Monday, 4 July 2011

"I just don’t understand why, when cycling, I must be treated like a cockroach"

Outside a bank HQ in the City. Is this man really an
'anti-capitalist' just because he uses a bicycle?
Writing this blog has its ups and downs. The ups, for me, are when I feel that things are changing. Like last week when the Evening Standard had a major two page feature on cycling. "There are more of us, even in poor weather; more riders in ordinary work clothes and fewer in lycra" says the Standard. 

This from London's main freesheet newspaper, which not so long ago took a vehement anti-cycling stance. The Sunday Times has also traditionally kept its cycle-themed articles to such topics as "Beware, iPod zombie cyclists are on the rise" or classics such as "Urban cyclists raise their risk of heart disease". Until last month when the Sunday Times featured a Jeremy Clarkson rant about people who cycle being 'anti-capitalist' but countered this with a major feature about how London needs to consider providing greater protection for those people who cycle.

The Evening Standard points out that there is a 'big trend' taking place as more and more people 'in ordinary work clothes' get on cycles and start using them to get places.

Unfortunately, many of our politicians haven't seen the trend yet. In a letter I published on this site last week, Richard Tracey, transport spokesman for the Conservatives pointed out that: "Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling." For an excellent analysis of just how many own-goals this statement scores, take a look at AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. As the author of the blog states: "it is your party that wants to maintain that car dependence, Mr Tracey. Cycling is ‘not feasible’ because of your policies."

Slowly, more and more people are realising that the reason people don't cycle is the result of road policies that design out cycling in favour of private motor vehicles. Most people don't take up cycling to be healthier or greener, as Mr Tracey implies. An increasing number of people simply want to feel they have a choice to cycle. To do that they need roads that are fit for purpose for cycling. London's roads simply aren't fit for purpose.

What's encouraging me is that this view is becoming more and more mainstream. Last week, I was contacted by the managing director of a City banking institution. The sort of person that Jeremy Clarkson might deride as an 'anti-capitalist cyclist' perhaps. And this is what he had to say:
"Hi Danny,

I just chanced upon your blog, and it touched a nerve.  I’ve worked in the City for >20 years and I still live in London.  Some years ago, some keen younger guys in my office inspired me to cycle to work every day, and that’s what I’ve done happily for seven years.  I also got turned on to cycle sport, joined a club along with my young sons and I’m trying to bring my boys up to be confident and wise London cyclists. 

So I’m in my fifties, married with children, committed to living in London, would I imagine be regarded as affluent.  I’m not an anarchist, I don’t wave placards or go on marches, and I am also a motorist.  I just don’t understand why, when cycling, I must be treated by taxi and lorry drivers like a cockroach who they would squish if they could get away with it.  I know or have come across so very many people who say they would cycle in London too, if they thought it was safer to do so.

So, I’m on your side.  Let me know what I can do to help."

And then also last week, the chairman of let's call it a very large City company also contacted me and asked what he could to do help. His son cycles to work in the Square Mile and he's worried about his safety on the roads.

Slowly, slowly, cycling is becoming mainstream. The tide is going to take a very long time to turn but I do feel it's starting to move in the right direction. Now all we need do is start dragging our politicians and planners with us.