Who is cycling for?

This might seem a strange question. Surely, cycling is for everyone? Well, after three years’ research for the Understanding Walking and Cycling project, my clear answer is that – in Britain today – it’s not. Our task of course is to make it so.

So who then, have we found cycling to be for? Primarily, for a hardy bunch of inadvertent elitists. People like me, perhaps like you, who ride despite the generally atrocious conditions which effectively discourage the big majority of people from doing likewise. Often we don’t notice conditions are atrocious because we’ve got used to them, and/or our skill levels have improved in order to deal with them.

We cycle, we take our capacity to cycle for granted, and we sometimes drift towards an expectation that other people should find it as easy, or almost as easy, as we do. We fail to understand how difficult other people find it.

The generally adverse conditions for cycling also explain, of course, why those of us who cycle are such a minority. We’re going against the grain. In a way, we’re doing what we’re not supposed to do. Not many people will successfully cycle in an ideological and infrastructural system which effectively designs cycling out, and makes car use sensible and ordinary.

But if a minority of us ride almost without thinking, a majority of people don’t. People who don’t cycle, and especially those who are thinking about it or who are considering the possibility of their loved ones cycling, can clearly see current conditions for cycling to be atrocious.

Extensive cycling around four English cities (Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester) and many hours observing Britain on the move have convinced me that contemporary conditions for cycling are dire. So dire we might draw an analogy, perhaps too strong but which makes the point, between asking people to cycle and sending soldiers into war. Car fodder. It’s almost immoral to be telling people – and certainly children – to cycle when conditions for cycling remain generally so brutal.

Let’s spend less energy telling other people to cycle, and more striving harder to transform conditions so fundamentally that people will not only want to cycle –they’ll almost have no choice (like most people today feel they have little choice other than to go by car).

If you’ve followed this far, you’ll possibly be thinking I’m being melodramatic here; more people ride bicycles than just the hardy few. Yes, of course they do. Many people like cycling and will cycle. But we need to delve into the specific conditions under which this much greater number of people cycle.

The short and simple story is that people cycle when conditions are humane. You can think of your own examples of such places, depending on where you live; they’ll likely include parks, canal towpaths, seafront promenades, and disused railway lines which have been converted to walking and cycling routes. Such places are most popular on sunny summer Sundays, when people can take their time, unwind, relax.

Leisure cycling is relaxing, but urban utility cycling generally is not. So people will make occasional leisure journeys by bike whilst continuing – despite saying how much they enjoy cycling and wish they could do it more – to make most of their ordinary journeys by car.

But things are changing fast, aren’t they? Some places, such as the (now extinct) Cycling Demonstration Towns, have had additional support for cycling. In those places – my home town of Lancaster is one – small improvements to the (ahem) ‘cycling offer’ have encouraged some more people to give cycling a go. Other, bigger cities – Leicester, Sheffield, London – have experienced bigger jumps in cycling. Cycling in (some parts of) these cities has apparently doubled in the last decade, albeit from very low levels to (well) very low levels.

I’m not being cynical – such growth in cycling is good news, and promising. However, two problems bedevil UK cycling advocacy: first, the requirement to trumpet any and all gains, however minor or potentially imaginary, in order for us to legitimate and reproduce ourselves as advocates; second, the rush to interpret any sign of growth in cycling as both ‘good’ and a clear sign that investments in cycling are paying dividends. A more critical analysis might concur with neither.

Cycling is gaining popularity. However, the Understanding Walking and Cycling research demonstrates clearly how the vast majority of people, much as they like the idea of cycling and will sometimes cycle, will most definitely not cycle on urban roads, under current conditions, dominated by motorised traffic. This analysis applies to confident and competent ‘middle-aged’ adults; the situation is much worse if we focus analysis on children, younger adults, and people much beyond ‘middle-age’. (In other words, the kinds of people who form key utility cycling constituencies in the Netherlands are in urban Britain almost completely invisible.)

Cycling is more popular. More people are cycling. But let’s make no bones about it – at the same time cycling remains massively marginal, a minority practice which is both passively and more actively discriminated against, in multiple ways. More people are cycling, but for so long as the prevailing conditions for cycling remain inhospitable, both the number and the resilience of converts will tend to be limited.

And each time we celebrate a minor growth in cycling which has been achieved in spite of radically unfavourable conditions we embed the notion that radical re-structuring of those conditions is not a necessary pre-requisite to getting Britain on its bike. When it is. So there’s a danger in being optimistic rather than realistic – in talking up the current growth in cycling. The danger is we conspire with and strengthen the status quo, the provision of little changes here and there, little changes which effectively change nothing. And thus we risk becoming complicit in the continuous deferral of the radical changes really required to make cycling normal, a form of transport which is – genuinely – for (almost) everyone.

We have to start replacing the car system we have built with a bicycle system we are building. We need to reach the point where people using a car for short urban journeys are instantly assumed to have a very good reason – in other words, an excuse – for doing so. Most obviously, they are probably physically unable to walk or cycle. Towards such people we can feel compassion, not blame – if they could they would, like the rest of us, make their journeys on foot or by cycle. Because in this scenario, the one we should be striving to create, it is not driving which is the default – as now – but not driving. When we get to this point, we’ll have successfully produced the necessary inversions – from driving as normal to driving as abnormal; and from cycling as abnormal to cycling as normal.

How do we do this? A whole range of changes need to be made, and some are beginning to happen; for example, Lancashire – where I live – is moving towards making 20 miles per hour the default speed limit on residential roads, which is a big step in the right direction. But many necessary changes have yet to be made. You probably know what they are, so I won’t revise them all here, but I’d suggest probably the most important, if also most contentious, is the provision of quality, separated cycling routes along the (currently – not forever, nothing is forever …) biggest, busiest and fastest urban roads. I’d like to be convinced we can build a mainstream culture of cycling across urban Britain without such dedicated infrastructure, and some people have tried hard to convince me of this, but so far – I’m sorry to say – unsuccessfully.

Thus it’s my reluctant conclusion that only by providing such routes – high quality, continuous ones, which give cycling right-of-way and which wherever necessary boldly take space from parked and/or moving cars – can we begin to assemble a ‘bicycle system’ which can compete with – and then through its very success start to dismantle – the ‘car system’ which has been so effectively built over the last half-century.

