Friday, 9 August 2013

BBC Newsnight: "Cyclists are accommodated here in the same way motorists are elsewhere". Time for that to change in the UK, not just in the Netherlands.

Most-shared article on the BBC yesterday.  BBC asking why Dutch people cycle so much. But the real question is why Brits don't cycle. We're not that different but our towns, cities and roads are. 
Earlier this week, BBC Newsnight carried a seriously-good review of cycling and asked one simple question: "Why do so many Dutch people cycle?".

Actually, the real question that the programme was asking was "Why do so few Brits cycle?". The answer seems to boil down to two statements made by Anna Holligan, the BBC's correspondent from The Hague:

Firstly, she states that "cycling is popular in the Netherlands because the infrastructure is intuitive & integrated" and secondly because "cyclists are accommodated here the same way motorists are elsewhere".

You can watch the Newsnight piece on iplayer or, if you're outside the UK, I've embedded a version of the programme below.

In other words, what the BBC is saying is that Brits would cycle more but they don't because the infrastructure ISN'T intuitive and integrated and because cycling is not accorded the same privileges in this country as motoring is. It is a purely political choice. Absolutely one hundred percent spot on.

What's so telling about this excellent piece is the way that Boris Johnson talks about cycling in London. He talks a lot about how the culture of cycling in the Netherlands is gentler than in the UK and people are pottering about in normal clothes on bikes. He wants to create that culture in London. Well, yes they are pottering about in normal clothes. But the reason they are doing that is because government policy has been to create conditions that make it inviting to just use a bike like an extension of your own legs. Your biggest threats on a bike are rain, wind and maybe stray dogs. In the UK, your biggest threats are HGVs, buses, white vans and cars. No wonder we have a culture where people feel the need to act like road warriors on a bike, Boris.
Royal College Street protected bike way - note the new 'armadillos' to keep parked cars off the bike way.
Pic courtesy James Gleave

That said, there are glimmers of good news starting to emerge. Over in Camden, the council has nearly finished putting together a new bike way on Royal College Street (behind St Pancras). The council has built bike ways the length of the street by moving car parking away from the kerb and using (for the first time in the UK) 'armadillos' to keep cars off the bike way. Excellent stuff. And frankly, who wouldn't want to cycle on a route like this? More of this please.