The sun’s out, the temperature’s rising. Spring seemed to take forever to arrive but suddenly now it’s here; everything’s going green, and yellow, and blue – colour everywhere! At this time of year riding should really take precedence. But – even if I sometimes forget precisely why – it continues to be important to encourage others to cycle.
And hey … there’s a petition to sign! Should we have to petition Government to take cycling seriously? It’s easy to be cynical. We’re petitioning for a Parliamentary debate on cycling – for politicians to discuss the just-published Get Britain Cycling report. We’re asking British politicians to start talking seriously about cycling. We can laugh, scorn or mock, but this is the situation we’re in, and pushing for a Parliamentary debate on cycling is our best hope of building top-down support for cycling.
For the report and recommendations from the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry to get debated in Parliament, the petition needs 100,000 signatures. 54,084 people have signed so far; with I think the petition in danger of demonstrating what we already know – cycling, particularly belief in cycling as a major means of urban transport, is marginal (which is precisely why we need enlightened governance and political leadership). So please, sign the petition, and ask others to do so too.
But realise that cycling isn’t in the news because of Government action; it’s in the news because of Government inaction. So more important than signing this petition is maintaining the broader, grassroots agitation for change which has led to it, and which is also applying political pressure in other ways.
Even if we do get the Parliamentary debate, I’m afraid we must expect it – and any Governmental response – to be inadequate. It’d be naïve to expect a Parliamentary debate on cycling to make serious cracks in the dominant car system, though it’s cracks we need; more likely is continuing tokenistic support for cycling of the kind which keeps car use-as-ordinary undisturbed. Cycling politics is resurgent partly because it was repressed during a period of grossly ineffective cycling policy. (We might date this from the 1996 launch of the National Cycling Strategy (which aimed to increase cycling 400% by 2012) until the demise of Cycling England fifteen years later, in 2011.) During that period it felt like ‘things were being done for cycling’, though we know now they weren’t, really. Cycling levels didn’t quadruple; they stayed the same, whilst car use for even the shortest journeys became more widespread, habitual and acceptable.
Freed from constraints imposed by the hegemony of ‘realistic cycling policy’, in the last couple of years many of us have felt liberated to think cycling differently; we’ve stepped up our ambitions for cycling, and have started to talk about cycling as capable of challenging the car’s obese sense of entitlement to especially urban space. We don’t necessarily know anything new. It’s more that we’ve found our voice, one repressed whilst dominant players within the cycling promotion industry enjoyed a cosy if ineffective relationship to Power. We’re learning to contest established cycling promotion orthodoxies, to be bold and audacious. About time really! After all, we’re only saying what everybody else – ‘ordinary people’ who’d quite like to cycle – already knows! But until now it’s been remarkably difficult to say simple, obvious things.
We must be sure to hold tightly onto our new, bigger, bolder, better ambitions for cycling when responding to emerging Government rhetoric, policy and action. Because we don’t want a bit more cycling, we want mass cycling; and because some established players – cycling’s traditional representatives – will likely be too easily satisfied.
In the meantime we must keep pushing from the bottom-up. Of course we must seek greater representation of cycling within ‘anti-cycling’ systems; but if we also cycle more, encourage others to cycle more, and support small, local projects aimed at getting still others to cycle more, then we simultaneously build the grassroots base which cycling needs in order to be politically more powerful and resilient.
Irrespective of whether or not it triggers a Parliamentary debate on the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry’s report, this petition will indicate to politicians how much support there is for cycling. Less than 100,000 signatures demonstrates we’re still small – still a movement pushing at the outside rather than a voice to incorporate on the inside; still marginal, not mainstream.
Part of me tires of trying to get other people to take cycling seriously. Part of me thinks ‘sod it! Just enjoy your own cycling’. But then I remember the reasons cycling matters – its important contributions to local and global social and environmental dignity. Still, it’s hard to keep pushing cycling when people don’t want to listen, and when even those who do so often respond inadequately.
But then, things do change; and we need to create opportunities to help make them change. So we must be sceptical optimists. We must keep hope that things can change dramatically in cycling’s favour. The ambitions of government towards cycling must surely rise sometime; just maybe, this could be the time!
100,000 signatures would give hope that Government might hear our audacious ambitions for cycling, ambitions which would genuinely start to crack the grossly dominant current car system. So please, if you think that’s important, sign the petition here. But know too that whatever Government does, it won’t be enough – we must become used to advocating cycling for a long time yet.
In the meantime, every body matters, so cycling and encouraging others to cycle remains the really important political work. Get out there and enjoy riding through Spring! It’s brilliant!