The Understanding Walking and Cycling research has found that driving very short distances very often has, for almost everyone with access to a car, become ‘obvious’ or ‘common sense’, instead of ‘stupid’ or ‘daft’, which is what we need to make it become.

When it becomes much easier to move by cycle than it is to move by car – only then, when we ask “who is cycling for?”, will we genuinely be able to answer, “almost everyone”.


48 Responses to “Who is cycling for?”

  1. Khal Spencer Says:

    There was a truck driver interviewed on National Public Radio this morning. Over here in the States, that is. He said the biggest change in driver attitude over his working life is the loss of common courtesy. That is one of the things that makes it tough on cyclists. It used to be quite normal for motorists to share the road with cyclists. Now it is considered a chore, often accompanied by catcalls or worse. Stir in the mix the rise of the car as rolling home entertainment center, and it can get downright lethal.

    Some of the blame goes to congestion–too many cars and the expectation that we should all have it easy. I see that in my home town as a small and vocal lobby demand bigger and faster roads. Some of the blame goes to the general lack of civility in the States (listen to our Presidential debates–if you must).

    We need to move beyond the Car is King paradigm to be sure. A carpenter has more than one tool in his box and we should have more than one in our transportation toolbox. I have a car, which is almost a required tool for living in the vast North American Southwest. But for getting around my town, a bicycle or moped works fine in most of the county and walking works fine in the town center. Except, of course, for crossing our hometown freeway, Trinity Drive.

    We need to build infrastructure suitable for moving by human power, at least where it makes sense, i.e., over short distances such as in compact cities. Cities will become compact as oil becomes more difficult to provide. I think the Germans, in places such as Bremen, get it right. Lower the speed limits in towns and add engineering controls that put bikes and peds on a level playing field.

    Thanks for the essay. I’ll read it more carefully later. Right now, its off to work on the bicycle.

  2. Anthony Cartmell Says:

    My epiphany about all this happened when we started cycling with our young twins. They love cycling, but we’re so restricted in where we can do so without being constantly on the alert of inattentive or careless drivers.

    I will still ride, on my own, as a “vehicular” cyclist, “taking the lane” and being assertive. But I know realise that I’ve never enjoyed this sort of cycling, and in fact it’s quite scary even when you get used to it as a daily routine.

    As the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain are campaigning for, we really do need to modify our transport environment so that riding a bike is as easy as riding a bike. That means, in simple terms, removing the dangerous motor vehicles from where people want to cycle.

    I still remember clearly the happy grins on the faces of all sorts of people on bikes, when our roads had the danger removed by the last fuel protests. There is a huge untapped demand for non-motorised local transport, and yet we are still addicted to the motor.

  3. Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum Says:

    I was asked as chair of the bournemouth cycle forum to endorse a bid from the council to the sustainable travel fund. My response was as follows…
    “I’m afraid I won’t be writing a letter supporting the small LSTF bid.

    The forum as a body has not approved this bid so it would be wrong of me to misrepresent them. In your email you mention the forum as ‘a key consultee for highway improvement parts of the bid’. I would disagree – in my 2 years attending I feel we do little more than make minor points about work driven by your department. We nod and rubber stamp the ‘faits accomplis’ presented to us.

    On a more personal level, and for what it’s worth as Chair of the Forum, I disagree with the direction the bid has taken. There is virtually no capital spending on the arterial, segregated infrastructure we so desperately need. The focus seems to be on education, persuasion and training. People don’t cycle because they (quite rightly) perceive it to be dangerous. Anyone commuting on even Bournemouth’s relatively stress-free roads (compared to major cities) will testify to close overtaking, dangerous junctions and constant abuse from drivers. This will only be tackled over time but will only start to change when the planning department decides to prioritise cycling over driving. 3.5 Km of roads were completely resurfaced last year, some junctions too, and all that we have to show for it are a few ASLs which are quite often impossible to reach and are never policed. The Dutch are in the process of removing ASLs in their latest roadworks as they have found them to cause unnecessary conflict. We have been promised that the current work at Cemetery Junction will bring improvements for cyclists – I very much doubt it.

    The LSTF bid shows a map of the current ‘strategic cycle links’. We have a grand total of 30m (metres not miles) of cycle way that the Dutch would consider ‘adequate’. The rest of the dotted lines on that map show mostly sub-standard ‘advisory’ lanes and cycle routes that take us far from our desire lines, present us with multiple conflict points and take us to many places where we have to dismount and walk. Other ‘routes’ take us down rat-run roads that have inadequate traffic calming measures. As for Castlepoint, my views would make a docker blush. How the LSTF bid can pretend we need a bit of cash to ‘construct the missing links in our cycle network’ is surely stretching things a bit!

    We all want the same thing in the end – more people cycling instead of driving. Not just for the direct transport benefits (congestion, pollution etc) or the secondary benefits (health, cheapness etc) but because a significant modal shift to cycling will really make our housing, working and shopping areas much nicer places to live (and visit as tourists!). This can only happen when cycling is truly prioritised over car use. When people get up in the morning and think, “I’ll take the bike today because it’s easier/more direct/nicer/quicker”. Not just ‘cyclists’ such as the CTC and the ‘lycra brigade’ but everyday, ordinary commuters. It can only happen when parents are willing to let 8 year old kids just get on a bike and cycle to school. Without planning. Without having to take circuitous routes that are ‘safer’. Just because it is safe and more convenient for the parents to let them go on their own. People don’t want to cycle at the moment because the roads are appalling and bring us into constant conflict with other modes of travel. If we continue to think that showing adults the route from their home to their work is going to make a significant difference, we will stay blinkered to real progress and stuck with our current “Carmaggedon”.

  4. Kevin Spiers Says:

    Love it. Many of the people who should read this will not have the patience, stamina or plain will to read this article in full. It should be compulsory reading for everyone in our planning authorities at least but the message is a wider one which needs to be understood by our lawmakers at the highest level. Fundamental culture change is required.

    The last guy to comment said, “Thanks for the essay, I’ll read it more carefully later”, and he’s an enthusiast. My question is, how can this message be ‘precised’ for easy consumption, for lobbying, if you like?

