The promotion and advancement of cycling in the United Kingdom is filled with cycles;
Pitiful amounts of money are given to cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures which look mighty and impressive until they are shown against the budgets normally given to transport projects, or it’s shown that the spending period for this sum is over the same time frame as the existence of the Dinosaurs. Which is when the figures suddenly have the impact of Bertrand Russell on the life of Justin Beiber. ‘But why is the bicycle getting such pitiful amounts?’, ask the cycle campaigners as, although most other people in Britain have access to a bicycle, they have been brainwashed into thinking it is a child’s plaything or something to do in a pastel coloured polo shirt around a Centre Parcs or in a sponsored event with lots of marshalls, high viz tabards and helmets. From Marples to Thatcher, the country has been informed that the car is the aspirational mode of transport and can also be mentioned alongside words such as ‘growth’ or ‘jobs’, particularly by local politicians, to really polarise a public already with recession paranoia. If the money is truly pitiful, it will normally go to promotion schemes and training, but the promotion materials reflect the bleak picture which has existed in Britain until now; Children with helmets cycling on a Sustrans leisure route or with twenty first century levels of traffic driven by people who can’t understand why people persist with the bicycle as it’s not aspirational or within a societal norm. These people are often parents that won’t let their children ride on the road, even if they were trained to laugh in the face of a Red Bull Downhill Challenge because the roads are regarded as dangerous by people who would never admit that they are part of this problem. So the hard work put in by cycle trainers is often tragically wasted as bikes get returned to sheds to collect dust until the next trip to Centre Parcs or Charity Ride. If the money is higher, it gets spent on Infrastructure. British Infrastructure. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. This, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures….and so it goes on.
This triggers other little cycles as well; the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and they often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. Which, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which understandably makes cyclists and non-cyclists alike deeply sceptical when new Infrastructure is suggested. Experienced cyclists also feel that they will lose their right to the road as they have become so battle hardened with all the kit (and surveillance measures on their cycle helmets) that they not only classify themselves as ‘fast commuters’ but often as cycling experts on local cycling forums speaking out against Infrastructure. To an adult with an errand or deadline, the roads offer far more directness and speed than a typical piece of British Infrastructure ever could. All the kit however puts them outside a societal norm on the British streetscape. It makes the art of riding a bicycle to work look like a specialist activity and, subjectively, a dangerous one at that. Which in turn suppresses cycling numbers. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Meaning that the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them…and so it goes on.
Meanwhile, Bike Week is held once a year. Primarily, as far as the general public are concerned, to give Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast a chance to repeat the same utter drivel about how all cyclists break red lights thereby sullying the preceding report that tries to be optimistic. Also, the near daily diet of local newspapers writing about ‘cyclists’ in the same way they would describe a terrorist cell. With typo’s.
One of the arguments leveled against cycling infrastructure in the United Kingdom is that there is no political will. Well, that’s certainly true but political will develops as a mandate from the people and how can that mandate arrive if the people don’t know that there is a way to break these cycles. That better worlds exist in transport terms, tried and tested and advanced by other nations not dissimilar to ours with wonderful knock on effects for society. And that there are designers out there who would love to create a cycle scheme that doesn’t look or feel like the Oxford English Dictionary definition of words like ‘hatred’ or ‘brain spasm’. If the answer is ‘losing our right to the road’ then we are asking the wrong questions.
It’s not all total doom and gloom. Where I currently live in Brighton & Hove, there have been definite moves to create decent infrastructure as new cycle tracks on Old Shoreham Road and Lewes Road will testify. We still can’t seem to do junctions as a nation for some reason. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built a damn sight quicker than the London Cycle Superhighways – which, coincidentally offer the same thrills, excitement and tragedy as chariot racing at the Circus Maximus.
This week marks the third anniversary of me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Some amazing people where with me at the beginning and it’s being run by incredible and able people now. Its mission; to highlight what has been done overseas and point out that to do something correctly is cheaper than building something unfit for purpose and unused. To show that it can be done in a way that benefits everyone be they motorists, bicycle riders, wheelchair users, the elderly, the partially sighted, schoolchildren, commuters, shoppers and any combination of the above and more. For all the bluster in Britain, and London in particular, it is clear that there is far, far more to be done.
Whilst this nation continues to tit about and its leaders continue to lie about any commitment to the bicycle, here is a film by Thomas Collardeau set in Amsterdam and Utrecht (where all the streets are extremely wide so can accommodate bicycle infrastructure. Apparently).
Also in this series….
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 1: Class
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 2: Culture of Fear
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 3: DANGER!
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 4: Driving is Easier
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 5: Bicycle Maintenance
Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 6: British Cycle Infrastructure