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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Cities fit for Cycling

I am extremely pleased to see that a national newspaper has given the safety of cyclists (and the inherent hostility of our present road network to them) the attention it so sorely deserves. I was even more amazed that it was none other than The Times who were behind this movement. The Cities fit for Cyclists campaign shows an understanding of the underlying issues, where it could have been all too easy to start talking about helmets or other such easy but ineffective measures. Needless to say, I encourage you all to sign up.

However, my joy at the issue of cyclist safety and the importance of infrastructure receiving such attention was dampened somewhat when I tried to encourage friends outside of cycling circles to sign up too. Surprisingly to me, the issue of 20 mph in residential areas appeared to be a bit of contentious one. The issue of children's freedom to play outside without motor traffic being a threat did not seem to be a significant persuader either, with the long history of children playing on the streets seeming to have been quickly forgotten by some. Inevitably, the issue that cycling, walking or public transport are not viable for every journey made by every person came up. Whilst true, it is my experience that this argument is often used to justify car use which, at least in the right road environment, could easily be made through walking or cycling. Walking, cycling and public transport are unlikely to be viable for every single journey made by every single person in the UK. This does not change the fact that they could be made viable for the vast majority of journeys made by the vast majority of people. To me, raising the limitations of our current public transport system is merely an acknowledgement of the need to invest in the expansion of our rail and bus services.

It didn't take long for the issue of the law-breaking behaviour of some cyclists to come up, despite its dubious relevance to the topic at hand. As a member of a vilified minority group, I am often expected to justify the behaviour of others within the same minority group, despite the fact that I have nothing to do with them. I acknowledged the bad behaviour of a minority of cyclists and gently pointed out the bad behaviour of (what I generously described as) a minority of motorists, including the red light jumping and pavement driving (both of which are regarded as reprehensible behaviour when cyclists do it but largely tolerated when motorists do it). The issue of motorist behaviour was mostly ignored.

The Times' Cities fit for Cyclists campaign is an enormous and welcome step in the right direction. However, the responses to my attempts at promoting of the campaign show that we need to keep plugging away at this issue to bring in further into the mainstream.


  1. I have to sy that I share your concerns. It's not that I have spoken to anyone else (who isn't a cyclist) about it so far, and like you I am first and foremost pleased to see the national quality press take this issue up so vocally, but the tenor of some of the reaction troubles me.

    The letters page today brought out the Neanderthal in some non-cyclist correspondents - we had the crap about road tax and the barking idea of cycle licence plates (how does any of this apply to the single biggest group of cyclists - children?) but we also had some of that macho-males stuff about how it is fine really you just have to be brave and assertive but stay away from the sides of HGVs, as though it were we, not they , which are the problem.

    It also makes me uneasy to see some of the people who have tweeted to support the campaign - even Boris Johnson I believe. You just know that they are only doing this because they feel they must, to attract votes, and they have a highly selective take on what aspects of the campaign they might be supporting (more training, of course, and more driver education, and of course changes to HGV safety design which not even our national politicians can influence now that this is an EU matter.) I sonehow doubt Edmund King really wants to see 20 zones all over, or road space taken away from cars to make separated cycle tracks, or a humungous 2% (two percent - fancy that eh?) of the roads budget spent on cycling.

    A major cycle chain, Evans, tweeted first about cycling as sport (not - I thought, the point of the Times campaign) and more recently about seeing through the eyes of the HGV driver. Whose side are they on?

  2. Cycling is not suitable for everyone or for every occasion. Of course, exactly the same can be said about driving.
    "Vilifying cyclists". Cycling, the last socially acceptable prejudice, apparently. Replace the word "cyclist" with "Jew" and people might actually engage brain before opening mouth.


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