  5. katsdekker Says:

    Yo, man. Reflects my sentiment totally.

  6. Tom Cahill Says:

    You’re back!

  7. Khal Spencer Says:

    The reason I skimmed this was because I was already late for work, and want to do the essay justice.

    It might be a bit of hyperbole to compare riding a bicycle on most roads to being a soldier in a war. It is still the rarity for a bicyclist to be killed or injured, whereas it is the expectation in combat. But aside from that, the author has a point. People don’t expect to be harried when they go to the store, school, or work. They don’t expect to have to be a bundle of nerves and definitely do not expect to be the roadway equivalent of a Lancaster pilot on a mission in a sky full of ME-109s whizzing by. They expect relative safety and comfort, and those conditions are rarely intuitively obvious when one is riding a bicycle in a sea of oblivious motorists on typical roads. Safety and comfort are,quite frankly, seen as in the realm of the automobile. As Mr. Spiers says, I am a longtime enthusiast, and even I am starting to worry about all the driving-while-oblivious motorists around me.

    Hence the demand for segregated facilities if one wants more than a few percent, at most, mode split. I commented to that effect in a couple blog entries of my own. While visiting Bremen, Germany a year ago, it is obvious that the people of Bremen are completely at home on a bicycle. But getting them at home on their bikes involved more then bikeways.


  8. Carlton Reid Says:

    Good, thought-provoking stuff.

    This, however, jumps out as something that might have been expressed differently:

    “I see it as almost immoral to be telling people – and certainly children – to cycle when conditions for cycling remain generally so brutal…Let’s spend less of our energies telling other people to cycle, and more of them striving harder to transform conditions that people will not only want to cycle…”

    When conditions in the Netherlands, 40 years ago, were not a patch on what they have become, did the Dutch decide to stop promoting cycling until the conditions were peachy?

    If we did that we’d lose yet more generations to cycling and there would be nobody to ride on the wonderful separated infrastructure when it arrived.

    It’s not an either or thing. Promote cycling but argue for better infrastructure too.

    Arguing that cycle promotion in the UK is “immoral” weakens your argument immensely.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Carlton.

      In my defence, I said ‘almost immoral’, not ‘immoral’. I would not have said ‘immoral’, so you read me incorrectly.

      I agree with you that we should promote cycling; but I also think that our cycling promotion efforts need sometimes to be more strongly grounded in the realities out there on the streets. We should not, in other words, be arbitrary in our cycling promotion, but rather very careful. Now I know that most cycle campaigners are thoughtful and careful, so to that extent maybe I set up a bit of a straw man. But there’s a tendency in some cycling promotion – perhaps the kind of promotion done more by government than by campaigners – which I find personally troublesome; it’s perhaps most apparent in the push to target ‘the school run’ as particularly problematic in causing peak-time congestion, so that parents of school children are demonised for doing their best to get their children safely to school, whilst (for example) fat men travelling alone in big cars seem to go unnoticed.

      But it’s true that I wanted to make a point, and I deliberately used rhetoric to make it in what I thought would be a relatively poignant way. And I don’t think it hurts at all to encourage a bit more reflexivity in our efforts to get people on bikes – indeed, I’d argue that such increased reflexivity is probably essential, if we are to become more successful in getting people onto bikes.

      Finally, part of my argument is that small gains in getting people onto bikes, resulting from current interventions, risk creating the impression that we don’t need a paradigm shift in short-distance urban mobility; when we do. If I were to push this point further, which I’m loathe to do, then cycling promotion could indeed start to be constructed as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. I’m very loathe to push that point because it’s fundamentalist; and my sympathies are with you, with being constructive, with bridge-building, and with ‘working on all fronts’.

      All the best


  9. Carlton Reid Says:

    I know you said ‘almost’, I quoted it. But using such an emotive term, even softened slightly by a caveat, is inflammatory. Good for polemical reasons, throwing red meat to those who believe promoting cycling is some sort of evil, but a kick in the groin to the thousands of people keeping cycling alive in the UK.

    My first point also had a question: did the Dutch stop promoting cycling when conditions in NL for cycling were not as good as they are today? Or did they put in place infrastructure and promote cycling at the same time?

    There are many places in the UK where cycling is dangerous, but also many places where cycling is not dangerous. Like you, I want to get rid of the places where it’s dangerous and create safe cycling conditions for all. However, I’d quite like there to be some people on bikes to ride those safer places and encouraging cycling is not immoral, almost or otherwise.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Carlton

      To (try to) answer your question about the Netherlands, I don’t know, precisely, about the intersections between Dutch advocacy of improved infrastructure and broader Dutch cycling promotion efforts through the 1970s, 80s, 90s … through until today. I do know, however (based on my reading of the work of historians such as Anne-Katrin Ebert and social scientists such as Peter Pelzer) that the Dutch have never confronted quite the predicament which we face in the UK, and which most other countries across the planet also currently face – this predicament includes (it is systemic and networked, so I’m picking out relatively specific but nevertheless inter-related characteristics of a wider nexus here): utility cycling being very marginal in many places; very low levels of cycling literacy across the general populace, with consequent lack of sympathy and empathy towards ‘the cyclist’; (on the contrary) frequent intolerance of ‘the cyclist’; and a remarkable lack of a broad, democratic vision of urban space in which cycling has a place. Although it wavered, the relationship of the Dutch towards cycling remained relatively strong, and that’s a key difference between the Netherlands a generation ago on the one hand, and the situation confronting most of the rest of the world today on the other. (This explanation, of course, also makes any notion that we can ‘simply’ ‘copy’ the Dutch similarly problematic.)

      So I don’t think we can ‘look to the Dutch’ in any simplistic way when it comes to figuring out the best way ahead, although of course the Dutch can teach us much.

      However, to reiterate, we need cycling promotion, cycling promotion clearly has a place and is part of the future we’re working to create. But we need a bicycle system more, and so a very big part of cycling promotion today ought to be bold, broad and unashamed advocacy of such a bicycle system (a system which would of course include many of the things which we both mean by ‘cycling promotion’; e.g. bike shops, bike recycling centres, bike hubs, blogs, magazine articles …).

