I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out –
— Bruce McVean (@brucemcvean) February 24, 2014
That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?
There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.
They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.
They will ride bikes around central London on a day out, when the roads are closed for them.
British kids in general like to whizz about on two wheels, even at a very young age.
The trouble is that this experience of cycling – on holiday, or on seafronts, or under certain conditions – does not seem to correspond to the British public’s everyday perception of cycling, which is… not fun. In fact it often looks like absolute misery.
To be clear, I’m not blaming people for wearing hi-visibility clothing, or helmets, or pollution masks. They are a response to generally atrocious road conditions – a way for people to help themselves feel safer.
And those road conditions are the central issue. People cannot imagine themselves cycling around in our towns and cities, even if they are happy to hop on a bike when they are on holiday. It just looks completely foreign, dangerous, even absurd.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Ordinary day-to-day cycling could be as fun and enjoyable as it is on a seafront, or on a day out. We just have to change our streets to allow it.
Cycling to school could be fun.
Cycling in cities could be fun.
Cycling across a busy urban junction could be fun.
Cycling by a dual carriageway could be fun.
Trips from the city into the countryside could be fun.
Cycling around as a family could be fun.
You get the idea.
The challenge, of course, is convincing the British that this fun, stress-free mode of transport could be available to them on a day-to-day basis, if we want it to be; that it doesn’t have to look like it does now, on the streets of most British cities and towns.
Can we bridge that gap? I hope so.