In the run up to my visit to Amsterdam three weeks ago, I read In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan. I always thought that my first reference of this excellent book would be in relation to my excellent trip. I was wrong.
After Amsterdam’s Three large-scale bike demonstrations in 1974, in the summers of 1975 and 1976 bike demos became annual events that drew ever bigger crowds – 3,000 participants in 1975, 4,000 in 1976. Then in June 1977, an even larger bike demo took place. Nine thousand Amsterdammers – including a great many senior citizens and families with children – rode on a route that originated on Beursplein and ended in Vondelpark. The dense procession of cyclists stretched for two thirds of a mile.
A flyer was distributed to the cyclists at the outset of the 1977 ride. The flyer outlined the planned route and also advised how to handle anyone irritated by the demonstrations “Avoid getting into a wrangle with motorists. You don’t need to come to blows with loudmouths. There are already enough [traffic] casualties. Maybe, due to your dignified demeanour, they’ll join us next time – on a bike”. A number of obstructed motorists did bombard the cyclists with abuse. “Bastards!” shouted one motorist. “Tonight you’ll be asking for a ride again!”
A feature of the 1977 demo was a carefully coordinated stop on Museumplein, where thousands of cyclists lay down with their bikes to commemorate the 3,000 traffic fatalities suffered annually in Holland. After a moment of silence and a short eulogy, the cyclists then arose and rang thousands of bicycle bells. Then they “cycled for their lives” to the closing festivities in Vondelpark”
The above image is from the events just described and in the sublime film ‘How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths’ by Mark Wagenbuur. I had the pleasure of riding through the newly reopened bicycle path through the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum with my not so reopened or refurbished host, Marc van Woudenberg. I was already familiar with the post war years of struggle in Amsterdam and the Netherlands generally and as I coasted through this glorious piece of infrastructure looking out across Museumplein it felt deeply fulfilling that such protest and anger were not in vain. However, my experiences will have to wait.
Let’s fast forward to London, November 2013.
To say it had been a macabre month for the nations capital city would be reckless understatement. In the space of two weeks, six cyclists had lost their lives taking the death toll in London up to 14.
Although an initial vigil was held at Bow Roundabout organised by London Cycling Campaign following yet another tragedy involving a left turning HGV, sadly events even overtook that resulting in a ‘Die-In’ vigil, organised outside the headquarters of TfL by a new ‘grass roots’ campaign called Stop the Killing of Cyclists, I assume based on Stop de Kindermoord (‘Stop the Child Murders’). By the way, here is an excellent BBC World Service Podcast on how the 1973 Dutch grassroots movement got underway.
The demands [in London] are as follows:
1.The Mayor and Boroughs to spend at least the same per person on cycling provision as The Netherlands (the UK spends about £1.25 per person – the Netherlands spends about £33 per person)
2. A ban on vehicles whose drivers cannot see adjacent road-users.
3. A full London-wide segregated network to be built urgently
It got some coverage from news channels and all involved thought it to be a great success. The picture above was actually taken from the point of view of the TfL offices so it much have looked quite dramatic.
All stirring stuff.
I was therefore a little bit taken unawares when Mikael Colville-Andersen, leading bicycle and urbanism advocate, writer of Copenhagenize and direct influence for me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started writing the following tweets:
Lack of intelligent, modern advocacy is just another reason why London and UK languish in the basement of the urban cycling league.
8:03pm · 29 Nov 13
In the UK today, a couple thousand people convinced tens of thousands of their fellow citizens never to ride a bicycle again. Well done.
9:36pm · 29 Nov 13
Sub-cultural peacocking – based on protest styles hailing from early 70s – are hopefully ineffective in 2013.
9:41pm · 29 Nov 13
If you look at the two photos, you will notice that, in the Amsterdam picture, not one of the protesters is wearing a helmet, or anything reflective – just ordinary people wanting to get around by bicycle, highlighting the carnage occurring on Dutch roads affecting every citizen at the time whether they rode a bicycle or not as well as taking a stand against the city of Amsterdam being smashed up further to make more space for the motor car.
