It is very easy to be ‘in favour of cycling’ or ‘in favour of more cycling’ in some form or another. We can all make statements about how wonderful cycling is for health, for the environment, for congestion, for reducing pollution, and how we would all like to see more of it. Nice, non-contentious words.
However, it is much less easy to translate these kinds of blanket statements of endorsement into action – being in support of specific policy to enable cycling. Very often when you scratch a ‘cycling endorser’ who only talks in generalities you will find someone who isn’t actually all that bothered about cycling at all, especially when it conflicts with their preconceived ideas about how roads and streets should be designed, and should function.
Perhaps one of the most extreme and obvious examples of this phenomenon is the curious ‘StopCS11’ campaign. Committed to preventing the building of any meaningful cycling infrastructure as part of ‘Superhighway 11’ in London, StopCS11 simultaneously maintained they were ‘in favour of cycling’.
Naturally, this is precisely the kind of rhetoric that is attractive to politicians who are actually opposed to cycling infrastructure. SNP politicians in Bearsden, for instance. Magnatom has done a great job dissecting their statement on the Bearsway cycle route. The SNP is of course supportive of ‘policies and measures to get people across the whole local authority getting more active’ and wants to ‘encourage walking and cycling to school by identifying safe routes’ while ‘encouraging motorists to use other forms of transport’. Who wouldn’t be in favour of that!
But will all that support and encouragement translate into getting behind a scheme that will actually enable active travel – allowing kids to cycle to school, and making cycling a viable alternative for people who are currently using their car?
“The SNP overwhelmingly supports residents cycling, but rather across the whole of East Dunbartonshire, instead of one single route, which looks doomed to fail at significant cost to the public.”
No. The SNP is in favour of ‘supporting’ cycling everywhere in East Dunbartonshire, except – by sheer, unfortunate coincidence – for the one road where meaningful cycling infrastructure is actually being proposed.
To be clear, you can’t be ‘in favour of cycling’ if you stand opposed to schemes that will actually enable it. No amount of positive noise about encouragement, training, persuasion, ‘identifying routes’ somewhere else, or ‘considering other options’ can mask that. If you can’t back specific schemes, and can only talk in generalities, then it’s pretty obvious what your support actually amounts to.
Much the same applies to people who resort to talk of favouring ‘incremental change’ when they make their opposition to road space reallocation in favour of cycling. Whether it’s a complaint about boldness, or about small, allegedly more cost-effective measures being better, or the usefulness of other initiatives, none of these vague endorsements of different kinds of interventions or approaches will alter the fact that you don’t particularly like cycling infrastructure, and indeed that you don’t think schemes like the new protected cycleways in central London should have been built in the first place.
In an on-line discussion with a journalist who has a particular stock in trade writing about how cycling in London is dominated by middle-class men, I found a curious reluctance to actually endorse the new cycling infrastructure in London that is actually enabling cycling for everyone. Indeed, pointing out how cycling is a minority pursuit while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that cycling infrastructure is the best way of addressing that inequality of use is perverse, especially when you can’t come up with any answers about how you would enable women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities to cycle on hostile roads in the absence of that new cycling infrastructure.
The real test of being ‘in favour’ of cycling isn’t words, or pointing to other initiatives, or arguing that enabling cycling is ‘complex’ – it is supporting on-the-ground changes that make cycling an attractive, safe and easy option for everyone. If you can’t do that, and talk in generalities instead of endorsing specific physical interventions, then you’re not ‘in favour’ at all.