History continues to repeat itself

In a recent post I pondered on the fact that cycling campaigners were saying the same stuff in 1978 that they’re still saying today. I find it quite depressing that cycle campaigners seem to be running around in circles, although that article did generate some very interesting comments from people who were there 30 years ago, discussing how they’d do things differently if they had their time again.

The focus of that post was newsletters published by Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaign. If their response to Edinburgh’s “Quality Bike Corridor” is anything to go by then they don’t seem to have learned anything at all:

“While Spokes very much welcomes the new corridor, we would have liked stronger measures, including further restrictions on parking in cycle lanes, trial of segregated sections where possible and resurfacing of the worn-out red lanes on The Mound.”

I actually feel a little bit sick reading that sycophantic, snivelling quote, with its ultra-mild criticism, as if they’re meekly asking “please sir, can I have some more?”

Let’s get one thing straight: the “Quality Bike Corridor” is shit. It really is absolute shit. (I know I have a reputation for swearing after writing that article, but I really only use it when necessary; this is one of those moments.)

Let’s have a look at this great new infrastructure:

(Video by Dave McCraw – also, see his updated video here.)

Remember, you have just watched footage of what Spokes “very much welcomes” as “progress towards achieving the aim of making Edinburgh a truly cycle friendly city”.

Their criticism is so very mild it’s almost non-existent. Their most daring request is for a “trial of segregated sections where possible.” Even here you’ll notice they’ve handed the council a get-out-of-jail-free card with the words “where possible”, which will come back to haunt us as “segregated cycle paths just aren’t possible here”.

Is this really what Spokes were hoping for when they started in 1977? Is this the result of 35 years campaign work?

I know that Spokes isn’t responsible for the actions of Edinburgh Council, but why do they “welcome” such crap infrastructure? Are cycle campaigners so starved of success that they’re willing to accept any crumbs that fall from the traffic planner’s table?

Well — like David Arditti — I don’t welcome it. Many local cyclists don’t welcome it, the great Kim Harding doesn’t welcome it, and the Lothian Cycling Campaign certainly shouldn’t be welcoming it. (Those who drive or walk along its length probably won’t even notice it.)

Instead of welcoming this sort of crap, they should be condemning it. They should be telling the local news that they asked for a protected cycle route that children and the elderly would be safe using, but that Edinburgh council went for the easy, dangerous, unappealing option instead. They should be saying that Edinburgh’s target of 10% cycling rate by 2020 will be missed by a mile if this is the sort of thing they’re installing. They should be telling the council that they reject this route completely, instead of slapping each other on the back and considering it a job well done.

It’s not just Spokes who think this sort of thing is great, either – according to the Times, the CTC “praised” it, albeit with the same quibbles about enforcement of car parking restrictions and so on.

Transport Minister Keith Brown says that “Edinburgh already has an admirable reputation on cycling” although when I visited in May 2012 I found it to be no better than any other UK city which has been following Whitehall’s guidelines for decades. It was the usual crap, multiple lanes for cars, narrow paths for pedestrians, and little or nothing for bikes. (While we’re on the subject, Edinburgh isn’t even a particularly pleasant city to walk around, thanks to years of car-centric planning. It should be one of the best cities in the world to visit, but it’s badly let down by its transport planners. I won’t even mention the trams…)

Edinburgh councillor Leslie Hinds, Transport Convenor, said that the “Quality Bike Corridor” will help to make “cycling as safe and appealing as we can to commuters and cyclists of all ages” and will “encourage even more people to take to two wheels.”

If this is how people view the kind of infrastructure shown in the video, then we might as well all give up now. Seriously. Forget the target of 10% by 2020, it’s not going to happen if this is your idea of “safe and appealing” cycling. Spokes might as well disband if this rubbish is something they “very much welcome”.

This so-called “Quality Bike Corridor” is not an example of the government supporting cycling or finally taking it seriously as a transport option. This is yet another example of the government paying lip-service to utility cycling, along with – and this is the saddest bit – yet another example of cycle campaigners lapping up the crumbs from the floor.




I expect that Spokes do all kinds of wonderful stuff that I’m not even aware of. I’m sure they’re dedicated and working on the front line. What have I ever done? I sit here writing this stuff, I’m not out there on the street, etc.

