In favour of cycling

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’.

In favour of cycling; just not in favour of doing anything to make it a viable mode of transport.

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.

Young kids cycling back to Tower Hamlets on Upper Thames Street. They would not be doing this without cycling infrastructure that separates them from the HGVs in the background.

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.

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9 Responses to In favour of cycling

  1. Mr. Parent says:

    I personally think we could settle this once and for all. Select a town in UK (Ipswich would be a good place to start) and spend all the money making that town cycle friendly. Then you can monitor the effectiveness of this strategy and, if it works, move it out to the rest of UK.
    London is the worst place to start this (even if it is possibly the most in need) because it is so full of conflicting needs and wants and is extremely congested. Ipswich, on the other hand, has a minor congestion problem in certain areas, that are worsened when the Orwell Bridge is closed due to wind. If it turns out that the wind issue on the Orwell is negated by people cycling (on a windy day??? Maybe) then it proves that cycling has had a positive impact on an extremely complex congestion issue.
    Of course it would have to be done fully and with consultation from intelligent cycling infrastructure planners, perhaps from NL. Ipswich is very close to Harwich, which has a fast link to NL over water, so makes it great for ferrying people to either side of the water to look at the methods needed to make it work.
    Don’t forget, Suffolk is often an overlooked County and so nobody in the rest of the UK would mind if Ipswich was ruined by the plan and the town would have a lot to gain by the gamble. Suffolk has the goal of being the greenest and healthiest County and this would go a long way to meeting that goal.

    • paulc says:

      The triangle area between Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury would also form an excellent trial area…

      especially if a big increase in ordinary cycling between Cheltenham and Gloucester took pressure off the main roads… there is an NCN route, but it goes almost twice as far as the straight line distance, has terrible surface in some areas and ridiculous barriers blocking anything other than a mountain bike

    • Tom says:

      This has been done, the Cycling Towns & Cities of the ’00’s; it’s proven, build bike infrastructure, people use it in large numbers. London is doing what it’s doing because the population is growing, most of the peak traffic over the bridges is bikes, unless you design streets for cycling too many people die.

    • awavey says:

      Ipswich, well Suffolk really on Ipswich’s behalf, spent 21million pounds of Department of Transport money in the last 4-5 years on a travel/transport scheme “fit the 21st century”.

      I bet you cant guess how much of that money they spent on making improvements for cycling ? no it wasnt zero,but it wasnt much more than that, as an example of the kind of stuff they spent check out Warrington cycle clubs September 2016 cycle fa(r)cility of the month

  2. Kevin Love says:

    In my opinion, London is the best place to start precisely because it is so congested. That congestion can be eliminated by simply implementing the Dutch model. This means a car-free city centre, systematic elimination of all rat-runs in all residential areas, and infrastructure that results in walking, cycling or public transit being the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling from A to B.

  3. What sticks in Dave Hill’s craw is that the majority of London’s current cycling infrastructure was initiated by Boris Johnson. Ideologically it’s therefore anathema to him, so he prefers to waffle on about small local initiatives such as bike mending and talk shops, which may or may not encourage new and ethnic people to try cycling and make any significant difference to the growing numbers of Londoners using bikes for their everyday transport needs for the very first time.

  4. Pingback: In favour of cycling) As Easy As Riding A Bike

  5. jrhawkins2015 says:

    London is precisely the place where the funds.need to be spent first. I see no point in doing it where the business case is less compelling.

  6. Robbie Craig says:

    Well said. Nice article. I am amazed how many people now cycle in London and not just on the superhighways. I went for a coffee near the Bank of England last week, aside from people on foot, the bulk of the traffic through the junction was on bicycles. The cars, taxis and buses basically got in the way. Good infra, like the east-west, can help reclaim more of the city from vehicles for people. The argument used against cycle infra is often at odds with the arguments the same people deploy to justify the weak arguments for building “relief” and “link” roads.

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