The winds of change... a new cycling campaign arrives

There's change in the air...  As cycling enters it's Governmental wilderness years, more and more people who care passionately about cycling are asking the same question - are we going down the right path to bring about mass cycling here in the UK?

You can trace the route of all this thought and introspection to the 'big blogs'; the likes of Copenhagenize and that great city's integrated bicycle culture, and David Hembrow's A view from the cycle path and his views on the importance of subjective safety, or his posts debunking some of the myths put forward as to why Dutch-style cycling could never be achieved 'over here'.  These blogs have become incredibly popular and have helped to spread ideas around the world.  Before the advent of the internet information distribution was a one way street; the likes of John Franklin would write about how dangerous cycle paths can be and what a disaster Milton Keynes was for cycling and such word was taken as gospel.  Nowadays a cyclist in London can see brand new cycle tracks being built in New York (of all places), read the comments and decide for themselves whether they think that's a good thing or not, and pass the information on...

As a consequence of this 'brave new world' of information exchange more and more people seem to me to be singing from the same hymn sheet and questioning the status quo;

The Grumpy Cyclist talks about why having to ride in the primary position is too much of a burden to expect of the most vulnerable.
Cyclists in the City talk about why we need 'the other 49%'; Mums, kids and grans on bikes and whether we are doing enough to encourage them.
Cycalogical recognises that fear of traffic is the main reason why most people don't ride a bike and wonders if we are doing the right thing to try and overcome this.
iamnotacyclist looks back on the history of the segregation debate here in London and finds a compelling argument for building more cycling infrastructure from an LCC campaigner from a decade ago - what's been done since?
At War With the Motorist's Joe talks about how he became a clips and lycra kind of cyclist and how he came to realise that it was a consequence of the cycling conditions and how those conditions would never encourage mass cycling.
Charlie Holland from Kennington People on Bikes thinks it is outrageous that a ban on cycling on the South Bank will force people to cycle on National Cycle Route 4 - a high speed dual carriageway with some paint on the side of it.  He asked some local Mums if they'd be happy for their kids to ride this route - the resounding answer was ''No!'
Even the Department of Health has got wind of the fact that we do so little active travel that if something doesn't change we'll all soon be fatties...
Cyclists here in the UK read about the Bicycle Policies of the European Principals (Continuous and Integral) from the Fietsbaraad, see how mass cycling has been achieved and ask "Why aren't we trying to achieve the same thing here using these tested and proven methods?"
People watch the pleas of the girls from Beauty and The Bike asking outright for road space to taken away from motorists and given over to cyclists...

And of course, over at Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest the mysterious, illustrious Freewheeler is not holding back on his acerbic criticisms of where our current campaign priorities have brought us.  Of particular note he recently dug up notes from a 2003 conference... doesn't look to me like much has changed since.  His post on how he traversed from being an integrationist to being pro-Dutch style infrastructure makes for an interesting, enlightening read. 

Of course, the internet is a two-way street and everyone is entitled to share their opinions and both sides of the argument do.  Carlton Reid sets off on an emotive but impassioned trek about why he loves black top, and over in Spain a certain well-known internet troll who thinks cycle lanes are the work of the Devil sets out his stall in typically fascinating fashion (I mean fascinating like as in a car crash. You know you shouldn't look but just can't help it. The comments are particularly, um, stimulating)

What's all this got to do with cycling, I hear you ask, other than lots of people getting hot under the collar?

Well, words inevitably lead to actions and over at the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club blog, writer Jim may just be on to the start of something big.  A former employee of the CTC and long-time bicycle advocate he's setting up a new action group which intends to promote cycling as cool, accessible to all and indeed vital to the whole country. Modelled on the Cycling Embassy of Denmark it will seek to put cycling first in all matters of policy and seek to change things for the better over here in the UK.  Jim writes that the new campaign will be;
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.

Some might think that we already have enough cycling campaigns here and that what we have is sufficient, but the creation of this new group stems directly from frustration with these existing campaigns.  Most excitingly of all it will; 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.

For me, those words about 'Hierarchy of Provision' are what are most exciting of all.   As a campaigning policy dreamt up by the CTC and adopted by the Department for Transport, 'Hierarchy of Provision' has failed to bring about mass cycling in the UK, or even in parts failed to stop the downward trend of cycling's modal share.  As a campaigning stance it was adopted by the UK Government in 1996 in it's policy document "Cycle-friendly infrastructure: Guidelines for planning and design" and states that Dutch-style infrastructure should be considered as a 'last resort' after traffic reduction, traffic calming, junction treatments and painted bicycle lanes or shared bus lanes.  Attempting to reduce traffic volumes in the UK has not been a success, as I've highlighted before in my previous post on the National Travel Survey.  Whilst of course this proposed hierarchy is desirable on paper, personally I feel all too often it's been used for political purposes to avoid providing quality infrastructure where it should be.  To be frank, this policy is car-centric and about ameliorating the conditions of vehicular cycling, not about putting the bicycle first...

A storm in a tea cup? A bit of a blow on the blogs?  Nothing but pie-in-the-sky dreaming and a waste of time?  Shouldn't we just leave it all up to the existing campaigns?! 

Maybe, maybe not. 

