Space4cycling shows us: campaigning works

There is something happening in the UK cycling scene at present that deserves greater scrutiny; a groundswell of popular cycling opinion, a heart-felt movement that is gaining traction all the time.  It started with a whisper just a few years ago, and has grown in to a national movement that shows no sign of slowing down.


I'm talking about the wave of bike protests that have swept across the UK recently, that are lead by a more combative and vocal group of cycling campaigns.  As recently as 2010 the London Cycling Campaign were so meek in their aspirations, and so unclear in what they actually stood for, I seriously questioned on this blog whether they were even pro-cycle lanes or not.  Since then the LCC executed the massively successful "Go Dutch" campaign which saw 20,000 cyclists on the streets in protest and secured serious commitments from the Mayor which led to his pledge to spend nearly ONE BILLION pounds over the next ten years making London safer and more inviting for cyclists.  The substantially separated Cycle Superhighway 2 extension, from Bow roundabout to Stratford, will open in the next few weeks, taking away a lane of traffic and giving it over to safe space for cycling.

Meanwhile, against a backdrop of regular deaths and serious injuries endured by cyclists beneath the wheels of HGVs, persistent lobbying, letter writing and picketing by all of our cycling campaigns has led to announcements that Transport for London and the Department for Transport will create a central London "safe lorry zone" to crack down on rogue and dangerous operators.


British Cycling asked all of its nearly 80,000 members to get behind its calls for sentencing guidelines to be reviewed, following a spate of cycle deaths that had led to paltry convictions.  The Government listened and have pledged to conduct a full review of the judiciary early next year.

Following the excellent efforts of everyone behind the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have created cycling manifestos for the next general election, and the Government have been keen to point out they have pledged millions to cycling schemes nationwide.

In short, campaigning works.  


And now, bouyed with confidence and with the sense that change is achievable, cycle protests are sweeping the UK.  In London, we had flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge in 2011, the massive "Go Dutch" rally in 2012, and a series of space4cycling demonstrations where cyclists have been killed in Holborn and Aldgate, and on Westminster, each of which has attracted thousands of participants.  In Scotland, two "pedal on parliament" rallies to the Scottish government saw thousands on the streets.  And the "space4cycling" message seems to really resonate, with copycat rides taking place in Manchester, Birmingham and even motor-centric Reading in recent weeks.

For years there have been hard-working but misguided members of the cycle campaigning fraternity who have felt the best path forward is to tread meekly, to ask quietly and to not dare to dream too big.  Just last week long-standing cycling journalist and industry elder Cartlon Reid proposed in the Guardian that it would be easier - and quicker - to wait for all cars to become automated and computer controlled than to campaign for the traffic restraint schemes, investment, cycle training and quality cycling infrastructure that our Dutch neighbours share (as if riding amongst many thousands of computer-conrolled tonnes of machinery would be any less unpleasent than cycling among heavy traffic is at present)

But the internet is steadily sweeping this kind of thinking aside, and encouraging people to believe they can actually play a part in change themselves.  ("Yes we can!" said Obama, "Hope, not Cope!" says I.) They've seen how the Dutch got their cycle paths and are seeking to emulate the experience here in the UK.  They've seen how advocates in the US are taming the streets of New York and feel like our own cities are falling behind.  They've seen how Londoners out on the streets are having a direct effect on policy and cycle spending, and want the same where they live.


Campaigning works, but only when people care enough to get involved.  For many years on ibikelondon we've said we should each be the change we'd like to see, but the need now for more people to get involved is more apparent than ever before.  Because whilst the protests and campaigns are gaining traction, the forces arrayed against creating more cycle-friendly streets are as prevalent as ever.  Funding cuts, the motor lobby, hackneyed and downright dangerous road design schemes divert our attention.  Indeed, Cyclists In The City blog recently identified 5 major proposed road design schemes that seek - either through ignorance or downright spite - to squeeze out cycling.   Meanwhile, at the Judiciary, drivers who kill or hurt cyclists are let off with alarming and downright depressing regularity.  And at Government level the recent cash that has been pledged is most welcome, but not nearly enough to really make a difference.

The passion and protests on the streets this summer have been a fantastic start to real change, but they need to be followed up with many hours of behind-the-scenes campaigning.  Whether it is with London Cycling Campaign, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Sustrans or British Cycling your local cycling campaign needs you.  It is time to roll up our sleeves!

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Paul M said...

On activism and the #space4cycling campaign, can I urge your London-based readers, if they haven’t done so already, to join the London Cycling Campaign? I accept your point that LCC was perhaps a little supine in the past, indeed not that long ago, but to give credit where credit is due, it has responded to the evident wishes of its membership base and started to apply its skills and organisation capabilities to managed campaigning with an ambitious demand. However, it can always get bigger, and more members means a louder and more persuasive voice. At about 12,000 members, out of perhaps 150-200,000 daily cyclists in London, there is clearly room for growth!

