The founding of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

There is a certain scent of change in the air, even a sniff of dissent about cycling’s current status quo. On Saturday, some 45 cycle campaigners, bloggers and passionate people on bikes gathered at London’s Look Mum No Hands cafe to lay the foundations for a new cycling campaign that’s already making waves.

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People had come from all across London and the UK to give up their time – and their money – to help lay foundations for a new direction for cycling; from Weymouth, Worthing, Cambridge. From Bristol, Guildford, Newcastle and Scotland. For anyone who has sat in on a typical cycle campaigning meeting it was obvious from the start that this was an atypical advocacy get together. There were writers, planners, accountants and architects, Mums, Dads, transport statisticians and even a church minister present.

What had driven these people to give their time and ideas so freely? Why were they putting their faith in this, the early stages of a very grass roots organisation over established existing cycle campaigns? Time and again people spoke of the same thing; how fed up they were with living on inequitable streets, sick of congestion, and danger, and there being no room for cyclists. Tired of being told to get on a bike for the good of their health, their wallets, for the local community, for the planet but only to find that there was no safe space for most right-thinking people on the roads. Exasperated with having to tell their kids “Don’t play in the road” and “No, you can’t ride your bike to school because the school run is just too dangerous”. Annoyed, angry even, that current growth strategies seem to be based on telling people that their emotional fear of the road is statistically irrational and that you can learn to ignore that stomach-knotting, nagging fear with a bit of cycle training and perseverance. Everyone in the room had looked wistfully at developments over the past 40 years in the Netherlands and Denmark and asked “Why not here?” and questioned whether existing campaign directions with their “build bike lanes last” ethos was working.

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It’s fair to say that many of these questions have been fanned by the internet and the ease with which it is now possible to see best practice from all over the world that could easily be implemented here, if enough people ask for it. The internet has helped to realise the potential for change amongst a broader group of people asking why the other 98% of Britons don’t ride a bike, and whether we are doing enough to invite them to do so.

Jim, of Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club blog fame and who has spear-headed the movement spoke eloquently; “..existing cycle campaigns are diabolical at communicating with the general public. What’s more, mass cycling is not going to materialise by tinkering around the edges. A fresh approach is needed.”

The point was raised, more than once, that it is all well and good providing cycle training in the home, and showers and cycle parking in the work place, but if the wider public are not prepared to ride either the A-roads or the circuitous ‘quiet routes’ as they currently stand to get between A and B then attempts to increase cycling’s pitifully low modal share will largely be in vain.

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Everyone was aware that cycling has passed through some dark days over the past 30 years, and were grateful to those who had kept cycling alive, but there was also a broad consensus that arming people with a hi-vis vest and a copy of John Franklin’s CycleCraft was not going to Copenhagenize the UK any time soon. Cycling’s PR problem was discussed (Jim: “I want rampant smart dressing!”) as were the limitations of the hierarchy of provision, of cycle training, of glitzy bike hire schemes and all the rest. Time and again it all seemed to come back to one simple truth; “It’s the infrastructure, stupid!”

It is, of course, very early days and the meeting – as is the nature of these things – raised more questions than answers. But those who were present resolved to help where they could, to spread ‘the message’ by word of mouth, to respect existing campaigns but also not be afraid of moving in a new, bold direction, to reach out to those who want to cycle, and to all roll up our sleeves and get involved.

On the bike ride home I saw that artist Ben Eine had been out on the streets with his paintbrush again. His latest mural couldn’t help but put a smile on my face;


You can get involved with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at their development forum, here. Jim Davis blogs at the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club here.



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3 comments:

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

In London and the UK - love to catch up for that 'cuppa' if you have a 'moment' at some stage!! x

ibikelondon said...

Hi Sue,

Would love to catch up, how do I get in contact with you? You can drop me an email via my 'About Me' page at the top of the blog.

Hope to see you! (Sorry about the weather by the way!)

All the best,

Mark

sexify said...

Pretty inspirational writing there, Mark. Good luck in your promotional efforts and in winning over the movers and shakers.

Adam