The more recent photo, of London, tells a different story. Tragic, emotive and thought provoking but for different reasons – it shows what happens when private and commercial motor vehicle dependence continues for a further 40 years unchecked at the expense of everything else from transport equality to social inclusion to health. Those that remain within the Church of Cycling become increasingly radicalised from the rest of society – a society that thinks nothing is wrong in terms of safety because the UK has an alright road safety record from the inside of a motor car and would even see cyclist and pedestrian injury and death as collateral damage in the name of ‘progress’. To the vast majority outside the world of cycle campaigning, the scene outside the TfL headquarters was of an out group, many in the expected uniform of hi visibility jackets, helmets and lycra easily picked out by car headlamp or a journalists camera flash. That picture of London allows cycling commissioners such as Andrew Gilligan to dismiss the protesters and make them look as radical as, say for example, the Republican Tea Party.
But that doesn’t make Andrew Gilligan right, and I have to respectfully agree to disagree with Mikael Colville-Andersen. In fact, had I still been living in London, I would have attended the event myself.
This is because we come onto yet another battleground in the wonderful, trippy wasteland of British bicycle advocacy – ‘Dangerising’. Apparently, by drawing attention to the fact that six people have died in two weeks and the death toll has already matched the previous year, it is in some way going to make cycling look dangerous, and put people off. It also, apparently, undermines the hard work that Boris Johnson, Andrew Gilligan and TfL have been putting in. Statistically, it may be a safe activity, but that only paints part of the picture.
I used to cycle to work every day in my younger years from Morden in deepest, darkest South London, to Camden Town – to be more precise, less than 50 metres from where a young woman faced ‘life changing’ injuries after being hit by an HGV last October. My commute took in such gems as the multi-lane gyratory at Vauxhall Cross. At the time it was an adventure. But I was a fit[ish], confident[ish] young male. Now I am a father and watching the age of 40 fade as it waves me slowly goodbye from the harbour edge, the thought of carrying out the same commute fills me with horror. The thought of carrying out the same ride with my 3 and a half year old boy doesn’t fill me with anything because it simply won’t happen. When I unfold my Brompton at Victoria Station to head to a meeting, I do it with the same look these days as a pensioner being cajoled onto a ride at Alton Towers, being told to stop whining as it won’t last long and might be quite fun. The facilities provided for cycling in London [and the rest of the UK] are the infrastructure equivalent of the riddles and jokes one finds in a box of Christmas crackers. Whenever I see tourists on Boris Bikes at Parliament Square and Embankment (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), they are always on the pavement and for good reason. If they wanted the level of subjective danger presented to them on the roads, they might as well have holidayed in Syria. This is because any plans for the future are anchored to the past - the incessant need to push as much motorised traffic through a given area under the deluded belief that it means prosperity and individuality.
The people that participated in the Die-In last Friday probably had better things to do on a Friday evening and there are better ways of campaigning but it has all come down to this. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If many were wearing cycle clothing and body armour with all the reflective bits, it is because the prevailing conditions have made them do so. These are people that have had to look grateful for every poorly designed, underfunded and compromised facility that has been set before them, and then take the flak when they ignore them. 40 years of neglect at the transport table has resulted in that photograph taken from the TfL offices. Most importantly, the remainder of people in the UK regard cycling as a dangerous activity regardless of protests like this.
If things are ever going to move forward, there needs to be greater liaison with elderly groups, disabled groups, pedestrian groups and even, dare I say it, motoring groups. They need to be shown examples of what does work, and why. This goes way beyond ‘space for cycling’ but creating more liveable neighbourhoods and quality networks for all. Otherwise bicycle advocacy will continue to be framed and then discarded with ease.
Today I am 41. As an early birthday treat last week, British Airways allowed me onto one of their flights to Amsterdam for an extended weekend, but only after I had to perform a minor and, if I’m honest, rather lacklustre striptease for them involving my jacket and belt.
My amiable host for this trippette was Marc van Woudenberg, better known to sections of society as Amsterdamize. Marc lives in De Wallen, better known to sections of society as the Red Light District – a heady mix of erotica, elegance and edginess. Quite often it was pleasing and fascinating enough to watch life go by from the vantage point of one of the windows to Marc’s apartment. However, as a budding stand up comedy new act (being trained by this lady), and in the interests of research as I put it to my host, I decided to head to one of the pubs in De Wallen on an early weekend evening so I may listen in on the conversations of my fellow countrymen as they summoned up the bravado and bullshit for the night ahead. That was the most unrewarding part of the trip. They still spoke about putting up shelves & football. It felt like a nervously cheery and beery waiting room for the condemned.
Anyway, the trip wasn’t just for pleasure; I was asked if I would like to pop along to the University of Amsterdam to write about a new building project reaching completion by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris for my new masters at World Architecture News so I made my way over there and back without any trouble.
