Tag Archives: ignoring the elephant

Cycling to school with the CTC again (a follow-up post)

Like the first time I wrote about the CTC, my most recent post (prior to this one) has also got people thinking about what they do and how they do it.

Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director for the CTC, responded to the article which is much appreciated, and you can read my reply there too.

The People’s Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire blog wrote an article titled ‘CTC: who do they represent these days?‘ which is well worth a read, as it covers other ground such as the CTC’s support for the disastrous “Nice Way Code” campaign, and their “welcoming note” (albeit heavily qualified) to the DfT’s complete and utter dismissal of the Get Britain Cycling report.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, PJ McNally covered another example of the CTC ignoring cycling infrastructure even when it’s under their very nose. Please do go read PJ’s excellent blog post on the subject, but I think the gist of it is worth repeating here in a little photo-post.

One of the locations in CTC’s “Cycletopia” is Cherwell School (actually in Oxford) where it is claimed that almost 60% of pupils cycle to school. Impressive numbers! According to the CTC’s Cycletopia page, “the school runs cycle maintenance workshops, there’s an active cycling club and they even campaign to improve road conditions for cyclists” which sounds lovely, though I dare say that even with all these pro-cycling policies few parents would allow their children to ride a bike along busy roads.

What isn’t mentioned is the excellent (by British standards) cycle infrastructure around the school, specifically the wide cycle path along Marston Ferry Road.

Though I know it’s not ideal to get a feel for infrastructure purely from online sources, here’s a few images from Google Streetview. Luckily for me the Streetview car seems to have passed by at commuting time on a school day for one of the images.

A photo of a cycle path next to a busy road near Cherwell School in Oxford. Many children on bikes are using the cycle path. None are using the main road.

I can’t help but notice that the children are on the cycle path, not on the busy road to the right. I suspect the children on the footpath have moved there to get out of the way of the Googlemobile. (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of the Marston Ferry Road cycle path, showing a very wide, physically separate cycle path.

Further west, the cycle path loses the hedge but remains physically separated from the road by a kerb, grass verge and lamp-posts. The width looks great! (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of B4495 Marston Ferry Road cycle path, where it crosses an access road to a car park. The cycle path has priority over the side road.

At junctions, the cycle path moves away from the road, gains a centre line, narrows, and rises up gently. It has clear priority over the minor road (though the paint could do with a refresh!). It’s not quite how I’d do it, but it’s clear that bikes have priority here. A shame about the bizarre pedestrian barriers on the narrow footpath though! (Image: Google Maps)

A photograph of the walking and cycling underpass which enables Cherwell School pupils to safely cross the busy main road.

While I can’t vouch for it at night, I’m sure this underpass is safe and well-used during the day, especially at school commute times. (Image: Google Maps)

Looking further around on the map it seems that there are other traffic-free cycle routes from other nearby housing areas, albeit not as wide and well-made as this one.

Again I acknowledge that it’s difficult to truly understand how something works merely by looking at a photograph of it. But it’s clear that the cycle path is at least worth a mention when discussing the high rate of cycling at Cherwell School. To ignore it is madness.

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Cycling to School with the CTC

Over a year ago I wrote an article criticising the CTC. What sparked it was their “Right to Ride to School” page, which at the time suggested that everything except the roads was the reason for Britain’s 2% cycle-to-school rate.

Since then, they’ve clarified that that specific campaign is aimed solely at those schools which place additional blocks in the way of cycling — such as mandating on helmet use, refusing to allow bike parking, or even banning cycling altogether.

Fair enough, I suppose, but I’d say that schools’ irrational opposition to cycling is merely a symptom of the unpleasant and dangerous conditions on Britain’s roads and streets. No school wants a dead child on their hands, and so they try to ban what they see as a potentially deadly activity.

But campaign for the right conditions — and this does mean cycle paths, by the way, training and 20mph zones alone won’t convince many parents to let little Timmy and Jenny out on their own — and these fears will evaporate.

To talk about cycling to school without mentioning cycle paths is strange and rather silly. The CTC say that the campaign is aimed solely at obstructive schools, but it’s still ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to what’s really preventing children cycling to school.

