Monthly Archives: October 2013

Space for Cycling and Childhood Freedom

I think that the London Cycling Campaign’s Space for Cycling message is spot-on for a cycling campaign.

Note the end of that sentence: it’s spot-on for a cycling campaign. It’s exactly what a cycling campaign should be saying to the government.

In a nutshell: separated cycle tracks on all main roads, slow down and remove through-traffic on all non-main roads. In other words, “Go Dutch”.

It’s great because the LCC is saying to the government: “We want you to create safe space for cycling, protected from motor vehicles” (as opposed to earlier campaigns with similar names, which said to drivers: “please drive carefully around cyclists” and was clearly never going to work).

But ‘Space For Cycling’ is never going to get the wider public’s support, and if you think it is then you don’t live in the real world.

A short visit to Earth

I myself don’t live in the real world but I do drop in occasionally to see how they’re getting on, and I can tell you this: these humans haven’t a clue about transport. They just do whatever is easiest, or whatever other people are doing. All that stuff we talk about every day – filtered permeability, modal shift, etc. – they haven’t the faintest idea that any of it exists.

Even when you think people understand what you’re saying, they very often don’t get it. While driving along New Kent Road towards central London recently, a close friend who has listened to me talk about all this stuff for the past 18 months suddenly said “there’s plenty of space for an extra lane here, that would end the traffic jams” and I realised: he hasn’t understood a thing I’ve been saying.

I expect he’s not alone. While my partner’s mum has been sitting and nodding at my long diatribes, she still thinks cyclists always go through red lights and ride on footpaths.

My friend who drives half a mile to the supermarket considers me to have strange and very unlikely ideas about how to get around.

And although my sister has been shown countless photos of children riding their own bikes to school in the Netherlands, she wouldn’t even consider it an option for her own daughter.

(I don’t blame any of them for thinking this way: they all live in Leeds, the motorway city of the 1970s. Actually, I’d be terrified if my sister announced that they were doing the school run by bike.)

Ah, but what about those sophisticated Londoners?

Even friends in London who use a bike often don’t understand. I find that Mayor Johnson’s just keep your wits about you mentality thrives among those who cycle in London.

And those who do support separate infrastructure very often don’t get it. When talking about Space For Cycling with a bike-riding friend, he agreed with the concept, adding “there’s plenty of space because cycle paths only need to be about a metre wide.” And this is someone who rides a bike for transport!

Okay, so I’ve laboured my point: the Space For Cycling campaign is great, but it has limited scope for wider support.

In other words, Space For Cycling is not Stop De Kindermoord.

So what’s the answer?

In short, children are the answer. Almost everybody is a parent or a grandparent, or an uncle or aunt. Everybody wants the best conditions for the next generation.

But the way we lay out our roads and streets is killing us in many ways. It’s restricting freedom (warning: Daily Mail) and causing physical harm, through collisions, poor air quality and the health risks that come with inactivity.

To get the general public on board, a campaign needs to speak to them and be something that everyone can empathise with.

What is needed is the Campaign for Childhood Freedom. I won’t witter on about it here, follow the link to read more.

I’m not criticising the LCC’s Space For Cycling campaign here, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do think that Space For Cycling – although I support it fully – is too niche to have wide public support, and that’s what is required for the changes we all wish to see.

It’s not easy to convince people to support the curtailment of their freedom to rat-run anywhere and everywhere, and harder still to get people to see the bike as a suitable mode of transport for local journeys. But, framed in the context of the health and well-being of children, such changes may well become seen as a sacrifice worth making for the next generation’s sake.

That’s the direction which campaigning must take to reach the wider public.


Addendum: As often happens, a commenter has hit the nail on the head so squarely that it’s worth adding to the article. Farnie has tweeted: Need to get away from the ‘campaigning for cyclists’ thing. It’s for everyone and also commented below: “Make it an issue for parents, because they are a much more powerful lobbying group than any local cycle campaign.”


Filed under Uncategorized