Andrew Jones MP – the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, with specific responsibility for cycling – spoke (and answered questions) at an All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group meeting on Tuesday last week. A video of that meeting was recorded by the APPCG – you can see it here.
The full video is 36 minutes long, but at about the 4:45 mark, Jones has this to say –
One thing I think we do need to do, and that’s change some of the music around the whole sector. At the moment it is I think often quite negative. And I think we need to change that. In fact I am slightly puzzled by people who say that cycling is such fun always seem to have such a negative social profile. Social media sometimes lends itself to that. But we won’t encourage more people to making these choices unless it is a positive choice. And it is a positive choice. It is positive because it is fun. It is good for the environment. It is good for you. There aren’t that many things that are good for you and that are fun, but cycling is one of those things. It also helps tackle congestion within our streets. So the upsides of cycling and walking are just fantastic. So I want this to be a very positive moment. I want the Cycling and Walking Strategy publication to be a bit of a landmark, where we start to see more support going in, but we start to talk about things in a more positive way, and try to encourage people to make that trial if they haven’t been cycling for a while, or to make that switch to a more permanent choice.
These are curious comments. The implication is that if people who have enthusiasm about cycling as a mode of transport somehow fail to be ‘positive’, we won’t ‘encourage more people’ to cycle.
Now I wouldn’t be a cycle campaigner if I didn’t think cycling was a fantastic mode of transport – I am positive about it, in that sense. It’s a straightforward, cheap, fun, fast, and convenient way of getting about, almost certainly the fastest way of getting about in urban areas. It is an enabling mode of transport that will make all our lives better.
But that does not mean my enthusiasm will extend to cycling in any conditions; nor does it mean my enthusiasm has to extend to any initiative, from government or otherwise, that alleges to be ‘for’ cycling. Nor does my enthusiasm mean that I won’t be critical about policies that will have negligible effect, or will be useless, or actively harmful.
Equally, I resent the implication that being critical (or ‘negative’) will in some way keep anyone from cycling. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that the main barrier to cycling uptake in Britain is an absence of safe, attractive cycling environments; people do not want to cycle on motor-traffic dominated roads and streets. No amount of sunny ‘positivity’ is going to change this; likewise, no realism about the fact poor cycling environments are a serious barrier to cycling is going to stop people from cycling.
I am more than happy to be positive about policy that will genuinely enable cycling; to be positive about policy that does lead to changes to the way our roads and streets are designed, to allow anyone to cycle. But the blunt reality is that government has a consistent, long track record of failure in this regard, particularly when it comes to leading on the matter of design.
In this regard it is particularly noteworthy that, in the very same APPCG meeting, the Minister described the frankly woeful LTN 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design as ‘fit for purpose’. It is nothing of the kind – instead it is out of date, filled with half-hearted (and often mistaken) advice, a document of low horizons and lazy compromises, one that has very little to offer in the way of inclusive design.
In the face of such complacency, negativity is precisely the right response.