I went to a lovely Bar/Restaurant on Scheldeplein with Marc and some of his friends followed by Ten Pin Bowling (Knijn Bowling Restaurant, Scheldeplein 3) where I demonstrated that being ‘British’ didn’t necessarily mean ‘Inept’ in such matters.
By day and dusk, I found myself travelling through streets of unbridled beauty, where leaves were turning colour with the same speed and enthusiasm as a tourist leaving a ‘coffee shop’. From there they fell on to cobbled surfaces below or onto a canal – to me the most sumptuous and decadent central reservation for any street. Above all, the quiet was deafening. One had time to stop, to look and to think. It had a grandeur and silent civility that should befit any UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beer has always assisted me in the thinking process. I discovered a bar specialising only in beers that assist Dutch thought, called Arendsnest or ‘The Eagles Nest’ (Herengracht 90). These are beers to be savoured, not raced, with a staff that are instantly able to judge how much a patron likes to think and advise in a courteous and professional manner the fluids that may best assist his/her thought process.
Marc took me to an excellent cafe where he likes to sit outside and think. The Cafe de Tuin (Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 13) is located in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. We discussed the issues of the day aided by Marc’s favourite thought assistance, Trappistes Rochefort 8 (brewed by these Belgian biblical boys). At 9.2% it required slow, deep, remarkably tasty thought.
We travelled around narrow, historic streets and more recently built suburbs. We crossed noisy, every-[wo]man-for-himself squares and hear-a-pin-drop districts, too quiet for a city centre.
What was that?…….oh, how did I get about Amsterdam?…….well, they made it so convenient and pleasant I would have been an idiot not to really…..
There will follow very shortly some more in depth posts regarding my experiences on that thing tethered to the lampost above. This post was just a tease (not quite as alluring as my effort at Gatwick Airport, granted) and here are some more images to keep you going…….
All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling Inquiry
HM Government Response (which may have been tweaked by the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club)
The Department for Transport is pleased to have the opportunity to respond on behalf of HM Government to the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report. The Department welcomes this report, as it has done everything in its power to suppress cycling over the past few decades and now has a golden opportunity to go for it again.
This response is made on behalf of the Department for Transport, which has the responsibility of trying to disperse as much responsibility for cycling policy as it can in England, outside London. Wales, Scotland and London have their own insipid programmes to support cycling.
The ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report’s 18 recommendations, and the Government’s response to these, are below.
1. Create a cycling budget of £10 per person per year, increasing to £20.
Since February 2012 the Department for Transport has made an additional £159 million available for cycling infrastructure in England. Projects include: some racks at railway stations; painting bicycle symbols on pavements in communities; schemes to improve the layout of road junctions to make them even less cycle friendly; and recently announced piecemeal schemes in cities and National Parks with some photos of smiling people in helmets and hi-viz jackets.
Following the £77 million of Cycle Ambition Grants announced by the Prime Minister for eight cities across England, investment in cycling in these areas is now in excess of £10 per head per year. Along with local contributions, this equates to £18 per head of population across the funding period.  
Making you think that figure meant the entire UK population was inspired by
 Watching old videos of The Paul Daniels Show
 …..and the bit from The David Copperfield Magic Show where he makes a Boeing 747 disappear. We’re thinking of drafting him in as a consultant for our Aviation Strategy.
94 of the 96 projects being funded by the Department for Transport’s £600 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund contain a cycling element. Together with local contributions, this is £1 billion of investment. Yes! We can’t believe we had the balls to write this stuff either! We’re thinking of changing our name from DfT to just LOL!!
Bikeability cycle training grant provides funding of up to £40 per child training place which will get forgotten outside the school gates as the roads are seen as too dangerous in the parent’s eyes.
2. Ensure local and national bodies, such as the Highways Agency, Department for Transport and local government allocate funds to cycling of at least the local proportion of journeys done by bike.
Through the Integrated Transport block, the Department for Transport is giving a significant amount of money to local authorities enabling them to design solutions appropriate to their local transport challenges, which is a bit like giving the Taliban funding to promote ‘International Women’s Day’.
The Highways Agency (HA) works with cycling organisations to provide parallel routes, safe access and crossing points to try and keep cyclists away from ‘The Precious’ (or ‘Strategic Route Network’). These schemes are funded within the HA’s portfolio of Microscopic Improvement Schemes, on which the expenditure is approximately £50 million each year across the portfolio (3% of the HA’s operational programme budget of c.£2 billion or ‘Fuck All’ to use basic transport vernacular).
