I’m all for making cycling safer in the UK and I’m not against greater training per se but campaigns that are ill conceived and have conflicts of interest are not what I consider helpful. The Bikeradar supported #sharetheroaduk announced in the last 24 hours has angered me not only because it’s a poor campaign with some poor observations and “recommendations” but also because I think Bikeradar should know better. Bikeradar are now backtracking from supporting it as they should but damage has been done http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/bikeradar-slammed-for-supporting-campaign-that-would-suppress-cycling/013522
I also think the whole campaign misses the real opportunity, but frankly I’m not surprised that a car insurance company doesn’t get it and it’s an easy and cheap shot to imply (amongst some other things) that compulsory cycle training BEFORE you can ride on the road will make a big difference to cars and cyclists getting along better on the road. Frankly I find this insulting as well as misleading, because of the fundamental implication that it’s the cyclists problem that they’re unsafe on the road more than cars, HGV and poor driving. It’s also a probably stepping stone to suggesting compulsory licensing and you guessed it – insurance for cyclists. All unworkable and dumb ideas.
This is the latest in a number of poor PR pieces supposedly to draw attention to making it safer for cyclists on our roads and it’s made me very angry. I’ve never posted an angry post as I consider my blog a place for largely positive things about cycling to mirror my largely positive experiences as a recreational cyclist.
Looking at the simple physics of the situation – if I or any other cyclist ride (say 100kg including bike) like an idiot amongst steel cars weighing from 1,000kg to 2,500kg, not to mention Buses and HGVs weighing up to say 40,000kgs – who’s going to come off worse? But for it’s the vice versa that’s the scary part.
Compulsory or otherwise cycling training is not going to stop an HGV from running me or my kids over. Yes, it’s an alarmist statement – but it’s to make the point that this is a stupid idea.
For me, the crux of safe cycling is far more than just us all being a bit nicer and considerate to each other on the road (even though #sharetheroadUK has no concrete action plans for making this happen that I noticed on the site). I don’t think cycling in Britain is safe until kids younger than 10 can safely cycle on normal urban journeys (School, the shops, parks etc). It’s not about me as I’m a recreational cyclist and I can and do choose the times and roads I ride on. I already avoid A-Roads (all dual carriageways) and roads where there are likely to be HGVs or high traffic levels.
I believe the real challenge is how we make it safer for people from 8 to 80 male and female to use bikes as a normal mode of transport.
I also believe a car is a very poor transport solution in an urban environment and I am a car enthusiast who worked in the industry for a number of years. Cars take up too much room, they pollute (air and noise) and they have a dominant position in transport planning that I personally believe is no longer appropriate and also unsustainable over the long term.
Britain is a small country with a lot of people in it. If we really want to reduce congestion, the simple answer is we need to get people to use their cars less. We can’t fit many more in and building more roads in towns and cities is not going to happen. Therefore to me, the only way forward is to start to remove cars off the road and give back that space to pedestrians and cyclists. The only way to do this is to re-allocate our existing road space and reduce the space available to cars. Building new roads is not a practical solution to Britains transport problems.
A car insurance company is going to find this a difficult concept and this again shows the nonsense of a cycling entity like Bikeradar partnering with a car insurance to tell cyclists they need more training to make them safer on the roads. This is simply another barrier to riding a bike, which a large proportion of car drivers will be pleased about. On this logic we probably also need compulsory training for pedestrians before they can cross roads. It’s nonsense.
It’s a common PR tool (often badly executed) to do a survey and publish the results to drive awareness to your brand or product. To me this is a particularly poor example.
I am far from an expert on advocacy and these are just some of my own personal opinions – so please treat them as such. I have been following a number of advocacy blogs and twitter accounts over the last 6 months and these have shown me that
a) I really don’t know enough about the subject(hasn’t stopped me here obviously) but also that
b) it’s not hard to start reading some more informed views and
c) Dutch style infrastructure is the only real option for the future of uncongested, safe, healthy urban transport. I genuinely can’t see another solution that copes with continued population growth and the growing obesity in many western cultures.
Here’s a good introduction to how the Dutch got their cycle paths:
I’m not the best person to fully explain Dutch style infrastructure but my own key understandings and wishlist for it are:
- Completely segregated cycling paths and infrastructure as a core premise
- Reallocating road space to cycling and pedestrians from cars
- Giving cyclists priority over cars where the segregated cycle paths meet normal roads
A fuller and much detailed definition can be found here: http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/node/226
I genuinely believe that cycling is a vital mode of transport for all economies:
- It’s cheap
- It’s healthy
- It’s space and energy efficient
- It’s clean and quiet
- It’s easy on infrastructure
- Most people can already ride a bike
I saw figures recently that suggested a £1,5bn investment in true Dutch style segregated infrastructure could save the NHS alone £9bn a year (if I can find the link again I’ll post it and feel free to ignore the stat until I do). From reading other blogs it’s apparently also been shown that when you increase local cycling provision spending in local shops rises (a way to help the high street too).
I think the real challenge here is high profile organisations/government having not just the vision but the courage to start really grappling with the key challenges – that Dutch style segrated infrastructure is the only real way forwards. All other ways are simply weak willed and doomed to failure.
In London Boris Johnson who “signed up” to Dutch style cycling is now sitting on his hands after being re-elected because I simply don’t believe he has the courage to properly embrace this change – he’s too frightened of a push back from voters who believe equally strongly that they need more focus on building roads and traffic smoothing.
If there are better answer s than this to our polluted crowded urban landscapes – please tell me – I’ve honestly not seen them. Fuel costs are only going to go up as well (and they are already high).
One simple solution I saw recently to potentially start the change was the Britain could simply ban car use on Sundays from 7am to 2pm except for emergency vehicles. This would give everyone a weekly opportunity to walk and cycle on the roads and enjoy how much nicer our towns and cities could be with a lot less cars rushing about. This was also a catalyst to the Dutch change in the 70’s oil crisis when they banned all car use on Sundays.
I also think the goals of safe cycling ought to be a lot simpler – until my wife and children (aged under 10) can cycle safely around the town I live in to the shops and to parks and leisure facility without real danger of being run over or terrified out of their wits by having to drive in traffic, or being insulted/threatened by drivers cycling is simply not safe.
There are lots of other intelligent and worthy ideas out there but sadly you won’t find them in the #sharetheroadUk campaign.
According to Gary Lineker an investor in the car insurance company behind this poor excuse for a campaign – my views make me an extremist (although it appears he’s since “deleted” the tweet)
@gnomeicide Only the uncompromising extremist ones
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 22, 2012
As I say, I am far from an expert – but I commend to you the following blogs and twitter accounts who in my opinion are most definitely worth reading and listening too – they can explain all of this far more eloquently and with better data than I can:
All of these blog owners are on my Twitter list here: https://twitter.com/#!/girodilento/cycling-advocates
If I’ve missed any great advocates – please let me know, I’m still learning here.
Thanks for reading and sorry for the rant – normal service will resume from here
Footnote – I see that this campaign has since been taken down/removed – however this post will stay up. Thanks for reading.