Monday, 4 July 2011

Back to the issue of promoting cycling

I read with interest the following article:
The nub being that someone who submitted to the blog, felt that the call for segregated cycle paths was not necessary and was not the case in Netherlands where there is a whole range of cycling infrastructure.
As ever the writer of voleOspeed gave a very articulate a full response and answered the question well, explaining what he meant and gave what I think was a very complete and sensible response. But to me this does raise another issue that I think is worth talking about.
I spend a lot of time trawling the London (and other areas) cycling commuter Blogs. I have also, often been given the impression that many of them are calling for a total segregation of cycle facilities. Now I am additionally aware of the fact that this is reading from post to post, by it’s very nature when you read a blog you look at one article and tend to view it in isolation to anything else that has been written – the blog writer may have a far more “all round” (I refuse to use the word holistic) approach but you don’t get that impression reading that one article.
I tend to have a yin and yang approach to this – there are motorists who very much anti bikes and vitriolic in there opinions, I therefore consider it appropriate that we have similar people on the cycling side with what can only be described as a vitriolic in their approach to cars etc. I as regular readers well know, have a far more down the middle approach – I think the facilities to cyclists are awful (though getting better) but at the same time they are not exactly wonderful for cars. I see the car as a very necessary thing, I have said on more than one occasion that I would not enjoy the inconvenience of not owning a car. At the same time I have a balanced approach to my transport requirements – 90% of my journeys and miles are made by bike now, but I still need the car for certain journeys and I don’t want to give up that convenience.  I therefore refuse to move “lock stock and barrel” into one camp or the other. 

If other people in the UK, who had the ability to do so, followed my approach then transport and congestion would no longer be a problem in the UK. But then again I am only 11 miles from my office – I have friends who are 50 miles away (cycling on top of a 12 hour day is not an option). The only funny thing is, public transport now comes bottom of my priorities (but this is only for me personally).
I just pray that both sides in the argument start to look at and realise that their needs are not the needs of everyone and all sides to the argument have valid points (to them, if not the other). I do generally feel, for some of the politicians mixed up in all this – take Boris Johnson for example, he is a guy that I see on a very regular basis on his bike in the London Bridge area, after his #askboris session on twitter a couple of days ago, I hear complaints that he did not answer one question on cycling (I asked one myself)  – well given that the whole session was about volunteering, then I guess he does have a reasonable excuse (though not if you listen to some of the complaints from some cyclists, and to be honest he did digress enough from volunteering to turn down a marriage proposal).
The fact remains there is not a lot of public money sloshing around for infrastructure work – unless we all want to pay more tax. Well maybe that’s the answer then? We pay a bicycle tax to get more infrastructure, that would go down like a lead balloon – I always see pressure groups asking for things, but ask someone to part with hard earned cash and then it is a different story. Unfortunately the reality is, if the money doesn’t come from a bicycle tax , then it has to come from some other tax source; if that's the case, then people who pay that tax may want the money spent on something else, the only way we can guarantee getting funds for cycling is to pay into our own special fund. This of course would be a great deterrent to people starting cycling and cost a fortune to enforce and manage, this coupled with the fact that no one will want to pay makes it a non-starter. So this being the case we as cyclists are going to have to accept that we are in a queue, we are not a significant majority and therefore we are going to come lower in the list of who gets what.
I do not want to seem a traitor to the cause – I am a very committed cyclist and would love to see the number of cyclists on the road rise 100 fold (which they could realistically in terms of numbers of journeys made, if not total mileage).  I am though a pragmatist, and I have seen the way the wheels of Government turn. We do need the pressure groups to keep arguing the case, otherwise we risk being forgotten altogether, but if we work in conjunction with the powers to be, we will achieve a lot more than if we fight them at every turn. I have in my time (before I was even a cyclist) had a cycle path of about 2 miles, opened up on a greenway, this was done using money from the ODPM sustainable communities grant and working with the private sector – no hassles, an even argument based with other non cycling options and evidenced by helping people get to work. I didn’t get everything I wanted – it as still more of a track than a wide paved path, but it was a step in the right direction (and segregated) and the next time their are funds free the project may get completed.
Once again, I go back to my main premise, we need to encourage people to cycle, convince our friends to dust down their bikes (maybe even help them get them working again) cycle during the early stages with them, encourage and enthuse them. I am sure that as with me, a large umber of these people will get the bug; after all cycling sells itself once people start. The numbers will grow and this more than anything will ensure resources come the way of cyclists. 

I know it is all a bit chicken and egg, but it will do a more than making the roads of London seem as dangerous as working in Helmand Province. I honestly think if I had read many of the commuter blogs, I would not have bought a bike in the first place. Yes the roads are awkward in places but if current cyclists think we can handle them, what makes us think others can’t?
Yes you can drive holes in my argument – start asking questions like how many deaths are acceptable before people spend on proper facilities etc. but for me it is about dealing with and making the best of the current situation. Apart from health and congestion the other main argument we have is the environmental one - but you may believe that but I would guess that the population is split 50/50 on the global warming argument. 

Cycling should focus on the fact that it is not only good for health and congestion but it is also a very cheap way of reducing carbon commissions compared to some of the schemes out there - pound for pound it offers very cheap results. 
Maybe some of the Billions from the global warming schemes could be directed at cycling - the positive effects of wind farms are still very much open to questions - not building ten of them, could get you many miles of cycle lanes with a proven result on carbon, saved lives and the reduced congestion (therefore making car journeys quicker - a TfL objective) and improved health (the NHS bill is rather large you know).

Now I am going to have the wind farm lobby after me - HELP!

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