      What do you think?

      All the best


      • Carlton Reid Says:

        I don’t think cycle promotion by itself is the be all and end all.

        Mostly I want to see space taken away from cars and given to pedestrians as well as cyclists.

        Trucks have no right to be thundering through cities and should be the first to be restricted, both with speed limiters and zonal restrictions.

  10. Jack Thurston Says:

    It’s interesting to think about promotion of cycling and motoring in a comparative perspective.

    By some measures, motoring is heavily promoted by an enormous advertising spend by car manufacturers, TV programmes like Top Gear and by the construction of lots of expensive infrastructure for motoring.

    But is all this really about selling motoring to people who might not think that driving a car is for them? Or is it about convincing them to chose one car over another.

    Chris Rock, the American stand up comedian once said:

    “Drug dealers don’t sell drugs. Drugs sell themselves. It’s crack. It’s not an encyclopedia. It’s not a f**king vacuum cleaner. You don’t really gotta try to sell crack. Ok? You will never hear a drug dealer say: ‘How am i gonna get rid of all this crack?’ ”

    Motoring sells itself because everything about our transport system is custom built for motoring. But cycling has to be promoted, like Chris Rock’s encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners. Because a lot of things about our transport system are custom built to make the alternatives to motoring feel like an alienating and dangerous experience.

    How do we get ourselves to a point where cycling sells itself? I agree with you: not by cycle training, good though that is for those who take it; not by poster campaigns, nice though they are for the public image of cycling; not by showers at work, convenient though they are for those who use them; not by cycle parking, handy though that is when you finish your journey. It’s the infrastructure that defines the very experience of cycling that needs to change. It’s time to reclaim the roads from the motorist: lowering speed limits, removing car parking spaces and setting aside safe, separate cycle space on wide and fast roads.

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      Motoring sells itself because it is a modern, energy-saving convenience, i.e., you don’t have to put out energy to travel, just money. Just as vacuuming the floor is easier than painstakingly sweeping it, driving to the mall is easier than bicycling to the mall–the former requires no personal energy expenditure, you just park your hind end in the car and steer.

      The problem is that there has not been enough of a down side in places like the States. Those who could afford cars, get them. They are a substantial majority and in the upper income range so they (well, we) have political clout. Bicycling is a little like Mormonism here–poorly understood and seen as weird. They have their magic underwear, I have my tights.

      Germany thought about the need to provide disincentives to drive, as did some other European countries. Gasoline/petrol is very expensive, cities kept compact, and cars taxed. By contrast, bicycling infrastructure is built to invite you to ride. So it makes you pause before deciding your commute from downtown Bremen to the Bremen Airport should be done in a car. It just makes no sense most of the time. When I was in Bremen on business, renting a car would have been the equivalent of having an albatross around my neck.

      • johnthemonkey Says:

        “Motoring sells itself because it is a modern, energy-saving convenience, i.e., you don’t have to put out energy to travel, just money. Just as vacuuming the floor is easier than painstakingly sweeping it, driving to the mall is easier…”

        That’s the case with out of town shopping, to a degree. In my own town, driving is the most colossal pain in the backside. The roads to the main shopping areas are clogged by 11am on Saturday and Sunday, and finding parking can be a chore too. “Rush hour” is inaptly named, both as its length increases, and speed decreases.

        When going in on my own, on the Brompton, i can pass upwards of half a mile of standing motor traffic. That short, 2-3 mile journey into the town centre would be an easy sell, bike wise, if conditions were better[1].

        [1] I don’t, personally, care how this is acheived – tame the driver, give bikes separate (good) routes, whatever.

  11. atomheartfather Says:


    Many thanks for both the thought-provoking article and follow-up discussion about the merits/morality or otherwise of UK cycling advocacy. It neatly reflects the connundrum that many of us find ourselves in, wanting to increase cycling numbers, yet finding it almost inevitable that as soon as we “get our hands dirty” and get involved in actual initiatives, we find ourselves advocating piss-poor compromises or somewhat marginal projects that don’t get to the root of the problem. The mention of the school run is an interesting case in point. The Sustrans/local authority “Safe Routes to School” programme, for example, has failed to do the most obvious – develop routes to schools that are genuinely safe for cycling schoolkids, ie completely separated from any kind of busy motorised traffic. If Darlington is anything to go by, what has happened instead has been the installation of a number of signed routes which, when used by schoolkids, leads to lines of kids on bikes using pavements on the busy road sections.

    The advocates’ dilemna is clearly put by Mike Chalkley in Bournemouth, declining to support a “cycling initiative” that sought LSTF funds. At some point, it seems we have all had to ask ourselves whether putting our name as cycling advocates to a proposal is less productive than publically opposing one. Local advocates are probably best placed to judge the abilities of their local administrations. But I would also add that the process is dialectical – the more involved local advocates get in half-way house solutions, the more they are drawn into the car-centric visions that lie behind them. Organisations like Sustrans have struggled with these dilemnas for years, as perfectly well thought out visions (all cycle routes should be safe for an 11 year old child?) get watered down in practice for the sake of expediency.

    What I would argue we, as cycling advocates, all need is a clear common vision of “who is cycling for”, and therefore “what travelling by bicycle is typically like”, and “what cycling friendly towns look like”. I think we are slowly getting there, with your great work, and initiatives like the CEofGB. More and more advocacy groups around the country are sharing this same vision – heads up to Mike in Bournmouth and Kats, Claire & co on Tyneside. And just like in the Netherlands, I think the issue is coming to a head around safety – the Bow roundabout being the most publicised, but countless other incidents around the country as well.

    As you suggest above Mike, what is most needed is separated cycling space where roads are busy. That requires taking space away from motorised traffic, and it is this that most UK councils, witha few notable exceptions, seem most reluctant to do, even where plenty of space is available. Right now we are on holiday with our folders, and having just cycled 15kms of coastline, photographed a series of practical ways in which a cycle route can be made both safe and – well almost – continuous. Much of the time this has meant taking space away from motorised traffic. This is Spain, not exactly reknowned as a cycling-friendly country.

