Last Saturday, I attended the launch event of the Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, at Look Mum No Hands. Much has already been written about this meeting, so I won’t add a description of what transpired.
Needless to say, I wish this campaign the very best. It has inspired me to start this blog, and indeed to start campaigning.
I have always enjoyed riding my bicycle. As a younger man, I used to commute from Kentish Town to Victoria – a distance of about five miles across central London. It was the quickest, cheapest and most convenient way of making this journey. I also found it enjoyable. I liked the thrill of tackling the traffic, dealing with fast-moving motor vehicles, working my way through congestion. It was exciting.
But not everyone is like me. Not everyone likes getting togged up in specialist cycling gear. Not everyone likes having to make themselves extremely visible to potentially inattentive motorists. Not everyone likes having to deal with near misses, or indeed not-so-near misses. Not everyone likes having to cycle at ‘vehicular’ speeds, the kind of speeds that makes it possible to negotiate fast-moving multi-lane gryatories.
In fact, I suspect the reality is that most people are like the lady in the picture at the top of this blog. If they happen to be riding a bicycle, and they encounter a large, motor vehicle-oriented junction, they won’t try and cycle with the traffic. Instead they will improvise their way across, trying to avoid the traffic as much as possible. Indeed, they will probably cycle to and from such a junction on the pavement, just like this lady did.
This is not because they are outlaws; it’s probably because, while they enjoy many aspects of riding their bike – the convenience, for instance – they are frankly disinclined to use their bicycle in the way they are currently expected to on Britain’s roads, especially when it forces them to mix with heavy traffic. This much is tacitly admitted by the glossy advertising campaigns that urge us to use our bicycles; the bucolic images of apparently traffic-free cycling they present –
are entirely misrepresentative of what cycling in urban areas actually entails.
If we are ever going to have a mass cycling culture in this country, this is what needs to be accepted and understood. Rather than simply telling people who are reluctant to mix it with fast-moving traffic on busy roads that they have nothing to fear, or that they just need to be more assertive, or that if enough of them just get out there on the road, they will be safe in numbers, what we need to do is to cater for what they actually want. Because for most people, cycling is deeply unattractive as a way of getting about, by comparison with the motor vehicle. This is reflected in the statistics. If cycling on Britain’s roads is that brilliant, we would not have such a pitiful modal share. People aren’t stupid, and they will vote with their feet (or wheels).
Riding a bike should be easy. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Jim Davis, we currently live in a society in which doing easy things – riding a bicycle, or walking, to the shops – has been made needlessly difficult, while simultaneously doing things that should be difficult – like using a large motor vehicle to make those kinds of short journeys – has continued to remain easy.
I hope the Cycling Embassy can go some way towards redressing this balance.