Friday, 14 October 2011

The image of cycling

The UK is bizarre. A kettle of fish that refuses to swim. 

Please let me explain.

For a German observer, there are some strange myths living in the Brits’ heads concerning cycling! I have been in public debates and on radio programmes to talk about cycling, and what it usually boils down to is this:
1. you cyclists always jump red lights (answer: it makes sense in certain situations, it’s even legal in other countries, countries that work WITH cycling not against)

2. cycling on the pavement is dangerous to pedestrians (answer: nope, what is actually dangerous to pedestrians is cars, just look at the numbers, actually over a hundred people are killed by cars every year in safe spaces like pavements)

3. where’s your helmet? (answer: there’s no legal requirement to wear one, and why should there be? It’s treating a symptom not the cause.)

4. annoyance about cycling two abreast (answer: it’s ok, check out the Highway Code. Hint no. 66)

5. you don’t pay road tax (and what a lot of tosh that is, we all know
Well, that us "telt" then.
My general answer: can we please talk about cycling!
Cycling as I know it.
The UK public is utterly misinformed. Boy, have we got a long way to go. Why aren’t we equally outraged by pedestrians crossing red lights? Or drivers breaking the speed limit or parking their car inconsiderately? These things are going on, are widespread, and can pose real problems to real people.
Clearly it is because cycling isn’t normalised. Cycling is the odd one out amongst the travel modes, and not many people do it. Pedestrians and drivers are somewhat ‘panicked’ by cyclists. They feel threatened and do not understand cyclists.
Photo Cycling in the UK. Always the odd one out. A stripy tiger.

Cycling is a minority – seen as weird, laughed at, scalded, discriminated against – and hence pushed around, not accepted on the pavement, not wanted on the roads – resulting in no space to go and no-where to be wanted or welcomed. A recent report “Understanding walking and cycling” shows exactly that. It’s why people don’t cycle: it’s odd, it’s what kids do. But more people cycling, makes cycling safer…
The debate must move on from these small distracting discussions about what cyclists should or shouldn't do to why cyclists do these things in the first instance, and what society can gain from cycling. 
What can cycle campaigns do? In Newcastle we have asked the council to organise a city-wide Road Users Debate to discuss the future of our public space (it’s actually listed in our campaign priorities We hope this would bring about a better understanding, respect and tolerance between all public space users (i.e. everyone). We hope that what emerges from that big debate is the realisation that cycling has so much to give to society, is an intricate part of society (if we let it), we should have more of it, and yes, we must give space to it too.
Photo Newcastle Quayside. Temporary works compounds takes away walking and cycling space and compromising visibility and safety on the junction. Should have been sited on car parking spaces.

Our politicians must understand that providing and designing for cycling is investing in societal fairness.
Public space must be delineated to include cycling. Better clarity on space should help all of us whether walking, cycling and driving. And conflict and danger must be removed.
And yes, a few in society are misbehaving. But frankly, I’d rather have a collision with a badly steered bike than a dangerously driven car. Why? Because the possible outcomes are very very different indeed.
Really, from a legal point of view: cycling is a minority that gets bullied about and should fall under the Equality Act 2010.
Here’s a few cycle-friendly solutions from my hometown. It is all part of the design mix, it all works, it's all in the toolbox of cycling provision
I am eager to see the big debate to start: how to mainstream cycling into UK society so that it's a positive part of the national psyche.
Photo. Hiviz tabard, spotted in German bike shop: “Cycleway missing!”

We have a long way ahead of us and a lot of bridges, eh cycleways, to build!
Cycling in and around Newcastle

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