    Until our transport authorities understand and start to act on this, we are all confronted with “tactical” strategies in the short-term of how to push them forward. So groups like the East Dumbarton Cycle Coop base their everyday work on getting kids to cycle now – helmets, reflective vests and the rest. But Mark up there is well aware of what is really needed for mass cycling to happen, so meanwhile lobbies hard politically for what we argue here. As bloggers elsewhere have said, there is a “survival strategy” for cycling now, but don’t confuse it with a clear vision of where we need to be heading.

  12. Carlton Reid Says:

    Space needs to be taken away from motorised vehicles. Other disincentives need to be put in place, too.

    This is not happening yet.

    But must we stop promoting cycling because of the dilemma many motorists are murdering bastards?

    • Chris Says:

      The sooner this collaborative lapdog BS between local councils and cycle groups ceases the better. IMHO cycling should be about transport – I can’t think of one UK local or national government organisation that thinks of cycling in these terms. Until such time, campaigning should be about teeth not PR.

    • Kim Says:

      To quote this Fact Sheet cycle promotion:
      A broad promotional campaign must be done in support of other programmes and activities to increase cycling in your city. Simply encouraging people to cycle more without making it easy and attractive for them to do so will not be successful.

      It is not a case of one or the other, we need both, but we are not getting the support to make cycling safe and easy. To much so cycle promotion in the UK is aimed at those who are already cycling. We are told that to be safe we have to wear hi-viz, a helmet and ride like a motor vehicle (and this is what we teach our children). It hardly going to encourage the majority of the population that cycling is a safe, convenient means of short range transport. Until we change this attitude, we doomed to failure.

  13. Gareth - Secretary Sheffield CTC Says:

    I think the analysis in this article is extremely convincing Dave. One question which I think it raises (which I accept is outwith the remit of your research) is how we build the political consensus to dismantle the ‘car system’.

    Unfortunately I think this will only happen with the assistance of the price mechanism. While it may be unfair that some are priced out of their cars while others are able to continue because of their greater wealth or income, I do think it is good if people cycle because they cannot afford the costs of a car. In my view, the political will to change will not come from altruism, but from greater numbers of people recognising that the car system no longer benefits them.

  14. Beatrix Wupperman Says:

    It is interesting you mention Bremen here and the inconvenience of driving in town. I have lived in Bremen/Germany for more than 20 years and sold my car in 1996. It simply does not make sense to drive in that city. When you want to cycle from A to B you got your cycling infrastructure at hand and everywhere, so you never plan your bicycle trip to make it safe, you just use the roads in front of you. Any kid in Bremen can safely cycle from A to B. I also joined a car club (Cambio Car Sharing) but hardly ever use it. (Maybe for a trip to IKEA).

    Parallelly to me living in Bremen I also lived quite a bit in Darlington U.K. which was one of the first six Cycling Demo Towns in England. Up to today cycling conditions in Darlo are very poor, you are still confronted with busy roads without any cycling infrastructure. 3% of all trips are made on bikes (Bremen: 25%) and hardly any young person cycles. So Darlo is after six years of special funding still like most towns and cities in Britain.

    The main problem in Darlington as in many places in the world (though I must say: in the Anglo-Saxon world) is that planners and politicians hardly dare to take space away from cars, simple as that. Cars are first class, everyone else is second. Promoting cycling is fine (and Darlo has done that very well). But what do you promote? The joys of cycling amongst motorists on crap or non existant cycling infrastructure? Here we are back to square one….

    I am happy to see that we agree here in this thread: Public space has to be re-allocated to the public and not just be reserved to one group of transport users. As one of our girls said in “Beauty and the Bike”: “It just needs a bit of paint.”

  15. Paul M Says:

    Everything you say makes perfect sense to me,, but I think there is a piece missing here.

    We can talk of facilitating cycling and making it subjectively safer so that less athletic or less brave people – people who are not 25-45 year old men, for example – feel able to take it up. We can talk about the impact of this being that short car journeys (that half of all journeys nationwide which are less than three miles, half less htan 3 km in big cities) become the exception rather than the norm, but the implication of that would be a considerable reduction in car use.

    Well, duh! But my point is that all major economies are now effectively dependent primarily on the automotove and arms industries to maintain the current paradigm of a growth-driven capitalist society. All businesses are hag-ridden by the notion that they must grow – I work in corporate finance and I can tell you that the capital markets place minimal value on businesses with limited growth potential. So, the motor manufacturers and all the other elements of the trade – retailers, parts suppliers, insurers, breakdown recovery associations – need for car use to continue growing. They are not going to take any effective moves to slow down or even reverse the growth of car use lying down.

    How do we overcome their sheer power? Can we expect that eventually the lid will be blown off in the way we saw Big Tobacco change from the purveyor of glamour and sex to a merchant of death? I hope so – big tobacco is still powerful but a shadow of its former self, and I don’t see much progress being possible while the auto industry still has the politicians, newspaper editors etc in their pockets.

  16. Khal Spencer Says:

    Anyone following the current U.S. Congressional re authorization of our transportation bill will see that car is seen as king by the Republican Party, and this could have a profound influence, given its coming from the biggest economy in the world. I hope the Senate sends this back where it belongs, and then flushes twice to be sure.

    Its not that the car doesn’t have its place, simply because we have built our civilizations around the automobile for a century and its going to take time and effort to change that. But short trips and urban centers are not its place.

    What is truly bizarre is how the reactionary politics one sees in the U.S. has somehow decided that transportation alternatives are the enemy. The virulence with which programs like Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets are being rejected suggests to me this is not about saving money. Its about an ideological rejection of conservation and controlled growth. Its simply mind-boggling how stupid these people really are.

    When Obama bailed out the auto industry, I was a little ambivalent, given my stepfather was a career General Motors machinist and relies on his pension and health care plan in his old age, as do many others. And, to be quite honest, I am a closet motorhead,like many in my generation (that doesn’t mean I drive the car to the mailbox in the morning!). But really, should we be rescuing car companies, or letting other forms of transportation compete on a level playing field?

    As Paul M tells us, major industries like the car companies exert profound influence over national and world economies. There is, quite simply, too much money to be made and too many jobs at stake and these industries and their banker friends will circle the wagons. I think Paul is right: we will need to re-think what we consider successful economies before we replace jobs whose purpose is to drive consumerism. But we can’t simply continue to consume. Its going to kill us, just as cutting down that last tree killed the Easter Islanders.