And if you do join, or indeed if you are already a member, (and you are an income taxpayer) make sure to complete the gift-aid declaration on their website, as this adds a further 25% on top of the subscription you pay yourself.

On self-driving cars, well, we have been there before, haven’t we, with those “Eagle” comic images of the future, from the 1950s, showing dad in a sports coat and trilby, smoking a pipe, mum in a rah-rah-dress and alice band, sitting in their flying car? The clothes changed, the earthliness of the car didn’t. As for their safety, I can imagine that might be true, as the most dangerous component of a car, or a plane, or a ship, has long been acknowledged to be “the nut behind the wheel”. Airliners routinely fly themselves these days, and I heard a joke told by an air-traffic controller that modern airliners only need a crew of one man and one dog – the man to feed the dog, and the dog to bite the man if he touches anything.

However, computer-controlled driving would no doubt be capable of much tighter tolerances, on separation distances etc, and you may have seen an ad in which computer-driven cars whizz in all directions through a junction rather like one of those military motorcycle display teams you see at the Edinburgh Tattoo. Even assuming that the cars can sense, and avoid, pedestrians and cyclists, I can only imagine that the subjective safety environment, which is what will drive an increase in cycling, would be far, far worse. No, the computer-driven car is just as much an evolutionary dead end as the battery driven car.

mike-lcc said...

Inspiring words, as ever Mark...

The London Cycling Campaign's next big campaign target is the 2014 local elections in May. Our 33 local authorities control 90% of our city streets, including the areas that surround our homes, schools and shops. We're planning a massive campaign to put pressure on every single council election candidate to provide safe space for cycling - which will also make for safer and nicer places to walk too.

To find out how you can influence and take part in our 2014 campaign, why not come along to our annual conference in Holloway Road this Saturday?

You don't have to be an experienced or hard-core campaigner. Quite the opposite, in fact - we want as many new people to come with fresh outlooks and ideas.

If you can't make this event, sign up to our regular campaign updates ( or get in touch with your local LCC group (

If you're not an LCC member already, please join today

Without our members, we couldn't run any protest rides or campaigns.

We want 2014 to be an even bigger year for cycling, so (to paraphrase a great campaigner) now's the time to be part of the change you want to see...

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to this: keep an eye on your local consultations (and those linked to by blogs like this) and BE SURE TO RESPOND!

There really aren't that many respondents to most consultations so if a good few cyclists respond it can really sway the numbers.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks everyone for all of your points and for taking the time to write.

@Paul I quite agree on all of your points; that the LCC have sensed the winds of change and acted accordingly and should be praised for it, that joining them is a very worthwhile thing to do and that Gift Aid is an easy thing for us and a wonderful thing for them.

As for flying cars and computer-driven cars and battery cars, I couldn't have put it better myself. It is funny how these wheezes come in cycles (if you'll pardon the pun); just a few years ago those who advocated doing nothing - while hoovering up massive grants and funding initiatives to do so - said it wouldn't be long for us to have to wait for oil to run out and for the bike to have its day in the sun. Now that is clearly not going to happen anytime soon with the (frankly terrifying) boom in "difficult to reach" oil extraction technology, it would seem computer cars are the new thing to stop us in our (cycle) tracks.

@Anonymous Absolutely, and I should have put this in the article, but responding to consultations really helps. I hope one of the campaigns sets up a "Consultation Watch" soon!

@Mike_LCC Beautifully put - see you on Saturday!

Koen said...

Waiting for automated cars is no solution. Perhaps the cars will get safer, but cyclists make wobbles and mistakes too. Imagine riding close by a passing train. Whilst I know the train will not likely veer off its course, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable cycling there. Wind can blow me in its course, I might wobble or ride into a pothole, etc etc. Automation is no panaceum or perfect cheap solution. It's just being lazy and afraid to make bold steps. Would you let your five year old child or 80 year old dad cycle there? The can in NL.

Anonymous said...

LCC is a complete waste of time. They achieve so little yet claim such great success. Cyclists in London are dying and getting injured all the time yet what do LCC do?

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous Rather than listing the many things that LCC have achieved in recent years, and some of the fantastic work that they do, I'd really be more interested in hearing what you suggest as an alternative?

Albert Beale said...

In response to Mark's exchange with an anonymous poster, he won't be surprised to know that I (non-anonymously) am also critical of LCC. They of course do good things, but they always draw the line at activism which might really speed up changes.

Getting thousands of cyclists out for a symbolic demonstration is excellent; but getting a fraction of that number out for something less symbolic (such as hundreds of bikes taking over the road space at a dangerous junction for as long as it took to be noticed; and then doing it again and again, week after week) might concentrate TfL's minds a bit more urgently!

When the Bikes Alive campaign was active last year, trying to plug that gap in LCC's tactics, LCC not only failed to support it but actually - behind the scenes - tried to discourage people from getting involved. (This criticism isn't of local LCC groups, by the way.)


Albert Beale (worldpeace @