in Local Government; if they were put anywhere else in the World of cycling, they would be a valuable asset as they are usually very nice, proactive people with an exhaustive knowledge of cycling infrastructure. They probably thought they could join their council with a view to changing things for the cycling good before encountering deeply car-centric Local Councillors and a Highways Department that sees cycling infrastructure as something poor people or vegans with a fetish for beads might use. The job role ends up being a combination of Harbinger of Doom and Eunuch. They are sent to cycling forums and meetings for the following reasons;

  • to explain why the crappy scheme set out before you is being built and why you should consider yourselves lucky to have it.
  • because the highways departments know that the schemes are crap and can’t be bothered to hear feedback, however constructive, for future schemes as cyclists demands will only push project costs up and goes against their training.
  • to explain why the entire cycling budget has been cut and is now reliant on Developers money.
  • to tell you why your hopes and dreams of a modal shift toward to cycling using proven continental methods will never happen. This will be told with a simmering, but castrated fury (Male Officers) or a simmering, but close to tears look (Female Officers).

It would be wrong to say that all Highways Departments are hostile to cycling and walking; some are certainly hostile, but many simply don’t know how to cater for other non-motorised transport modes (that ironically were there first). Cycling doesn’t fit into their engineering education with all its computer generated models and road enhancement guidelines. As a result, they shovel cyclists off the roads onto converted pavements, thinking they are doing the right thing in the name of road safety, without taking any road space from motorists. Cycling, as a result, becomes more dangerous and unappealing to the masses. Cyclists choosing to remain on the roads (that they also pay for) sometimes get verbal or physical abuse from motorists and simply face a more dangerous road environment due to motorists not expecting anything else to be there.

In summary, I like to affectionately call them Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes and I think you should too. A wonderful example of Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes may be found in Waltham Forest and for Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes at their worst across the UK, you must visit Pete Owen’s magnificent compilation for Warrington Cycle Campaign here.

Deepest apologies for the harsh acronym. But I’m right.

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