Monday, 26 August 2013

The Sun: "we need more cycle lanes". Completely right. But this is only going to happen if you play your part in making it happen. Monday 2 September; be at the spaceforcycling ride; 6.30pm Jubilee Gardens, Waterloo.


This is the sort of image we are used to seeing on cycling blogs. But this image was taken from an article by the BBC asking "Can Reading ever 'go Dutch' and become a cycling town?"
Something is changing in the way that the UK media looks at cycling. Slowly but surely, the idea genuinely seems to be permeating mainstream media channels that the UK needs to create conditions for people to cycle instead of drive short trips. The BBC ran a fascinating article comparing the similarly-sized towns of Reading and The Hague last week. It noted that you could cycle from end-to-end of each town in about the same time. And it focussed on the fact that very few people cycle in the UK town because 'there is nowhere' to ride a bike safely. What they mean by that is that most people look at the roads in Reading and decide to use a car. In The Hague (pictured left above), most people look at the roads and decide cycling is more attractive than driving short distances.

Editorial comment in The Sun last week. This is a massive step from the UK's largest-selling newspaper (love it or hate it)
Two years, the only media sources to cover bicycle transport in any way seriously were The Guardian's bike blog and some more open-minded journalists at BBC London and the Evening Standard. Now, the call for safe bicycle infrastructure is starting to permeate the BBC nationally and the Evening Standard has firmly nailed its colours to the 'more, safe cycling' mast. In the interim, The Times has also led its hugely successful 'cycle safe' campaign. The BBC, which used to treat cycling as a freak side show really seems to be portraying cycling in a much more balanced context and is starting to argue for proper cycling condition. There was a very well balanced report on BBC London last week which would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. 

And last week, something quite extraordinary happened. There is a tragic case of a 16 year-old who is in a coma after being hit on his bike by a van driver. The teenager wasn't wearing a cycle helmet because he "didn't want to mess up his hair'. During the week, much of the press started to look like they had concluded that this horrible collision means cycle helmets should be compulsory (with the exception of The Telegraph which wrote a well-balanced piece on the subject). Forget calling for safer cycling networks like they have in the US, the Netherlands and in Denmark, and would keep teenagers on bikes away from people driving vans; no, let's just make the weakest road users take responsibility for themselves so that when a van hits them, they might not be quite as madly mashed up and we, the majority of road users in motor vehicles, won't feel so bad about it. I promise you that last week's media frenzy around this case very, very nearly led to a media campaign focussed on compulsory helmets. Until Friday that is. And that's when The Sun broke ranks. It covered the story in quite some detail but then instead of calling for mandatory cycle helmets, it said this:

"Making helmets compulsory is not necessarily the best solution. We need more cycle lanes. We need to improve training for motorists AND cyclists. And haulage firms should equip lorries with extra mirrors and sensors".

Well done, The Sun.

The amazing disappearing bike lane on Waterloo Bridge. Westminster council thinks free car parking is more important than allowing people to cycle safely along the bike lane (under the white car). Pic via Charlie Wilson

Slowly but surely, the media is starting to get the message: It's not about cycle helmets; it is about creating the right conditions for safe cycling to become the norm in a country where people have less and less money.

But as the BBC put it on its news clip last week "as more cyclists take to the roads, those in power are under more pressure to speed up their plans for cycling safety".

Well, yes and no. Look at that Reading example in more detail and you can see that 'those in power' really aren't under any pressure at all to 'speed up their plans for cycling safety'. The representatives of Reading Cycling Campaign point out that "We have had five workshops to look at different parts of Reading in the last two years, and there hasn't been any action [from the council] arising from any of them". What does the council have to say? The council deputy leader says: "we also have to balance the needs of all other road users - public transport as well as cars, lorries and pedestrians; There is only so much space." Yes, 99.5% of that space is devoted to helping people make very short journeys in cars which could more easily, more cheaply, more healthily be done by bike. That response by Reading council is utter tripe, to be honest.

This is a cycle highway built two years ago in London. Not good enough. 

And yet you can see why the council utters this sort of rubbish. Firstly, most of its residents already get about by car, so it feels it needs to be seen to support them. Secondly, it has the government breathing down its neck criticising local councils for being 'anti-car', believe it or not. This stuff matters. I met a senior official from a very pro-cycling London council last week and he says that every time Eric Pickles warbles on about anti-car local government, it makes it just that bit harder to stand up for cycling. And he's right.

So we need to change the status quo on our streets.

The media has already started to smell change in the air. Slowly but surely, the mainstream media is beginning to talk about one core message: create safe space for cycling. But the message still isn't getting through to our politicians, particularly not those politicians banging the anti-car, more road-building drum.

Which is why we need to bang an ever louder drum. We need to get out there in person and we need to write letters and we need to change the way the politicians are thinking, so that it becomes necessary for them to stop banging on about 'there's only so much space' and start taking action to allocate some of that space to safe cycling.

This is why I urge you to attend the London Cycling Campaign 'space for cycling’ protest ride on Monday 2 September 2013, this time coinciding with the Parliamentary debate on cycling that evening. The ride will depart from Jubilee Gardens near Waterloo by 6.30pm. There will be feeder rides and marshalls. People and politicians need to see that people like them are fed up of them refusing to change and fed up of irresponsible and lazy local councils telling them there 'isn't enough space' for safe cycling. There is. Full stop.

You can also write to your MP and local representatives and urge them to attend the Parliamentary debate next week. Ibikelondon blog covers all the easy ways you can do this. 

Please be there next Monday. We need thousands of people to come together and tell the government we're not 'anti-car' but we're fed up being fobbed off with excuses.