I still think, a year on, that the CTC remain weak (to the point of having no official position) on Dutch-style cycle infrastructure, and whether they get behind it or not isn’t my concern. They do run the risk of being left behind, as today the word “segregation” is on everyone’s lips when cycling infrastructure is mentioned.

They claim that they “have always supported good infrastructure” but that’s not enough. They need to actively push for good infrastructure, but they won’t do it. Meanwhile they’re happy to get behind stupid rubbish such as the Nice Way Code, yet another “share the road” campaign. (Though they do offer some mild criticism where nobody will read it.)

The only overtures they’ve made towards the Dutch model is the frankly embarrassing Cycletopia, which seems to have died a death of neglect anyway.

Cyclecraft for your children, cycle paths for ours

What spurred me to write this post, however, is that I received confirmation of something I had suspected since I wrote that original post. Last year, I wrote:

“Even the photo they have used looks suspicious – why can’t we see where these children are riding their bikes? Looking at the short height of the kerb in the bottom-left corner of the photo, I wonder if these children are actually riding on a protected cycle path. Has it been cropped to prevent angry emails from vehicular cycling zealots?”

Here is the photo in question, still in use on the CTC’s website:

The CTC's photo of three young children riding bikes, but it is cropped so we can't see what type of surface they're riding on.

“Take the lane kids, John Franklin will be proud!”

I asked at the time for the location of the photo, and despite being told that the CTC knew, I wasn’t told.

Well, I now know where this photo was taken, and I know that this is a staged photo of a CTC employee’s children. I’m not going to reveal the location, as I’m not sure whether these particular children use this segregated cycle path (for that’s what it is!), and I don’t want to compromise their privacy (they haven’t had a choice about whether to be involved in this debate, after all).

But I will show you a photo of the location, which I think tells us all we need to know:

A photo of the location of the CTC's Right to Ride to School photo, showing the context. A narrow but otherwise Dutch-style cycle path runs parallel to a road.

Aha, found it! More towards Bikeability, or Go (a little bit) Dutch?

The children were riding on the very type of infrastructure that the CTC are still reluctant to push for. It’s not very wide – probably only about 1.5m – but in most other respects it’s fairly Dutch (well, for a British attempt at a cycle path, anyway).

I find it very cynical and dishonest of the CTC to choose this location to take the photo, yet failing to call for this type of infrastructure. They seem to be saying “oh training is enough for your children to ride on the road, but not for our children. Our children use the cycle paths, but we won’t tell you that!”

Why crop the photo so closely? Why not show the wider context? Because when you’re an organisation which believes the-road-is-right (and, let’s face it, they still do) you can’t admit that, for your children, the road is simply too dangerous (but that this physically protected cycle path is lovely and safe).

So this is a staged photo of children on bikes. It had to be staged because nowhere in Britain has the type of infrastructure that’s required to see scenes like this every single day:

A photo of the school run at a school in the Netherlands. A wide cycle path is filled with children riding bikes.

Why do you think all these children are here? I’ll give you a clue: it’s the cycle path.

This kind of scene is commonplace and every-day in the Netherlands, and it’s the infrastructure – especially the cycle paths – that make it so. If the CTC really want children to ride to school, this is what they need to start pushing for.

I’ve heard voices from the inside who suggest that the CTC is moving towards supporting Dutch-quality cycling infrastructure, but I’ve been hearing this stuff for a year now. When’s the announcement? Where’s the new policy document?

I suspect that while the CTC pay lip service to the notion of cycle paths, some of those in charge remain enamoured with the idea that we can create a cycling revolution on the roads as they are.

So instead they continue to bang on about Bikeability as if that’s going to change a damn thing:

“Improving conditions and provision for cyclists on the road network is crucial if we want to get more children cycling. But it is also vital to be teaching them basic skills of bike handling, hazard perception and the road skills required to deal with the conditions as they are now.”

No, it’s not, because no parent is mad enough to let their children actually ride a bike on the roads!

Perhaps what the CTC should do, instead of all these campaigns, is start some sort of club for people who like to go on long bike rides. I bet they’d be good at that. Don’t know what they’d call it, though.

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Is the CTC helping or hindering bike use in the UK?

Update, 22nd October 2012:

The article below has opened up a can of worms, but one which probably needed opening. It also gave the CTC top brass a chance to respond to criticism not just from myself but from many others. You can make up your own mind by reading the comments below.