Furthermore, significant junction upgrades and other improvements will help cyclists at locations on the HA’s trunk road network taking the risk factor from ‘Appallingly Designed & Lethal’ to ‘Appallingly Redesigned & Lethal’. A pittance will be invested in upgrades at 14 locations over the next two years, and a further pittance will be invested in 2015/16, with plans in place for many more similar schemes beyond that diluting the funding further so it has about as much impact as this document.
3. Cycle spending that makes a tangible contribution to other government departments, such as Health, Education, Sport and Business, should be funded from those budgets, not just the DfT.
The Government just worked out that cycling improves health (and have officially stopped using Boris Johnson as a gauge. That just confused matters) but not quite sure how to apply this new knowledge. So we are going to chuck £1 million over the next two years to be shared across at least four of the eight Cycling Ambition Grant cities in a desperate hope that someone rides a bicycle or eats an apple or does something healthy or something.
Across the country as a whole, cycling stands to benefit from the Government’s healthcare reforms where it can be used to deliver against local health priorities. Responsibility and funding (worth £5.45 billion over the next two years) for public health has been devolved to local authorities that haven’t a clue about bicycles or are hostile about bicycles. Oh, and £5.45 billion is about the same amount that the NHS spends each year alone on obesity and obesity related diseases.
This places local authorities in a much stronger position to stuff up the wider determinants of health, including transport, through adopting a more holistic approach to the planning and delivery of local services. Statutory guidance from DH specifically mentions the need for Health and Wellbeing Boards to consider transport as a wider determinant of health when drawing up Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and highlights the opportunity to use Health and Wellbeing Strategies to join up health and transport services…………….No, we don’t have a clue what that paragraph meant either……………………..erm…………………….does jogging to catch a bus count?
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport also fund cycling at elite and community levels through the Mr-Tickle’s-arms-length bodies UK Sport and Sport England who both work with British Cycling which is as relevant to mass cycling in Britain as Bonsai conservation or the origins of the litter bin.
On the plus side, a whip-round of £507.34 will be ring fenced to get Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish to shut the fuck up on the subject of helmet compulsion.
4. A statutory requirement that cyclists’ and pedestrians’ needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes, including housing and business developments as well as traffic and transport schemes, including funding through the planning system.
The National Planning Policy Framework introduced in 2011 can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:
The Department’s technical guidance on designing for residential developments, Manual for Streets, can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:
The Department’s guidance on providing for cyclists, Local Transport Note 2/08: Cycle Infrastructure Design, can be ignored if it means taking space from cars:
The Government has already helped local authorities to provide for cyclists, for example by making it easier to introduce contraflow cycling using ‘no entry except cyclists’ signing. Contraflow cycling means that cyclists can use one-way streets to avoid the busiest roads and junctions in the absence of anything decent there and will cause a welcome orgasm for Editors of Local Newspapers and the expert commenters that they attract.
Through the revised Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, due in 2015, Government will be making further changes to make it easier for councils to install cycle facilities, by removing the requirement for Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists (such as ‘No Right Turn Except Cycles’). At least until Eric Pickles decides to open his trap as it will be seen as ‘anti-car’.
5. Revise existing design guidance, to include more secure cycling parking, continental best practice for cycle-friendly planning and design, and an audit process to help planners, engineers and architects to ‘think bike’ in all their work.
The Department’s guidance for local authorities on providing for cyclists, Local Transport Note 2/08: Cycle Infrastructure Design, was published in 2008. It provides comprehensive advice on designing and installing a wide range of measures which is nearly always ignored with local authorities instead drawing deep draughts of inspiration from the works of Jackson Pollock.
The Department will also consider endorsement and promotion of TfL’s new cycle infrastructure guidance outside London when it is published next year advising red and green paint to be switched to Barclays Blue and junctions worthy of ‘The Krypton Factor’.
DfT will be organising a summit later this year on cycling infrastructure which will focus on training for designers and practitioners. It is intended that input will be sought from professional bodies that haven’t designed a decent cycle facility in their lives.
Many of the measures identified as good practice in other countries are already possible in Britain, for example fully segregated cycle lanes and providing a form of priority for cyclists at side roads. Decisions on how best to provide for cyclists on local roads are just over the North Sea with national government showing a lead but instead we want it handed down to local authorities – not only do they have a duty to put the car first when considering how to design and manage their road networks, but they also tend to despise anything from mainland Europe for some reason.
