Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cycling - the money's not there and it's not coming our way

It's funny. The more time we spend seeing people in the City of London about things to do with cycling, the more we realise that the money available for cycling is chicken feed. And yet we still go along and push and prod and hope to at least influence new road schemes. But the reality in the City of London is that cycling isn't taken seriously. By almost everyone. That's why we're talking about a junction here, a junction there, a few bike stands. No-one's talking about a plan. They're just talking about the odd bit of poorly-applied sticking plaster.

Take a look at the plans for St. Paul's or the Barbican. At best, cycling is mentioned as an after-thought as part of some fairly major plans to re-design the streetscape. What we get is airy-fairy nods to things like sustainable transport or improving road safety. And road safety doesn't cost our highways authorities (City of London or Transport for London) much because they've chosen policing rather than proper bike infrastructure. What I hear from people who use bicycles (and I'm avoiding the word 'cyclist' because in my case I'm a cyclist, motorist, pedestrian and sometimes like to fly a plane) is that they are hoping for proper routes to work or to play that feel safe using their chosen form of transport. They don't necessarily cycle to be greener, or more sustainable, or more fashionable. They just want to use a sensible mode of transport and they want to feel they have an equal status on the roads, to feel safe at busy junctions, to feel like they are not making a social or political statement just because they are on a pedal cycle.

And so it fills me with gloom to read on the same day that I post about why Transport for London isn't building cycling into its DNA| an excellent post by the Crap Cycling in Walthamstow blogger who inspired me to get involved in trying to do something about cycling. That post bemoans exactly the same thing: Cycling, as seen from the perspective of someone on a bicycle, is not being taken seriously anywhere in outer London any more than it is in the centre.

And we're not even mentioned at a national level. I don't want to stray into politics per se but just look at this from our Transport Secretary Philip Hammond this week, quoted on the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club blog:

“…….. let’s not forget that over 80% of all journeys are undertaken by car and Britain’s roads represent our greatest investment in transport infrastructure. Clearly, while motoring was synonymous with carbon production, it couldn’t be a major part of Britain’s future transport plans.

But the idea that the only solution is to force people out of their cars is pessimistic, outdated, Labour dogma. This Government is supporting the ultra-low emissions technologies that will see the carbon output of cars plummet over the next two decades.

Drawing fuel, not from petrol pumps, but from an electricity grid which Chris Huhne is determined to make one of the greenest in Europe. The Coalition has signaled its commitment to de-carbonising motoring by confirming, ahead of the spending review, grants for R&D and generous consumer incentives for every ultra-low emission car sold.

Putting our trust in technology, and our country at the forefront of the green-motoring revolution. The first new-generation electric cars will appear on Britain’s roads early next year and the first volume British-built electric vehicles will roll off the production line in 2013.

So motoring can again become part of our future transport planning, as the greening of the car saves it from extinction and that means we can end Labour’s indiscriminate war on the motorist as we focus on the real enemies – carbon and congestion.”

I think thecyclingjim says it so well, I'll simply point to his comments with which I concur:

"These words are as astounding as they are absurd (and I’m sure many blogs today will be picking them apart) but the worst aspect of his speech is in what he didn’t say - You may be wondering where walking and cycling feature in all this. They are after all the most cost effective, clean, easily available forms of transport we have. The fact he made no reference to these transport modes at all in his speech (supposedly extolling the virtues of sustainable transport) is as telling as it should be alarming."

The thing is, we're all busy ranting and raving. And we're trying to change opinions. And, yes, opinions are slowly shifting, but if Hammond's vision is what we're stuck with for the next few years, then cycling is going nowhere fast. So my question is, here we are in the City of London and surroundings and does Hammond really represent the city we want to live and work in?