The “Right to Ride to School” page which sparked this piece has since been changed to clarify the intent, which is to work against schools which attempt to suppress cycling. You can view a screen-grab of the original page here.

Since I wrote this the CTC launched their Cycletopia which looks nice (if a bit childish) and seems like it’s going in the right direction, although on closer inspection the words “segregated” “separate” and “protected” don’t appear anywhere, while “training” does. (Come on, guys, catch up!)

They have also declared their support for quality segregation which is a great headline, although I still believe that the devil is in the detail. (Giving councils an option to do nothing beyond painting lines on the road is not going to boost cycling.)

I’m also pleased to have inspired two bloggers to have written articles in response to this post: David Arditti and Freewheeler, both of whom I respect greatly.

Freewheeler wrote more articles related to the same topic – all of which are well worth reading – which you can find here, here, here, and here.

Another update, 28th October 2012: Joe Dunckley wrote an article about the story of what happened to cycle campaigning in 1996, of which Roger Geffen tells his version in the comments below.

Anyway, you can read the original article below…

You know, I read so much nonsense written about cycling that I often don’t know which blog post to write next. If I could hook up my brain directly to WordPress then you’d find a new post by me every five minutes.

While writing my last post I took a look at the new CTC website, which has been updated recently. One thing that caught my eye was their “Right to Ride to School” page. It’s a good idea – every child should have the right to ride to school in a safe and pleasant environment. But the phrase “Right to Ride” made me a little suspicious, as it usually refers to the right to ride on the road with the cars and vans and lorries, which is a right exercised by almost nobody. I wonder why?

The CTC thinks that the reason 99% of children in the UK don’t cycle to school is because…

  • they don’t know how
  • their parents would rather drive them
  • they don’t have anywhere to keep their bike
  • their school actively discourages this mode of transport

Now, is it me, or is this a perfect example of cycle campaigners ignoring the elephant in the room? Why isn’t “because it looks and feels dangerous” on that list? How about “it’s insane to expect small children to cycle around cars and vans”?

Even the photo they have used looks suspicious – why can’t we see where these children are riding their bikes? Looking at the short height of the kerb in the bottom-left corner of the photo, I wonder if these children are actually riding on a protected cycle path. Has it been cropped to prevent angry emails from vehicular cycling zealots?

The CTC's photo of three young children riding bikes, but it is cropped so we can't see what type of surface they're riding on.

They’re not on the path – are we meant to think they’re riding on the road? John Franklin would be proud!

These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’m genuinely asking why the UK’s biggest and most influential cycling group – “the national cycling charity” no less – insists on sticking to this “Right to Ride” mantra. How about “safe cycling routes to schools” – what’s wrong with that? Why does everything have to be tied in with vehicular cycling? On a page about children riding bikes to school they don’t once mention the fear of motor traffic being the number one reason people consistently give for not cycling.

Instead, they blame the children, they blame the parents (they also blame schools, but quite rightly, as there are schools in the UK which are anti-cycling).

Personally – and tell me if I’m nuts for thinking this – I blame it on a lack of safe, motor traffic-free routes. Can’t the CTC see this?

I realise I’m opening a can of worms here by criticising the CTC – an act which, in some circles, seems akin to publishing cartoons of Mohammed – but here goes. The CTC has been around for over 100 years, and where has cycling in Britain gone under their guidance? A 1% cycle-to-school rate (against 89% in the Netherlands), a mere 3% of people riding once a month for utility (compared to 93% per week in the Netherlands).

What are the CTC for, if not to promote the use of bikes in the UK? I know they can’t be held responsible for the brain disease epidemic that affected town planners throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but by focussing on the Right to Ride so much they have ignored the one thing that would get more people in the UK cycling: Dutch-style infrastructure. Riding on the road has failed, they’ve had a century to promote it and still nobody wants to do it.

Apparently, some CTC members are pushing for a more pro-infrastructure stance, which I think is great. I really hope the organisation is waking up to the fact that most of its members are hardcore cyclists whose desires and needs are very different to the rest of the population, and that if it wants to grow cycling in the UK then it needs to promote Dutch-quality infrastructure. But having to argue for cycle paths within the CTC must feel a little bit like having joined the Communist party because you believe in equality and fairness but then finding Stalin in charge.

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