The Department for Transport also plans to take action to help local authorities to:-
Share a glittering history of appalling practice, lack of knowledge and no experience on the engineering and traffic management solutions sadly all too readily available to address common challenges to making roads more cycle-friendly;
Investigate opportunities for local government collaboration in the preparation and testing of old masquerading as new engineering (think ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ and you get the general idea) and traffic management solutions (to shoehorn badly compromised cycling ‘solutions’ around getting as much motorised traffic through their areas); and
Help local authorities identify how best to involve cyclists themselves in identifying the right solutions to local challenges by consulting with local groups and then building a shared use pavement anyway but now ticking the box that says ‘consulted with cyclists’.
6. The Highways Agency should draw up a programme to remove the barriers to cycle journeys parallel to or across trunk roads and motorway corridors, starting with the places where the potential for increased cycle use is greatest.
In his statement on 12th August 2013, the Prime Minister announced that cycling will be at the heart of future road developments. He committed to ensuring that all new big road developments will incorporate the needs of cyclists into their planning and design (using politically compromised designers, non-existent standards and ignored guidelines) in an ongoing commitment to put infrastructure currently regarded as a joke internationally everywhere.
Work will begin immediately on junction re-hashes and other pointless meddling that will keep cyclists on the trunk road network on their toes. £5 million will be invested in upgrades at 14 locations with design or construction work starting this year and a further £15 million will be invested in 2015 to 2016, with plans in place for many more similar schemes beyond that. Oh, by the way, £28 billion was announced for the Strategic Road Network only last month. I repeat: £28 billion. And I repeat again: £28 billion.
The Highways Agency is working with cycling groups to provide training for highway engineers so that they design cycle friendly road improvements. You might as well have Jeremy Clarkson teaching the works of Socrates through the art of Improvisational Dance.
The Highways Agency liaises with local cycling groups and has recently opened up yet more dialogue with British Cycling. The Highways Agency also hosts the Vulnerable Road Users Committee attended by vulnerable road user groups, including Sustrans and CTC, twice a year. Which is nice. For ‘committee’, read ‘box ticking exercise’ or ‘County Cycle Forum’ for sheer effectiveness.
7. Local authorities should seek to deliver cycle-friendly improvements across their existing roads, including small improvements, segregated routes, and road reallocation.
The Department for Transport expects local authorities to up their game from ‘appalling’ to ‘slightly-appalling-but-we-have-now-been-to-a-conference’ in delivering infrastructure that takes cycling into account from the design stage.
The Department for Transport provides funding to local authorities to implement improvements to their local road infrastructure, but it is for local authorities to prioritise schemes dependent on motorist’s wishes.
Local authorities have a duty to consider the needs of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians as a last resort, when managing their road networks. In making changes they should consider the needs of all users, including vulnerable pedestrians such as elderly people and those other non-driving leeches with mobility issues or visual impairments. This is usually solved with painting a bicycle symbol on the pavement to keep everyone suitably antagonised and energised. Until a car or tradesman’s van parks on it.
8. The Department for Transport should approve and update necessary new regulations such as allowing separate traffic lights for cyclists and commencing s6 of the Road Traffic Act 2004.
It is intended that new regulations will be brought into force in 2015. As well as new traffic lights to give cyclists a ‘sporting chance’ at junctions, other measures being considered include:
Removing the requirement for a lead-in lane for cyclists at advanced stop lines, making it easier for highway authorities to install advanced stop lines at junctions that are ignored by motorists and putting cyclists in a pole position more tense than the start of the Monaco Grand Prix;
Options for joint crossings for use by both pedestrians and cyclists, filter signals for cyclists, options for bigger cycle boxes (advanced stop lines), removing the requirement for Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists, such as ‘no right turn except cycles’. This will make it easier for local authorities to implement the same crap they always have, but even more so.
In advance of the revisions to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions the Government has already made it easier to:
Palm off the Introduction of 20mph speed restrictions to Local Authorities that haven’t the money to implement them properly and police them even less. All of the successful Cycling Ambition Grant cities have plans to introduce area-wide 20mph speed limits as part of their programme to make city streets more cycle-friendly; which is not exactly how it’s implemented in mainland Europe but trying to introduce networks for different modes, and cutting off rat runs involves thinking and doing stuff.
Use “Trixi” mirrors at junctions so that lorry and bus drivers can see cyclists more easily before coming into inevitable and occasionally fatal contact. But at least it can be seen from different angles now.