  17. Simon Parker Says:

    *Until* it becomes very much easier to move by bicycle than by car, who is cycling for?

    The people who would be encouraged to use high-quality segregated cycle routes are not the ones who are being killed. I’m with Peter Wright – whose daughter Rosie was killed by a left-turning HGV – when he said that we actually have to make conditions safe for *existing* cyclists before we start encouraging new ones to join in.

    There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of contention amongst cycling advocates about where we’d like to end up, so could I please ask you to lend your compelling analytic skills in consideration of the best way to start.

    Pretty much all I know about this can be found in chapter 8 of ‘Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities’. In particular I would be interested to hear you controvert the importance of:

    thinking in terms of a network,

    studying the feasibility of such a network, and

    doing as much as possible at least cost first in order for such a network to function.

  18. Steve A Says:

    “people are much more likely to cycle when conditions are humane”

    That says a lot about why some cycling facilities work and others remain virtually unused…

  19. John Krug Says:

    Dave, excellent. Nice to see you back here. Good comments all round as well. The Times has cycling safety on the front page today (2/2/12). http://thetimes.co.uk. Having big media on side will help. Like it or not big media influences public opinion.Murdoch should get the ‘Currant Bun’ going as well. It helps translate into ‘something must be done’. National mindset precedes political will, precedes action. Their ‘Covenant’ looks interesting. And a decent list of sponsoring organisations.The Independent did something similar last year. They never seem to keep it up though.

    Soldiers got a mention and some comments.This from The Times this morning:

    ‘As a point of comparison: since 2001, 576 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq; 1,275 cyclists died on British streets.’

    So, I think perhaps not too strong an analogy.

    I wish the weather would ease up See you Monday maybe.

  20. Simon Parker Says:

    This is such a well-considered article that I find it difficult to leave alone. I hope you don’t mind me adding a further comment.

    You point out the requirement to trumpet any and all gains in order for us to reproduce ourselves as advocates. Just recently I found myself welcoming TfL’s proposal for Bow Roundabout, even though it falls short, so I know exactly what you mean.

    You also mention a rush to interpret any sign of growth in cycling as a clear sign that investments are paying dividends. As you later suggest, this kind of talk is done more by gobernmental organisations than by campaigners, and like you I am troubled by it.

    You say things like, ‘We have to start replacing…’ and, ‘We need to work towards the point…’ and even, ‘Re-making the world – one revolution at a time’. I too am scornful of the ‘little changes which effectively change nothing’, but let us remind ourselves that the European Cycling Federation have asserted that the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network is a ‘fundamental pre-condition’ of mass cycling.

    In promoting the development of such a network to a minimum level of functioning as a first step, I risk becoming ‘complicit in the continuous deferral of those very radical changes which are really required in order to make cycling normal.’ So be it. If people wish to go out of their way to misunderstand me, there’s only so much I can do about that.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Dear Simon

      Thanks for all your comments, which – like everyone else’s – are really appreciated (and carefully read and digested, even if I don’t always have time to respond). To say a few things, in response to what you say. First, and most important, I think many of us, certainly myself included, are in a quandary here – we have to work pragmatically in the present, in order to bring about a better future; at times it feels that what we are doing isn’t so productive, and sometimes we fear that it might even be counter-productive, but we nonetheless try hard to do our best. I think this is how the messy world works. Radical change never comes out of nowhere; radical change comes, rather, and often unexpectedly, as a result of unpredictable convergences – so we might suddenly get a new situation, which none of us might currently be able to anticipate, but which makes things look different, and it’s only because there’s loads of us doing things, trying to make a more cycle-friendly future, that this ‘new landscape of possibilities’ emerges. So I think it’s OK to be both dissatisfied with what we’re doing, and hopeful that what we’re doing is making a difference. At that level, I’m with anyone and everyone who is currently working for cycling – it’s less about the ‘efficiency’ of what we’re doing, and more about the spirit with which we do it. I hope that doesn’t sound patronising …

      Second, I agree with you about networks. I have over the last few months started to think, talk and write much more about the importance of developing ‘a bicycle system’, and an absolutely vital part of such a system is a dense physical network of cycle-friendly routes (I’m sure that my thoughts here will start finding their way into my posts over the next few months). Here again, such a system, and such networks, don’t miraculously appear overnight; rather, we build them bit-by-bit, struggle-by-struggle. If we can build a bigger vision, bigger ambitions, and more confidence for a bicycle system, we might then be able to translate that into bolder, more ambitious calls and plans for specific parts of that system – refusing, for example, to settle for little add-ons which represent no more than sops to cycling, and insisting on changes which assume and embody cycling getting much bigger, not remaining marginalised. I know there are political realities here, and people will be quick to remind me of them, but I also think we need to start acting *as if*; unless we cycling advocates aim big, talk big and expect big, no one else will! And although I’m too close up to be able to say this with any objectivity, my sense is that things, currently (Olympics, The Times campaign etc etc), are changing fast.

      I feel like I’m chuntering, so I’ll stop there. But I always appreciate comments, so please feel free to keep them coming.

      All the very best


      • Simon Parker Says:

        Hi David,

        Thank you for your reply.

        I confess, it’s a relief to read what you say. Thank you for taking the trouble to explain.

        Naturally, I have no desire to diminish the force of what is a very simple message – we demand segregated cycling – and I am delighted to see how receptive people are becoming to this idea. I readily acknowledge that a radical restructuring of the cycling environment is needed, and I agree that we need to base our plans on the assumption that cycling is going to become more mainstream and less marginalised.

        Coming soon are the details of LCC’s Go Dutch campaign, which I understand revolves around the idea of each borough developing a main road route, the whole useful length. Add to this TfL’s prior commitment to deliver the CS routes, and there is a very real prospect that Londoners will have access to several hundered miles of high quality segregated cycling over the next four years.

        Which would put us on a par with, say, Chicago or New York, that is, lots of high quality routes, but no network.

        One criticism of this approach is that it does not make the best use of the currently available resources, but I will reserve further comment on this matter until such time as LCC have published their proposals.

