There was some disapproval by cycling campaigners on Sunday of a graphic about "dressing to be seen" in specialised cycling clothes in bright colours. I think it is easy to get too worked up about this kind of thing. There have always been specialised cycling clothes, more or less since the invention of the bike. Making cycling practical in ordinary clothes is a great idea, and must be an objective, part of the Dutch-style mass culture of everyday cycling to be worked towards, and the article accompanying the graphic does make this point, but there is a danger of an "inverted snobbery" which says that you can't be part of a transport cycling revolution and still wear lycra. This would be silly. We have to face the fact that, as the UK environment is configured, many commuting cycling distances are going to be quite long, and some rides a bit hilly, and dressing for a 10 mile ride in such a way that you do not get overheated, and remain comfortable and unencumbered, is quite sensible, and there is nothing wrong with The Times featuring and advertising this garb.
The focus of The Times campaign remains bang-on, in my view, firmly on the subjects of lower speeds, safer road infrastructure, and how it should be paid for. Though some of the infrastructure they have suggested is on the whacky side, with futuristic cycle highways in tubes, how about their interactive graphic of suggested infrastructure at a roundabout? Here is thinking far ahead of that of Transport for London or other UK highway authorities, demonstrating continuity of networks, segregation on busy roads, cycle paths away from roads, and a cycle flyover – most of what you could want to "Go Dutch", in fact. The same graphic also shows the hazards resulting from the typical unsafe arrangement we have at the moment. Brilliant!
And they do keep banging on about the need for a dedicated fund to pay for cycling infrastructure. They have hit the nail totally on the head here, in my view.
Last year, funding for infrastructure in 12 Cycling City and Towns members was also stopped. Withdrawal of the £43 million came before final analysis could be made on whether the scheme was encouraging more cycling.
Critics argue that there is no central fund to build cycle schemes. Local authorities have access to a £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund until 2015, but early schemes appear to have prioritised improvements to bus and railway stations, smart-card ticketing and park-and-ride schemes, as much as cycling.
Mike Penning, the Roads Minister, said that 38 of 39 successful bids to the fund contain a cycling element. He was wary of calls for a new funding mechanism harnessing the Highways Agency budget. “Most cycling will be on local government roads so you are taking the budget out of national infrastructure into local government roads,” he said. “But like anything, if anybody has ideas they can be looked at.”Penning isn't getting it yet. Until recently he seemed to think that cyclists were not allowed on the national roads infrastructure (trunk roads) at all. He is still not understanding the problem that there are not direct, efficient, and safe cycling alternatives, in general, to the big roads, and that this is a problem with the national infrastructure, which is his responsibility.
So The Times is plugging away at the real, core issues, and they have even got the AA to support almost blanket 20 mph in towns. Nobody seems to want to argue with this campaign! Nobody half sensible, anyway.
There has been the usual complaint from a few old-style cycling campaigners about The Times "dangerising" cycling. This is idiotic. The Times campaign is overwhelmingly a force for achieving the changes cyclists want. The Times did not dangerise cycling, just as I did not dangerise cycling when I wrote my piece Cycling is dangerous. The policies of successive governments dangerised cycling. A lot of people involved with cycling on a day to day basis seem to loose a basic grip on this danger issue, and I can see why. If you spend an hour or more a day in the saddle, on the streets of a major British city, and you (hopefully) do not come to any harm, you may easily start to believe that cycling in this environment is not dangerous.
This is an illusion borne of use, and there are a few ways to get back to reality. One is to spend some time cycling in an environment which is much safer. The best option is to go an a study tour with David Hembrow. If you do not have the time or money to do this, you can look at at some videos on YouTube. One of the best is this one from David's Hembrow's collaborator, Mark Wagenbuur: What defines Dutch cycling?
The point here is absolutely clear. This is a video of people doing daft things on bikes: things that they could only do in a really safe environment. You don't see British cyclists going along with umbrellas open, or cycling with dogs in tow, or people leaping on and off the back of their friend's bike, or people having conversations while riding side by side on city streets. Not often anyway. As Mark says, these are habits that only become normal in an environment which is really safe, where the constant anxiety arising from the need to share the road space with potentially lethal motor traffic is gone. Seeing how far were, generally, in the UK from the environment that allows these habits, gives you the measuring stick for how much underlying danger we are really coping with, despite the truth that UK cyclists are not being killed left, right, and centre.
The CTC, largest cycling organisation in the UK, have traditionally been prone to the "Don't dangerise cycling" tack, disliking ghost bikes and anything else of a publicity or campaigning nature that they feel might frighten people (as if they haven't noticed that what really frightens people is being passed with inches to spare by huge lorries). Blogger Cycalogical recently labelled this practice danger denial.
This brings me on to the fact that CTC have a new Chief Executive. This is a big change in the UK cycling world, as the last Chief Executive, Kevin Mayne, was in post for 14 years. Kevin Mayne was without doubt a hard worker for the interests of UK cycling, as he saw them, and without doubt a significant influence on the policies of CTC over a long period. In 2003 he told me that he didn't think that segregated cycle tracks on roads were a good idea. His argument was that you could never have them everywhere, and, because of that, if you introduced them anywhere, you would put cyclists elsewhere, on the normal roads, more at risk. He thought that creating tracks would attract cyclists to them (which I agree with), and that this would lessen the density of cyclists on other roads, which would make those roads more dangerous for the cyclists who chose not to use the tracks, in part, because they would get more harried and disrespected by motorists who thought they should not be on the roads.
Like many of the CTC's policy positions down the decades, unfortunately, this was just an argument for "no change". If you can never start to build a segregated cycle network, for fear of those consequences, then you are just stuck with the road network as we have it, possibly with the addition of a few bits of different-coloured paint, Boris-style. You remain in the situation of having only a tiny minority of people cycling, and with cycling in a politically very weak position. The very persecution of cyclists on the roads of the UK that Mayne worried about happened already, as things were, because of that political weakness. Inaction on the infrastructure issue was a prescription to keep that weakness permanent. Andreas Rohl, the bike chief of Copenhagen, drums the point home, in perhaps the most important words in all The Times's coverage:
From A to B there has to be quality before you can expect people to get on a bike. If you want to make cycling mainstream you have to separate bikes from cars and buses. It’s essential.Ironically, Kevin is going on to a job with the European Cyclists' Federation, based in Brussels. I wonder if daily experience of that city, which does have a developing segregated cycle network, will cause him to modify his opinions. Anyway, I wish him well there. I wonder if the new CTC Chief Executive, Gordon Seabright, will be able to take advantage of the fair wind of The Times campaign to re-position his organisation as a more positive participant in debate about good cycling infrastructure and how to achieve it. My feeling is that if he did, a great many of his membership would back him.