9. Extend 20 mph speed limits in towns, and consider 40mph limits on
many rural lanes.
Local authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits in line with their local conditions and requirements meaning a national lack of consistency.
It is important that local authorities take a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects and the inevitable guff from the letters page of the local newspaper on how it’s ‘Health & Safety gone mad’, not to mention the Association of British Drivers (think of a UKIP that’s spectacularly more ignorant and you start to get the general idea).
10. Improve HGV safety by vehicle design, driver training, and mutual awareness with cyclists; promote rail freight and limit use of HGVs on the busiest urban streets at the busiest times, and use public sector projects to drive fleet improvements.
DfT Ministers are treating this issue (the risk posed to cyclists by HGVs) as a priority, because it’s keeps grabbing the headlines (although it always appears to be ‘cyclist collided with…..’ in the press) and have had a number of discussions with the Mayor of London which was like negotiating a migraine. He even used ‘lassitude’ which made things even less clear.
The Department for Transport is now updating some guidance which can also be ignored as we’re shoving yet more responsibility out to the provinces without giving a steer or lead or anything.
Government is promoting the further development of the Strategic Rail Freight Network and has ring-fenced a further £230 million in the period 2014-2019 for the rail industry in Great Britain to take forward its own priority projects on freight. This has nothing to do with what would actually work for cycling but it allows us to insert another ‘headline figure’ in there
We are introducing new standards on Mirrors and camera technology because it’s easier and less tiresome than coming up with standards for quality bicycle infrastructure. And don’t get us started on junctions. No, really – don’t get us started.
11. Strengthen the enforcement of road traffic law, including speed limits, and ensuring that driving offences – especially those resulting in death or injury – are treated sufficiently seriously by police, prosecutors and judges.
All road users have a duty to use the road network in a safe and responsible manner and to obey road traffic law. That’s about all we have to say on the subject other than some meetings are going to be held and some blather about stakeholders. Obviously we can’t bring in US style gun laws so we just wanted the car to be the weapon of choice for people that may have a grievance without all the formal enquiries and calls for controls as the victims or collisions with cars in this country are regarded merely as ‘collateral damage’.
12. Provide cycle training at all primary and secondary schools.
The Department for Transport provides funding to local authorities and School Games Organisers for training that’s promptly forgotten as it’s vetoed by the parents who regard it as a lethal activity making it a tragic waste of trainers time and taxpayers money but ‘c’est la vie’ as Nigel Farrage wouldn’t say. It looks as though we are doing something constructive whilst ignoring the stuff that would actually enhance the hard work of cycle trainers like quality infrastructure but that would involve proper investment and not the pathetic figures we’re bandying about here.
13. Offer widespread affordable (or free) cycle training and other programmes to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to give cycling a try, as evidenced by NICE.
The LSTF invited local authorities to submit bids which may include cycling. All £600 million from the fund has now been committed to deliver 96 packages. Of those 96 packages, 77 contained cycle training which includes 48 adult training packages because they are cheaper than infrastructure and will probably not trouble the minds of the majority of the general public.
Bikeability is not only for children, despite having a revised childish name. There is a range of training available to suit all requirements from the complete beginner wanting to boost their confidence to those wanting to develop more advanced skills such as dualled trunk roads which commenters on some cycle forums think are perfectly reasonable to cycle on.
14. Promote cycling as a safe and normal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Cycle safety is very important, which is why the Department for Transport has given £35m to improve safety at dangerous junctions across England and have helped local councils to design solutions appropriate to their local challenges, including improving their road infrastructure to encourage and is the equivalent of attempting to mop up the River Thames with a ‘J Cloth’ for sheer futility.
The small rise in the number of cyclists seriously injured may be due to the increase in cycling which has been seen in recent years and the Department will continue to progress initiatives to improve cycle safety except the stuff that would actually make a fundamental difference.
Bikeability cycle training provides people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities with the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on modern roads if you ride like Mark Cavendish on a combination of MDMA and Lucozade and realise how uncomfortable cycling in this country is, then put the bike away and go inside, mix a nice Gin and Tonic and book a holiday to the Netherlands. Bikeability is appearing an awful lot here isn’t it?
Government is keen to do more to promote leisure and utility cycling along existing rights of way because our stakeholders excel at this, and to reduce the red tape around the creation and maintenance of multi-use cycle routes so that we have more crappily implemented regional and national cycle networks where cyclists, pedestrians, the visually impaired and dog walkers can swear at each other.