      • Beatrix Wupperman Says:

        @Dave and Simon: I am not so sure if we need to go so far as to develop a parallel network just for cycling: There is cost and space to think of.
        Also: the network exists, it is just occupied by the car and there is no safe room for the bicycle. That needs to be sorted. We need to use the resources we have in a more reasonable and safe way. Right now they are wasted in a big way for cars.
        The space could be partly reallocated to cyclists and pedestrians, car speed has to be cut down and passive motorist traffic (parking) has to be reduced and the space handed over to more reasonable use like stands for bicycles (one car = more than 10 bikes in parking).

        As I said before: As long as we treat the car as first class, drivers will behave consequently: reckless, without consideration for other traffic members and un-Britishly impolite. A materialist approach is to say: You have to change their environment i.e. change the design of the roads (see above) and they will change as well.

        An extra network just for cyclists without changing the motorist’s world will not change our cities and towns in the long run. It is nice to have but not a must as long as we have a good network in front of us that is simply used in the wrong way.

  21. Andrew Roberts Says:

    Ok, urban utility cycling is not relaxing, but neither is urban driving.

  22. Susan Says:

    Excellent post. Would it be alright if I posted an excerpt from it and a link to it on my blog? Of course I’ll be completely clear that you wrote this profound piece, not me.


    • Dave Horton Says:

      Hi Susan, sure, go ahead. But thanks very much for checking first. And glad you like it!

      All the best


  23. Benjamin Samuel Says:

    Yes, safer cycle routes, but why travel at all? I (part of a discussion of the London Green Party’s manifesto) propose that people would still have to travel much shorter distances to get to the places they need to get to. Clearing out the urban poor in central and East London, mandating Jobseekers to travel 1.5 hours to a job opportunity, and rising rents on the traditional high street zones, make congestion worse for everybody.

  24. snibgo Says:

    I may be in a minority of one here: I believe the problem isn’t too little cycling but too much motoring. In particular, society’s enslavement to the motor car, and our restructuring to accommodate the needs of the car.

    I grew up in Stevenage in the 1960s and 1970s, where all the major roads had parallel cycle paths. But the road network was good so everyone drove. Thus I suspect current drivers who say “we would cycle if we had segregated routes” would find some other excuse.

    We need to make cycling more attractive than driving — faster, safer, more convenient. Building the best possible cycling infrastructure won’t do that, by itself. We also (or only?) need to disadvantage the motorist. We can make a start by designing junctions for pedestrians and cyclists first, and motorists last. Ensure motorists have to stop at junctions. No more motorway-style junctions in urban locations.

    I’d better stop before I get too radical, and destroy what little political credibility I may have.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Hi Snibgo. Thanks for your posts. I agree absolutely with you, so you’re certainly not in a minority of one! (In fact, I’d suggest you’re articulating what’s now become the orthodox position amongst most cycle campaigners; we now just need to make it the new orthodoxy amongst everyone else too! 😉 One of the reasons why vastly improved infrastructure for cycling (and walking) is seen as problematic is because people don’t think it can be ‘squeezed in’ to the current urban environment; but in many places it doesn’t need to be ‘squeezed in’; it simply needs to replace space which is currently monopolised by parked or moving cars. That is simultaneously obvious, sensible and radical; but the fact that it is obvious and sensible (even to very many people who are completely dependent on the car to make their lives work) gives me a good deal of hope that it will become a progressively less radical position, and a decade from now might indeed have become the new orthodoxy. So please, don’t stop being radical! We need people to think radically in order to articulate the future which we can then together work towards. All the best, Dave

    • Beatrix Wupperman Says:

      @snibgo: I totally agree with you: build good cycling infrastructure and make car driving less attractive, that is the clue.
      That means
      1. take space away from cars, so drivers have to slow down,
      2. give back priority to cyclists and pedestrians at junctions
      3. reallocate car parking space and replace it with stands for bicycles
      etc. etc.

    • Gareth Says:

      @snibgo: I completely agree with you. Like you I grew up in Stevenage in the 1960s and 1970s and while the cycle path provision was doubtless one of the reasons my parents were relaxed about me cycling as a child, revisiting the place reveals the cycle network crumbling and the roads crammed with cars.

      At the heart of the matter is resource allocation – who gets the space, who gets the priorities at junctions. This is why the challenge of getting an appropriate environment for cyclists has to be seen in terms of developing the political clout to reallocate. And therefore, while we may be concerned about the ethics of promoting cycling given current conditions, we need more cyclists and fewer motorists to turn the political tide.

      Actually the last statement is probably a little negative -it appears the tide has already, turned we just need to accelerate the rate of change.

      [As a non-related aside, if you want to see how cycling advocates can get it wrong you read the original edition of Richard’s Bicycle Book – which contains a page of praise for Stevenage and the efficiency of its…roundabouts!]

  25. Jim@BikeProdigy Says:

    I grew up in up-state Vermont in the middle of no-where. There was not much to do as a kid but all the kids in my village had bikes. Looking back, I bet we biked 50 miles a week or more. We’d bike everywhere. The lake, to church, into “town”. Biking is a way of life, I’m convinced.

  26. rutas en bicicleta Says:

    rutas en bicicleta…

    […]Who is cycling for? « thinking about cycling[…]…

  27. Vocus Dwabe Says:

    “We fail to understand how difficult other people find it.”

    Indeed. I still cycle everywhere at 62 because it’s what I did when I was a child in the early 1960s – because I had to, like everyone else – and being a bit autistic, I never stopped doing it even after I passed my driving test (1967) and bought my first car (1985). It’s fun, and it’s cheap, and it keeps you fit: and anyway I had to do so much driving in the 1980s and 90s to earn a living that I came to detest it, and though I still have a car, would happily never drive it again if I could get away with it.

    There is a small counter-cultural element I suppose: an instinctive feeling than anything the “Daily Mail” hates must be a good thing. But really it’s a case of just going on doing what I always did even though the world has changed around me. I was out on my bike in the snow last Sunday, and no less than four people remarked “Oooh! You are brave…” as I went past (which is middle-English for “you are a reckless maniac and a menace to society”). I tried to explain that on compacted snow a heavy, balloon-tyred Finnish bicycle is probably a lot safer than walking, because snowy roads are what they’re designed for. But I sensed that it was futile: that the whole weight of the UK Fear-of-Everything Culture was against me. (I think that the medical term for it is “omniphobia”).

