Friday, 30 December 2011

It’s our own demons we wrestle not theirs

In 2010 and getting myself into the complex (and, boy, don’t we make it more complex than it really is!) issue of UK cycle campaigning I wrote to the CTC to enquire about their stance. I felt compelled to do that because I found the CTC message confusing and misleading and counterproductive too.

Cycling is safe, no it’s not… it is, no…

I had problems understanding why the CTC unnecessarily tied itself into a complicated seafaring knot by routinely sending two mutually exclusive messages
  1. Cycling/roads can be dangerous (CTC counteract with smidsy)
  2. But, hey, it really isn’t - we say that because of statistics (and because our aim is to get more people cycling and we don’t want to scare them)
Yes, we are starting from a low base. In every respect (our own confidence, cycling numbers, genuine political will and support). I know.

But here it is. The answer that you get over and over again from the CTC: with more people cycling the safety in numbers effect kicks in. A positive feedback loop is created and hey presto voila – you have a cycling nation with a bike culture. A policy reliant on getting people on bikes.

So if that’s the master plan (get more bum-on-saddle and tackle inconsiderate/dangerous driving) then I take umbrage with this: the CTC have little in the way of a successful plan on HOW they propose to get people cycling. To my humble observation cycling numbers have not really remarkably increased in the last decades. In the light of the above, I’d ask the CTC whether policy could be looked at again and their (rather mixed) message reviewed for its logic, effectiveness and success.

Or maybe the CTC don't campaign on behalf of everyday cyclists?

I was wondering whether this really is the best intervention. Keep repeating the mantra “it’s safe (no honest, it really is)” - and they’ll come. Keep telling non-cyclists it’s about their confidence. They can even get training for it.

Isn’t that patronising? Could that be the reason why outreach success and cycling uptake have been low?

Here’s the positive feedback loop as I see it.

Listen to what normal folks (non-cycling) say… they’ll tell you why they don’t cycle: “there are no cycle lanes” is the almost near-universal answer. It’s a personal safety consideration not to cycle. And I can understand that. I know it’s awfully hostile out there on the roads - I have been there – a cyclist’s journey is laden with conflict and aggression, full of anger and – as a cyclist – you have no safe space to fall back on… pavements anyone?

Now, there is this SVOW briefing that discusses this: “Policy that only focuses on an increase in cycling and at the same time ignores the construction of more cycling facilities, will not have a positive effect on road safety.” One wonders whether the CTC, having gone down their road a looong way, could actually conceivably take anything as 'alien' as the above into account when reviewing their stance, policy and media image/message? Almost making a u-turn, by learning from abroad? Better have the screeching halt now then veering off course even more?

My Tupp’ny. Cycling is lovely, or rather it could be lovely. Yes, the more people cycle the better, but for that to happen we really need safe cycle infrastructure. And I have yet to see the CTC making points about cycle infrastructure that are not defeatist “Oh, can’t do it like that” (particularly on side-roads and junction designs). Let’s hope it’ll all come out in their policy review bash 2012.

Soz folks. Here’s what it boils down to. UK cycling will not happen without investment in cycleways. A positive CTC pro-cycleways policy would help.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the road and oil companies are rubbing their hands in glee and their eyes in disbelief “Cyclists are still divided, they don’t even know themselves what they want. They’ll never get their pesky little heads around asking for large sums of money. They must think they aren’t worth it. Oh, these silly cycling sods!”

And trust me, the above means diddly squat to the non-cycling population (i.e. nigh-everyone). We are wrestling with our own demons ignoring the demons of the real population.


  1. This makes a lot of sense. Today's non-cyclists need lots of help to break the car/sofa combination. Good infrastructure is essential. Tokenism and paint could even be making things worse.

  2. Spot on. It's a shame that such a vast and influential org still lives in the dream world and is reluctant to change its approach. Perhaps one day.I mean LCC has changed its priorities so CTC can too.

  3. The CTC have never been keen on cycleways for fear of being marginalised even further on the roads "proper".

    They are also not the most friendly organisation to newbies, both at a national and local level. In fact,there is very little to promote grass-roots cycling from clubs, unless you want to race.

    Perhaps what we need are short easy rides thoughout the summer (weekly perhaps), where "normal" people who want some company when riding their bikes can come along and have a ride with other riders, knowing that friendly people can help if necessary, and that no-one will be turned away or dropped.

  4. I can see the CTC fear - we lose our right to the road as a side effect. However it is right and proper to say "here are problems!"

    I think the majority of the public want their hand held when it comes to cycling. They will do it, I have seen them do it (Sky Rides, sportifs, etc).

  5. What the CTC seems to be doing is giving in to British transport policy, first. Second they do not seem to look at the opinion of people who do not cycle and their reasons for not doing so. Third they are not very much routed in local policy, so they do not seem to look at cycling conditions in towns and cities but concentrate on road cycling out in the country.
    What do you expect from this thinned out approach to cycling policy?
    Plus the side of vehicular cyclists is shouting too loud for their approach of not changing anything on the roads but to use roads and cars for their adventure games they call cycling. The majority is left behind and most politicians do not give a toss.

  6. Having read David Hembrow's blog in the Dutch concept of sustainable safety it makes much more sense the way they plan their roads. At first I was against the idea of segregated cycle lanes as I felt I should be able to ride on the road where and when I like.

    However when you look at the concept behind it of keeping bodies with the same reletive kinetic energy in the same space it makes much more sense then our current "chuck it all together" approach which results in so many un-needed casualties. The Dutch also have a much clearer idea about what specific roads are used for with trunk roads, "home zones" and the interlinking roads between these two all having different methods to allow pedestrians, bikes and motorised traffic to interact in the safest possible way.

    (Un)fortunately they realized this nigh on 40 years ago and it's influenced their road design ever since, so with a massive stroke of luck if we can start following their best practices here I may have some decent cycle infrastructure that I could possibly enjoy in my retirement and with the grandchildren!