The Government is committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours. This means introducing policies that will make it easier for everyone to cycle, regardless of their age or background. We have already invited colleagues from the Netherlands to conferences here to tell them to their bemused faces that their solutions wouldn’t work here and that their 40 years of engineering expertise in developing incredible and constantly evolving infrastructure for bicycles is cute but they’ve always been cyclists and that Hackney is far better. We should therefore strive toward policies in a unique British idiom using a hotch potch of Danish/British/Nigerian/Dutch/Galapagos Islands/Finnish/Martian and call the end product ‘Dutch Style’.
15. The Government should produce a cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan with annual progress reports.
The Department for Transport has been co-ordinating a cross-departmental effort to promote cycling, in particular with Defra and the Department of Health in a further bid to get our responsibility for cycling out of our building.
Realising our ambition for cycling will require sustained leadership, collaboration and innovation at each level of government and between all sectors. To ensure that robust arrangements are in place to realise the ambition, we will work with stakeholders to assemble a comprehensive delivery plan for publication in the autumn. Did you like that bit of middle management bullshit speak? We will also, moving forward, incorporate ‘blue sky thinking’ into all half arsed meetings with no steer or lead.
The Department for Transport has governance arrangements in place to support the development of cycling policy through the Cycling Stakeholder Forum led by Cycling Minister Norman Baker, a cycling High Level Subgroup and a cross-Whitehall officials Subgroup. Close working relationships will continue as the cycling delivery plan is developed in the same time it took to build the Great Wall of China (including the planning application). The Cycling Stakeholder Forum is probably held in the same reverence as a ‘County Cycle Forum’ and has experts promoting their guides to cycle training, experts on cycling as a sport or recreational activity whilst selling the requisite products to go with it and actually believe the ‘Wiggins Effect’ means something or that promoting the cause of getting women to cycle more will be solved by sponsoring a professional women’s cycling team or drawing their vision of a cycle friendly town as something out of ‘Where’s Wally’ as it elegantly sidesteps taking a serious view on what really works. We don’t really know who they are as its all closed shop with no accountability to mere mortals like you. It’s probably about as useful as tits on a bull anyway.
16. The Government should appoint a national Cycling Champion, an expert from outside the Department for Transport.
The Government has no plans to appoint a national Cycling Champion. However, the Cycle Safety Forum Subgroup provides external expert help and advice and are the reason we have the truly incredible cycling conditions we have now.
17. The Government should set national targets to increase cycle use from less than 2% of journeys in 2011, to 10% of all journeys in 2025, and 25% by 2050.
The Government does not believe that to set national targets for cycling will encourage take up at local level. It is for Local Authorities to decide on hilarious/dangerous ambitions for their local areas. A ‘One size fits all’ approach is not effective. Why, to compare Guildford with Watford is to compare Mars with Mercury. Apparently.
For example, the eight successful Cycling Ambition Grant cities have all set targets that are ‘ambitious’ (which is the control word for ‘spectacularly unachievable’ in British Politics), but with their local circumstances and current levels of cycling, they have set their own unique ways of not meeting these targets.
The Government continues to invest money – £159m has been announced since the beginning of 2012 – and implement measures that enable more people to say ‘why can’t this country just design a decent junction. Just for once. Please for fucks sake’ and use the car instead.
18. Central and local government and devolved authorities should each appoint a lead politician responsible for cycling.
The Government encourages local authorities to identify a senior Officer or Member to take cycling development forward in their authorities and to champion cycling in their area, despite them getting rid of all their Cycling Officers in the spending cuts. The ‘Cycle Champion’ is usually an older councillor who has ‘ridden a bit’, but you’ve generally got more chance of spotting Tim Loughton MP supporting a Pride march than this person on a bicycle.
In central government Norman Baker champions cycling, as Minister for Cycling (or ‘Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport’ for the full and more accurately duller title).
Well! Forgive me dear readers but it’s been 7 months since my last confession.
I’ll cut a long story short; My father was diagnosed with Cancer of the throat, I was made redundant and my marriage decided to implode, made more heart breaking by the fact that we have a 3 year old son. I’ve had better starts to a year, I’ll be honest with you.
However, my father, after extensive surgery and radiology has been given an all clear, I have a new job in a freelance capacity meaning I can also write about what I like and get paid for it (if people like it of course) and everything else is as amicable as its ever been – from buildings 12 miles apart, but hey, every cloud and all that.
Anyway, it’s always reassuring to come back to the wild and wacky world of cycle campaigning after what feels like a long yet fitful doze and notice that everything and nothing has happened at the same time.
