Tweets this MonthThis tweet from road.cc pointed to the post here with the full story
|Cycleways map. http://bikeboom.info #spotthedifference|
This is great for those countries that have invested, but for those of us in the UK (with the exception of a very small number of cities) the situation is much worse than it looks. The red lines shown on the UK map are the Sustrans network. I'm a great supporter of Sustrans, but I would have to admit that realistically these paths are mostly not dedicated cycle infrastructure, but are carefully chosen quiet routes that are not necessarily the quickest route between places - so great for recreation, but often not ideal commuter infrastructure.
How did Change Happen?Our family was discussing the reasons why some countries have been so much more effective at building cycle infrastructure than the UK when Tom said ...
- cycling infrastructure spend increases,
- planning permissions are only granted when developers improve the bicycle infrastructure,
- lanes are removed from roads to make way for the people walking and on cycles,
- employers that allow car-parking pay a tariff towards cycle infrastructure,
- public transport is required to carry cycles for free, etc.
... and everything gets into a virtuous circle; as infrastructure improves, so more people come by bike, so infrastructure is improved to meet the demand.
There are many cities where this change to a people centred city has happened and I will save a few of their stories for another post.
At this moment I am interested in what happened in, say, Amsterdam or Copenhagen in the 1980's that succeeded in convincing governments and city councils to make these changes. It must have been hard! At a time when the car had become king, and Thatcher was reputedly suggesting that a man who didn't have a car in his 30's should consider himself a complete failure, and global warming was still denied by the right wing - it must have been difficult for leaders to be so visionary and to move against what was so obviously the "Peoples' choice" - the car.
And indeed, it turns out that, certainly initially, the leaders were not so visionary! They needed persuading.
I had previously seen the film "Bicycle", and this related the story of Dutch society changing direction after a few well publicized deaths of children on the roads. It all sounded rather consensual and as if society "got it" and changed autonomously. This is not what happened. For a better picture of what happened you could read "How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure", "How Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world", and you will read about the formation of Stop de Kindermoord ("Stop the child murder") - the activist group that formed after the deaths mentioned above, and we are told that:
"The 1970s were a great time for being angry in Holland: activism and civil disobedience were rampant. Stop de Kindermoord grew rapidly and its members held bicycle demonstrations, occupied accident blackspots, and organised special days during which streets were closed to allow children to play safely."
.. and there is plenty more about critical mass rides, guerrilla cycle path painting, rolling out carpet cycle lanes across parked cars, etc.
|"Painting cycle lanes, Amsterdam 1980" from |
How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure
It is really very difficult for our leaders to construct any logical argument against increasing cycling except by showing that there is no evidence of the demand. However, this is usually the sticking point: if the demand is not there then the authorities won't invest, but the majority of people will not cycle until the infrastructure is there, as demonstrated by the London experience in the tweet above.
So if we want change in most of the UK, my argument says, then we have to show the leaders (city and county councillors) that there is a demand. How can we do that? In my city (Southampton) 12,000 people turning up for a Sky ride round the streets does not appear to be convincing enough. It seems that if we are going to win this fight we want some of those 12,000 people to be more radically activist. Like the Dutch! (yes, the phonological ambiguity was intended :-)
Postscript: or Maybe I am Wrong?I don't feel very comfortable advocating radical activism. Even in my youth I was always the one to believe that consensus and good sense would prevail if only people understood the facts and the effects that certain behaviours and decisions would have on other people.
In Southampton, at this moment, the City Council is collecting feedback on a draft Cycling Plan - see the plan and my feedback in the post here - and there is much discussion in the cycling community about whether this the plan is serious, and how to respond. (I am certain that this story will be the same in councils across the UK). There appear to be two courses of action we could take:
- We could take the Council at face value, and believe that they have a real intention to see this through and implement the strategy or something close to it. In that case we should warmly congratulate those involved in the production of the plan and do everything we can do to help them steer it through what will inevitably be a difficult inception at a time when budgets are so tight and when it is easier to maintain the status quo than to invest in making transport better, less polluting and less expensive in the future.
- Those that have been cycle campaigning longer are usually more cynical. They feel that this plan is nothing more than a sop or concession to government and funding initiatives which require councils to show that they are doing something about transport and about pollution. They feel that the council has absolutely no intention of implementing the plan and they point to the lack of serious funding or implementation detail as evidence for this view. These people argue for a far more activist and confrontational approach to change.
Possibly we have arrived at the point in the evolution of cities and transport systems where even councils are beginning to understand the damage that we are creating? I'd like to believe that this plan genuinely is a first attempt to change things. I've been around change management long enough to know that there will be setbacks on the way, but I'd like to support the council in every way possible.
But I suspect that a bit of "irresponsible" activism (from a lot of people) would help our council to remain responsible and focussed when trying to navigate the difficult times ahead!
Now, where's my paintbrush....?