    We have a mountain to climb here. Forty years of social conditioning will not easily be overcome.

    • Beatrix Wupperman Says:

      Vocus, I come from the same generation as you but was brought up in Germany. The greatest thing for us as kids was: to have a bicycle, and I started at the age of 5 (five) with a huge 28″ tyre bike (believe it or not). You can read my story in our book “Beauty and the Bike”. http://www.bikebeauty.org

      My mother cycled as well (until she had a car, but she still cycled sometimes in her 60s and 70s, used my old bike then). We have loads of cars in Germany but we never started detesting cycling or cyclists. And many towns and cities built cycling infrastructure (not a lot though). Now e.g. in Berlin, cycling is hipp. And in Bremen 25% and in Münster 37% of all trips are made on bikes.

      The difference between our countries (Britain and Germany) is the difference of our transport culture, the difference of our political will, the way politicians look at the issue. We produce a lot of cars here, we still are allowed to drive faster than in any other European country on motorways (sadly enough), but we still cycle, and asking for better cycling infrastructure does not lead to raised eyebrows in our councils.

      But the biggest difference is the way young people look at cycling esp. in towns and cities. There is no peer group pressure against cycling, loads of young people do not want a private car any more, rather be a member in a car club (we call that car sharing) or just hire one when they need it (so called “Generation Mietwagen”). Driving is not a value in itself, it is sometimes necessary, so young people are very rational about it. And in the same way do they look at their bicycles: It does not have to be a swanky, fashionable wonderful racing bike. They want to get from A to B fast and cheap and comfortable, and according to that they choose their bike.

      Yes, you are right, you will have to overcome 40 years of neglecting the bicycle in Britain, but as I said before on this blog, you will have to fight for safe infrastructure, otherwise you will not get kids and young people on bicycles. You will also have to fight for a reallocation of public space on roads to take privilegies away from cars and to make car driving less attractive (than cycling in the most positive case). And you will have to correct the ideas of vehicular cyclists, to point out that grandmother and grandfather from next door will not cycle like sporty, angry and fit young men. They do not want to cycle on the road amongst cars. The majority of people have given up on cycling or never started because the roads are too dangerous…..That needs changing, I guess you agree with me.

      And there is hope: The Times has started a campaigne for safer infrastructure for cycling, and suddenly politicians start to listen.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Thanks Beatrix, that’s a truly wonderful exposition! Absolutely spot on I think. Just the title of The Times’ campaign makes it worth supporting, eh? “Cities fit for cycling” – yes please!! I know they’re directed particularly at Vocus, but thanks so much for your eloquent thoughts; much appreciated. All the best, Dave

      • Vocus Dwabe Says:

        Thank you, Beatrix, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

        Unlike yourselves in Germany and the rest of northern Europe, ever since the 1940s we in Britain have had the example of the USA constantly dangled before our eyes as what we ought to aspire to be as a society. In Germany, Holland and Scandinavia people have been able to shelter behind the barrier of their own language, adopting only such bits of The American Way as seemed convenient for them: but in England we’ve been exposed to the full force of it ever since I can remember. In the 1950s and 60s it wasn’t too obtrusive; but in 1979 this country finally decided to turn its back on the European social democratic model which it had followed half-heartedly ever since 1945, and opted instead to become America’s little brother: low taxes, mediocre public services, high income differentials, an unregulated labour market and the state conspicuously withdrawing from industrial planning. The result has been transport chaos , with people having to drive to find work ever-further away from where they live. In 1988 I still worked just within bicycle range of where I lived: thereafter I became a contractor (because I had to), and the distance to work increased by an average of 20km per year. In this social model – completely car-based since public transport is too poor-quality and too expensive to be to be an option – bicycles had no place whatever except as a weekend recreational toy.

        The realisation now appears to be dawning that we can’t go on like this – and indeed, when petrol reaches £2.00 per litre we won’t be able to. Roads are crowded, motorists are angry at having to pay more and more for less and less, our children are obese and our society has become fearful and increasingly uncivil as people jostle against one another in their metal boxes. If only from necessity, people are going to have to cycle more. But what I’m afraid of is that the whole thing will be left once more to laissez-faire, with the increasing numbers of cyclists being forced to fight it out for road space with ever more ill-tempered motorists: the latter perhaps finding a voice in some party like UKIP which would frankly like to sweep the two-wheeled vermin off the roads altogether and confine them to dedicated cycle tracks. This is the reason why so many UK cyclists are suspicious of the segregated-traffic solution which works so well in continental Europe: they know that in this country it would be interpreted by drivers as “no cycle track = road barred to cyclists”, which is effectively the situation that we have already on A-roads.

        The sensible European way to resolve this would be to negotiate a compact between groups of road-users. But when has sensible negotiation ever played much part in our nation’s affairs? Darwinian bare-knuckle boxing has been our normal way of resolving things for most of my lifetime: leave it to the free market with the result that the strongest usually wins. But for all of that, the Times initiative is a hopeful start, and maybe a sign that this time we’re going to do it differently.

        (The current popularity of Scandinavian detective series on British TV is perhaps a sign of the times: thinking people are realising dimly that the American social model isn’t the only one on offer).

  28. Beatrix Wupperman Says:

    Dave, thanks for your appreciation. I guess everything said here is read by more than just the one we are replying to. It feels like sitting around a big table talking to each other.

    Cheers to everyone here!!

  29. Fear of cycling in Britain « amcambike Says:

    […] support the prominence of safety fears as an obstacle to cycling in Britain. He writes in Who is cycling for? … Many hours spent cycling around four English cities (Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and […]

  30. That Cycling Revolution | At War With The Motorist Says:

    […] Horton says: there are two clear and present problems which bedevil UK cycling advocacy: one is the requirement […]

  31. Cycling doesn’t have a “very high modal share” on Thames crossings | joedunckley's notebook Says:

    […] I’m reminded again of Dave Horton’s comments: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: