Get Britain Cycling?

Get Britain Cycling

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!


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10 Responses to “Get Britain Cycling?”

  1. Stuart Clarke Says:

    I think we’re really seeing a change in mindset from those with the powers and the budgets. Greater interest in cycling, lower car usage, increased legislation on emissions – these are just a few of the many factors that will drive change to improve cycling. In Leeds, we have our fingers crossed for the Cycle Cities Ambition Bid; if this doesn’t succeed, change will take longer but it will happen.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Stuart, let’s hope so (and continue to work in that direction). I’m contributing to a public debate in Leeds on Wednesday, 19th June, titled ‘Getting Leeds Cycling’; so maybe see you there? I’d wish Leeds good luck with its bid, but the problem is all the cities which have submitted bids desperately need the money (and shifting priorities which are attached to it). I largely share your optimism that change will happen, albeit more slowly, regardless – there are broader issues at play, which should over the next generation deter driving and encourage cycling; but that said I don’t think it’s a done deal, and there’s plenty of hard work ahead.
      Thanks very much for reading and contributing.
      Best wishes

      • Stuart Clarke Says:

        Thanks Dave. I’ve blocked out the 19th, please let me know the details and I look forward to seeing you there. Cheers, Stuart.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        It’s at the end of the working day Stuart, from 5:30 to 7pm. I’m not sure on the venue; I’ll let you know when I know. Cheers, Dave

  2. Mrs S J Wilson Says:

    I am one of the 54,000.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Great! I see it’s almost up to 59,000 now – so it’s getting there, albeit more slowly than I would have predicted, and more slowly than is (I personally think) a good reflection.

      I wonder sometimes whether there’s some danger that we cycling advocates get a bit complacent – partly because there seems to be so much more support for cycling these days, and partly (though probably connected) because many of us (or certainly me anyway!) live in a ‘small world’ of cycling advocacy, and so tend to see lots of signs of things changing for the better, whilst remaining more oblivious to all the ways in which things either aren’t changing in a cycling-friendly direction or, indeed, might actually be getting worse?

      But if we do what we can do, and keep faith that we’re pushing in the right (including prescient) direction, then one day I figure we’ll suddenly find ourselves in a changed world, vaguely but happily disoriented because rather than going against the flow we’re quite suddenly swimming with it! I’m sure there’ll (of course, such is life) be new reasons to feel disappointed, but that’s the ‘day’ I’m aiming towards ;-))

      Thanks for reading, commenting and acting – it’s much appreciated.
      Best wishes

  3. ianbrettcooper Says:

    I held my nose and signed the petition because the Get Britain Cycling report suggests speed limit lowering, which I think is essential to road safety. Sadly, the report also supports segregated bicycle facilities that have been found in study after study of cycling crashes to be less safe than integrating cyclists into the current traffic system. Bikeability teaches integrated road cycling, so why is this report going against that?

    • Chris Whitehouse Says:

      Hi Ian, well done for signing and thank you, I have too.

      Firstly the report does include cycle training. Page 13 of the summary recommends:

      – Provide cycle training at all primary and secondary schools
      – 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.

      Secondly I don’t think a single solution will work in this country.

      I’m curious about your comment on Bikeability. Are you the same Ian Brett Cooper who left this country for USA over 25 years ago? Bikeability didn’t exist then, I’m not sure its precursor cycling proficiency did even.

      Anyway, I’m a Bikeability cycling instructor in the UK. When I trained I firmly believed that teaching people to cycle on the road was the “one solution”. Now I still believe it is part of the solution, partly because if given to adults and particularly if given as part of driving training our dreadful road culture might improve.

      I do believe however another part of the solution is off road routes. I’ve experimented with the same journey by road and by off road routes and even to me as an experienced cyclist, the off road routes are not just more pleasant, they make travelling by bike practical.

      So lets not get bogged down in a single agenda but embrace all the measures that may increase cycllng levels in UK.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Great comments Chris, with which I agree wholeheartedly. (Not sure whether Ian does, mind! But thanks for responding to him.)
        All the best

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Ian. But I must admit to being slightly confused by your assertion about the relative safety of different approaches to cycling (not that I want to polarise them – I consider them both to be essential as part of ‘a bicycle system’ – a coherent approach to facilitating cycling, albeit one which varies in the detail of provision according to the character of the context); specifically, I’m not entirely sure how dedicated space for cycling can ever have been demonstrated to be less safe than integrating cycling into the broader transport environment when such integration means almost everyone does NOT cycle, so their experiences can’t possibly be counted in any such experiment? It’s no good at all cycling being somehow ‘safer’ when ‘integrated’ on the carriageways of big, busy roads if 99% of the population has absolutely zero interest in cycling there! (When it comes to promoting cycling I’m not really very interested in the 1% of people (mainly men – white, middle-class, educated, reasonably assertive etc) like us; except as a potential block to helping everyone else onto two wheels, and so healthier lives etc …)

      Nice one on signing the petition despite your concerns. I think our chances of ‘getting there’ are greater if we ‘stick together’ (or at least remain open to – and able respectfully to discuss – our differences of perspective).

      Thanks for continuing to read, and contribute
      Very best wishes

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