But whilst cycling is out of favour with the Government it gives cyclists themselves an opportunity to influence the shape of things to come.  As Jim writes; "If it fails, I get egg on my face but get to catalogue why and we all learn from the experience but if we were to succeed, the rewards would be incredible for everyone."  Put like that, it's worth rocking the boat a little, don't you think?


Isla... said...

Hiya Mark,

Your reference to Charlie Holland is exactly why Jim's idea needs to succeed, because what the heirarchy of provision doesn't cater for, is exactly what would make those Mums happy (cough...and Dads!)

I think we are at a critical point in this country, where 'motoring' doesn't just own the roads, but the pavements also, and for all the will in the world it just isn't good for anybody for the current trend to continue.

A cycle campaign that proposes to tackle that is exactly what we need & good on Jim for his efforts.

Ali B said...

Good luck with the new campaign, I wish it all the best. Can I suggest though, that its best to refrain from the personal attacks that seem to becoming more regular on freewheeler's no comments allowed blog. It's great to challenge, but sadly, as in the recent attack on Rossana Downes showed, he sometimes needs to check his facts. We'll get change from working together, not personal attacks of the 'if you're not with us, you're fair game type'

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the post. A very good read indeed!

The website, although VERY much in its infancy has been set up with rudimentary forum and I'll be releasing details today.

We have to do something and this is the time of year to prepare. And we need Ambassadors and Consulates within the Embassy for Cargo Bikes, Londoners and other weird sects :-)

Keep the faith and happy cycling!


ibikelondon said...

@Ali B Maybe Freewheeler is reading this? Who knows? Rossana and I had a little discourse yesterday via Twitter and she made it clear that her tweets were those of her own and not the CTC and I happily respect that. I agree it's frustrating that you can't leave comments on his blog, but that's just his style. I do want to get a badge made up though that says 'I am not Freewheeler!'.

For everyone who is wondering what Ali and I are talking about, we mean this:

Ali B said...

@Mark I'm almost afraid to comment online on cycling issues in case I become the subject of freewheeler's frequent personal attacks :-(

Anonymous said...

This is gonna get ugly, but it's about time. Bring on the new organisation.

christhebull said...

"Dutch-style infrastructure should be considered as a 'last resort' after traffic reduction, traffic calming, junction treatments and painted bicycle lanes or shared bus lanes."

Well, we know what has been going wrong for the past 15 years.

Traffic reduction? Massive increase in the number of registered vehicles more like. Traffic calming in British towns seems to consist of hazardous pinch points; painted cycle lanes are usually far too narrow; and "shared" bus lanes allow cyclists to get overtaken dangerously close by buses, and then get stuck behind them at bus stops. Oxford Street is the "ultimate" example of a bus lane, and yet for some reason it is not a very pleasent cycling route. However, as far as this 'Hierarchy of Provision' is concerned, we have near perfect cycling conditions, and all it will take for us to become a cycling utopia is for a few more Red Routes to have blue stripes painted along the inside edge.

A good example of this impaired thinking is in the redesign of the southern Elephant and Castle roundabout - while it is clearly an improvement, it is still a bit naff, with the choice of either a filter lane and ASL, or dodging pedestrians on a toucan crossing. Clearly the huge expanse of paved area was not enough for a proper segregated crossing. Meanwhile, the larger and more dangerous northern roundabout, and the dual carriageway linking them, are left unchanged, because it's easier to have the Stupidhighway dodge around back streets than to actually redesign hazardous junctions.

ibikelondon said...

I'm not sure there is any need for anything to turn ugly so long as everyone is prepared to have their current status quo questioned - whichever side of any debate one might be on. What's important (and what I'm trying to demonstrate with this post) is that the desire for change is clearly there and there's a large appetite for it.

If we can all keep an open mind and an air of civility there's enough to gain that it's worth having this conversation in the first place. Status quo should never be maintained purely to keep the peace. :o)

Clive Chapman said...

As was inevitable this appeared on a Rugby Forum I regularly frequent.

I must stress that this forum is not for the thin skinned or the faint hearted, it regularly pushes the boundaries of what can be deemed "good taste".

The link above is the thread about the Italian motorist/bike crash. As I guessed when I saw the thread it soon descended into an anti bike rant.

But this is the attitude of most motorists to bikes, and I also believe that the Evangelical attitude of some Bike campaigners only makes our case worse to the very people we have to convince.

From my very middle of the road point of veiw (no pun intended) both camps are equally at fault and refuse point blank to even consider the other sides viewpoint. Until we see some understanding from both camps then the views on the Planet Rugby Forum will only continue to prevail.

I must emphasise that that is my perception of things and may well be not be the case. But perception is everything and soon becomes a fact for everybody.

Let's start on altering perceptions instead of lecturing every man and his dog on the fact that we're right all the time.

Again, not the case, but that's the perception.

ibikelondon said...

Hi Clive,

Thanks for stopping by with your thoughts and apologies it's taken me a little while to get back to you (real life getting in the way of internet fun again - grrr)

The cycling incident in Italy is truly tragic. The response on the rugby forum is sad, but not surprising.
I've written about this sort of thing, and cycling's PR problem before;

I agree that we need to change hearts and minds - outside of cycling circles most people would have no idea what segregated vs integrated or provision of hierarchy is all about. So Jim, and his new campaign, will also always seek to portray cycling a fun, positive and achievable light (as I try to do here on the blog) Hopefully the more everyday and ordinary people we have cycling in this world the more hearts and minds we can change!

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