Firstly the everything – During the last few months I realised that I could not give The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (which I founded and Chaired) anything like the full attention it needed or deserved so with great regret I stood down at the last AGM. The new Chair is a very capable pair of hands called Mark Treasure, who also writes the sublime As Easy As Riding A Bike so things are trundling along ever onwards and upwards for the only cycling organisation that represents the bicycle as transport in Britain and would like it provided for in terms of subjective and sustainable safety based on examples of proven success such as the Netherlands and Denmark.
Now the nothing – I’d like to start, if I may, with a sermon which I think sums up British cycle campaigning quite wellAsking for Crumbs
(Adapted for this blog with a combination of red wine and snacks from the Book of Matthew 15:21-28)
There once was a British girl that was in great trouble. Evil thoughts filled her mind about her cycle to school or to friends laid waste by the devil in the form of plagues of cars and lorries which made her life so dark and miserable that her mother didn’t know what to do with her. So the poor woman went searching for help, but all was in vain. No one could cure a devil-possessed girl.
One day she heard of Patrick, a healer from Westminster that was coming through their area. But could this man help her daughter? Was there any power stronger than the devil? “Oh, yes! He has such power that he can even cast out devils,” someone said.
“I must speak to him,” the mother decided. “This man’s power must be the greatest there is.” She left her house and quickly joined the crowds that followed the healer. “They call him the Son of David [Cameron] and a prophet of God. He is an important man, but surely he will show mercy to my poor daughter,” she told herself. But no matter how earnestly she cried after him, Patrick never answered her at all. What a terrible disappointment!
“I can’t give up now,” the poor mother said to herself. “If I have to beg all day, I will, because he is my only hope.” As she pressed in closer, she could hear the man’s followers complaining about the racket she was making. What did Patrick tell them? It didn’t matter, because now she was close enough to kneel before him. “Lord, help me,” she prayed, looking up at the one who had the power to make her daughter well.
His answer seemed quite rude. “It’s not right for me to throw the children’s bread to the dogs,” he said. She knew what he meant. He had more worthy people than her to help. She just wanted her daughter to cycle, and he was a man of God.
“That is true, Lord,” she said, humbly, “but even dogs eat crumbs that fall off of their masters’ table.” It was all she could really ask for. But she wanted those crumbs.
Suddenly a smile broke across Patrick’s face. “O woman, you have great faith,” he said. “You shall have what you want.” Her daughter made well and happy? Tears of joy filled the mother’s eyes as she thanked him and hurried home. She arrived home to find the symbol of the bicycle painted on the pavement. ‘Crumbs’ thought the woman…
If you ask for crumbs, you get exactly what we’ve ended up with now; Barely a mention in the Chancellors Spending Review and piecemeal funding. Again. The Government always likes to announce the money spent on cycling as a Big Headline Figure because it not only sounds impressive but it also comes with the air of ‘and you should be bloody grateful for that’.
However, it is only when the numbers are crunched that the realisation reappears that; funding for cycling is a perpetual ‘limited time offer’ and that funding is cast out to local authorities and designers with no masterplan, quality design standards and barely any comprehension of what a bicycle feels like combined with their political masters 1980′s belief that more cars means more prosperity to their areas. From experience, as far as Surrey and West Sussex County Councils are concerned, asking them to act as custodians of any cycling budget or strategy is like asking McDonalds to look after your cow. This results in yet more cycle infrastructure that can only make sense on a combination of LSD and White Lightning.
A headline figure also conveniently means not having to compare it to the transport budget. It’s a very neat parlour trick as it allows Government to portray the South Downs as mountainous whilst making Snowdonia disappear from our minds.
I believe there needs to be a coherent Bicycle Masterplan (a bit like friends of ours elsewhere), there needs to be a systematic review of what design standards we have (as some of them aren’t bad at all) and there needs to be a systemic review on how the bicycle is dealt with at national Government level. In particular, an acceptance, however grudging from the Department for Transport that the bicycle is actually quite a useful mode of transport. Then, and only then, can a commitment to secure, long term funding and strategy be found as the bicycle is released from sports/recreation duties and make a welcome return to serving the people.
It’s always difficult trying to write a blog post after returning from the wilderness so sincere apologies for the scattergun or ranty approach. There have been some positive signs in Britain too which I shall be affording the courtesy of more time in subsequent posts. Sadly, I think I have all the time in the world to get back in the swing of things.