But I couldn’t let this lie. The congratulatory tone grated on me when compared to Dave McCraw’s video and Kim Harding’s photos. As long as cycle campaigners continue to accept crap and say ‘thank you’ as if everything is fine, all we’ll ever be given is yet more crap.


Another footnote, added on 20th November 2012:


So Edinburgh’s goal is 10% modal share for cycling by 2020.

Well funnily enough, in 2001, Edinburgh’s goal was 10% modal share for cycling… by 2010.

Which didn’t happen.

Is there an echo in here?

(Source: here, via here.)



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14 responses to “History continues to repeat itself

  1. To be fair to Spokes they have done a massive amount to improve the experience of cycling in Edinburgh.

    • I’m sure Spokes are well-meaning and hard-working, but that doesn’t mean they should applaud every time the council mentions cycling. It does more harm than good.

      Although, having seen the conditions in Edinburgh I wonder how bad it must have been before it was improved. There must have been bear-pits and land-mines along every road!

  2. dexey

    “Are cycle campaigners so starved of success that they’re willing to accept any crumbs that fall from the traffic planner’s table?”

    The answer to that question has to be yes. They have never asked for much and they have got less than that as anybody, excepting a cycle campaigner, of the last 20 years would expect. Thank God it is changing with more younger people getting involved who are not prepared to be fobbed off with the old excuses.
    My experience of cycle campaigners is that are much to concerned with not rocking the boat and a pint or several of real ale.

  3. Pingback: "Quality" Bike Corridor: council fails utterly • Dave McCraw

  4. Gordon

    As a cyclist in Edinburgh, I thought that the work had not yet started – Can’t see any difference from what was there before!

  5. SRD

    Worth noting that even the council leader recognises that it is not up to scratch http://andrewburns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/cycling-boost-for-edinburgh-with-new.html?m=1

    The spokes issue is bigger and more worthy of a longer discussion about strategy and approaches. Spokes uses a wide variety of them, to good effect.

  6. Aworkey

    I for one am sick to death of SPokes and their mealy mouthed ways – I ceased my membership last year, their sycphantic adoration of the quality bike corridor in the press was the last straw. They are holding back cycle infrastructure in Edinburgh by conniving with the council time and time again with third rate cycle facilities. They have got far too close to officials and spend far too time much congratulating them and themselves. And when really poor decisions are made, and people complain (such as the QBC), the council just say “Spokes are happy with what we’ve done so it must be OK”. The council are quite happy to have their own pet lobby group who rarely rock the boat and it means they get away with murder as nobody else’s point of view counts – only Spokes’.
    Just look at their response to the council’s new cycling policy: “Spokes is delighted at the emergence of the plan and much of its content”. Many of the rest of us weren’t so delighted at this four year long waste of paper which was just way of distracting the cycling dept and all the cycling organisations in writing it whilst nothing was being built. And now that it has been adopted, everytime something decent is suggested, such as proper segregated cycle lanes on Leith Walk, the council just says “but it’s not in our cycling policy, and Spokes were DELIGHTED with our cycling policy”.

    Be under no illusions – Spokes do some good work, but they are not a democratic organisation, you have to be “in the know” to have any say in what they do or what views they represent and they are very incestuous with the same council officials that they are meant to be lobbying.
    Sadly, Edin council repeatedly install/allow the most ridiculous cycle infrastructure and rarely miss an opportunity to fail – but each time, Spokes, their chums, say “it’s a step in the right direction” so they do no better next time.
    Trouble is, what could have been considered a “step in the right direction” in 1977 isn’t today – but Edinburgh council encouraged by their spokes cheerleaders, have yet to climb to the next step.
    By the way – SUSTRANS helped design and implement the quality bike corridor according to google, which says it all really. And what would really finish off the QBc nicely would be a “cyclists dismount” sign.
    A message to spokes – not everything is “better than nothing”

  7. Pingback: Edinburgh’s highways department: stuck in the 1990s? | The Alternative Department for Transport

  8. Pingback: A Study of the Obvious, a Franklin-on-Your-Shoulder, and the Myth of the “Inexperienced Cyclist” | The Alternative Department for Transport

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