This article has swearing in it. If you don’t like the sound of that then I recommend this article by David Arditti, which covers much the same ground but in a more measured tone. (Also, he published his article before I finished this one, and as always it’s very well researched and written, so I suggest you read it anyway.)
Fuck Norman Baker, and fuck you too if you’re one of those Uncle Tom cycle campaigners who are kissing Baker’s arse over the £20 million bone he’s just thrown on the floor for cycling to gnaw on.
I know it sounds like a lot to you and me (and I even go to Waitrose occasionally) but really it’s nothing. It’s barely even scraps from the table. It’s an insult.
Cycling is the DfT’s mistress for whom he keeps on promising to leave his petrol-addicted wife, but he says he can’t right now because of the kids and the mortgage, and his wife and his boss’s wife are friends, but one day he really is going to leave her. “I love you, here’s £20m to tide you over, spend it however you like. By the way, I can’t see you until after Christmas or she’ll start to suspect something…”
Cycling sighs, “I love you too, Norman. This £20m proves that you must love me back!” But the mistress knows deep down that his promises are hollow words designed to placate her, and she’s never going to get what she really wants.
Well it’s about time we ended this abusive relationship.
You can stick your £20m up your arse
If anyone of power in the DfT is reading this, then can I ask you to take your poxy £20m and give it to your true love – maybe a motorway widening project would make her happy? Because £20m spread across the country is going to do nothing for cycling, except maybe the installation of more of the same kind of crap we’re used to getting, and maybe some more pointless posters to ‘encourage’ people to ride a bike, and more vehicular cycling training which will enable cycling to continue to tread water as it has done for decades.
I wouldn’t mind quite so much if there was some sort of plan of how to spend the money, or some decent minimum standards of cycle infrastructure which local authorities must meet. But there isn’t. The money will just be given to councils with grand schemes to give 35% to consultants, 35% to architects, and only 30% will actually end up on the ground. Or maybe those local authorities who really can’t be bothered at all with cycling will use it to paint a few ASLs and put up a few “cyclists dismount” signs.
Come on DfT! You’re meant to be the Department for Transport damn it! Make some plans, set some standards! The Dutch are making you look like a bunch of cavemen, or at the very least, the worst kind of motorway-obsessed town planners of the 1960s. (Watch this short, edited video and heed his warning – learn from the mistakes of the past!)
But the problem remains that the DfT doesn’t really see cycling as a proper mode of transport. Sure, it acknowledges that there are some crazy bastards out there mad enough to ride on the road, so the they have to pretend to give a shit. But £20m proves that they don’t care about cycling. Even if you add up all the promised amounts this year (as David Arditti has done in the final paragraph) it comes to £65m, and we can then work out what percentage of a shit the DfT gives about cycling: 0.5%.
That’s right, the government gives 0.5% of a shit about cycling. Using the standard imperial measurements as a rough guide, by my calculations that isn’t even one flying fuck.
What does cycling look like?
If you’re reading this blog then you’re probably familiar with the wonderfully safe and pleasant conditions for cycling that exist in the Netherlands, and you’ll have gathered that I’d like to see the same high quality cycle-friendly infrastructure here in the UK.
Well, if you needed any proof that the DfT’s vision for cycling is far, far removed from my own vision for cycling, look no further than their homepage today:
Yes, the DfT will probably be happy to spend the whole £20m on high-vis vests and ill-fitting helmets to be given away at village fêtes. Maybe that will encourage the population to ride on the roads – after they’ve bought a mountain bike without lights or mudguards for urban use, of course!
That’s how little the DfT cares about cycling – they can’t even get a photo of people enduring the horrific conditions on British roads right.
Campaign groups: stop meowing, start roaring!
All the national cycling campaigns commented on the £20m, and each one was along the lines of “we welcome the money, but the government needs to do much more…” (CEoGB, CTC, British Cycling, Sustrans – they all said more or less the same thing.)
Maybe I’m not being political enough, but why can’t they just leave out the “we welcome this” bit? As organisations I’m sure they have contacts and connections in government that I don’t know about – and some of them receive funding from the government, which they don’t want to jeopardise – so maybe that’s why they won’t rock the boat too much.
But I fear that couching the criticism in kind words of thanks means that it isn’t actually heard. The DfT probably just reads the headlines, sees “welcome” and “praises” and “pleased” and thinks it’s a job well done, everybody’s happy. If cycling campaigners really want to send a message to the government, why wouldn’t they tell the truth and say “we’re disappointed that only £20m has been offered, the government needs to do much more…”?
Because, remember, there isn’t even a plan for more or better-spent investment in cycling – or, in the over-stretched analogy, the DfT isn’t even saying he’ll leave his wife! There’s no plan for the future at all — vague words about cycling becoming important one day are not a plan — yet we’re just hoping it will happen and grinning whenever our name is mentioned.
£20m isn’t good enough. It isn’t even nearly good enough. Even £200m wouldn’t be enough, especially when it’s spread across the country.
We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for the same level of investment that the Netherlands gets. £20 per person works out at £1.2 billion, or 10% of the transport budget. These are the kind of numbers we need to get used to – and start saying out loud – if cycling really is going to become a real transport option for everybody.
There currently seems to be some sort of push to get cycling to become a mainstream activity, it feels like some sort of public awareness is happening, and the cycling campaigns need to get headlines by admitting how much it will cost — as well as how much it will save in the long run, of course. By avoiding mentioning the £1bn+ needed every year, they’re giving the false impression that £20m here and £20m there is a great thing the government is doing for cycling.
Say it out loud, cycle campaigners: “If the government wants to keep its promises, then it needs to invest £1.2bn annually in cycling infrastructure.” Repeat it three times in the morning and the evening, and before you know it you’ll be saying it at meetings and it will start appearing in the Times.
Of course, a £1bn+ cycling budget might never happen – I’ll admit that it sounds far fetched sitting here in London in 2012 – but if we cycling campaigners keep on smiling every time the DfT strokes our hair briefly before returning to his wife, then maybe we deserve to be treated like the bit-on-the-side that we are.
Say it loud, say it proud
It’s interesting to see that I’m not alone in thinking that the government is messing us around with this £20m bullshit.
Similarly, all of the comments on this road.cc article are complaining about the paltry sum offered, too.
Perhaps the cycle campaigns are a little out of touch with the wheels on the ground? I would have sung the praises of the first group to say “that’s nowhere near enough, £20m is nothing but lip-service” but, unfortunately, came there none.