Cycling’s Dodgy Dossier

As a campaigner for improved cycling facilities in Britain one quickly gets used to absurd arguments. The favourite anti-cycling theme at the moment is that cycle lanes cause pollution, not motors that burn fossil fuels.

Another new line of argument that I’ve not encountered much before in my twenty years as a campaigner for better cycling conditions is the class nature of cycling.

None other than the much-admired transport economist, Professor David Begg, is the latest in a line of more or less distinguished individuals who have taken to playing the class card in trying to restrict or prevent spending on effective cycling infrastructure.

Economist Professor Begg plays the class warrior in a report of which he is the author, entitled ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers’. The report was commissioned by an organisation with the eco-friendly sounding name, Greener Journeys. Greener Journeys actually describes itself as a ‘campaign’ to promote bus and coach travel.

However, Greener Journeys is funded by bus companies. Professor Begg is chairman of the campaign’s advisory board. He is also a non-executive director of the bus company First Bus, one of the companies that bankrolls Greener Journeys.

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In his report Begg points out that car drivers and rail users are usually from wealthier social groups than bus users. This has become a frequent theme of the anti-rail lobby, which is in part funded by the bus industry. The bus operators see themselves in competition with rail for customers and for public funds – an example of how the different bits of the British transport industry are engaged in actively undermining any notion of integrated transport.

Professor Begg soon switches from deriding rail users as class enemies to painting cyclists with the same brush.

“What is less well-known,” he writes, “is how relatively affluent cyclists in London are compared with bus passengers. Transport for London describes the London cyclist as typically white, under 40, male with medium to high household income. [Further] A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Transport & Health Group (LSHTM) in 2011 describes cycling in London as disproportionately an activity of white, affluent men. Only 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycled compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000’.”

Certainly this may look impressive: the participation rates for people cycling from rich bastard households (2.2%) are about 50% higher than for downtrodden, hard-working poor households (1.5%).

But we need to look a bit more closely at the statistics on which Professor Begg bases his assertion. Helpfully, Professor Begg provides details of where he has sourced his claim and he cites a report by a London medical college: ‘Steinbach et al, Cycling and the city: a case study of how gendered, ethnic and class identities can shape healthy transport (April 2011)’.

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Professor Begg’s citation of an incomplete secondary source


However, this cited report is not actually a report on the class make up of those who cycle in London. Rather it is a study of attitudes and perceptions (as in fact is indicated in the study’s title). The interviews involved 78 London cyclists in ‘qualitative interviews’.

While this report is not the source of the statistical data, it does include the same statistics as Professor Begg. The Steinbach report says, “Cyclists are also more likely to come from more affluent social groups, with on average 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycling, compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000.”

‘More likely to come from’ has morphed into ‘disproportionally’ in Professor Begg’s paper, but the figures are the same, so we have at least found the intermediate source for Professor Begg’s statistics.

The Steinbach report cites as its source another report, “Green et al’ or in full, ‘Green, J., Steinbach, R., Datta, J., & Edwards, P. (2010). Cycling in London: a study of social and cultural factors in transport mode choice’.

In this report we do at last find the original statistics. Table 12 says that for households with an income of below £15,000 per annum only 1.2% cycle, whereas for those households with incomes greater than £35,000 per annum as many as 2.2% cycle, a roughly 50% higher participation rate.

So it seems that Professor Begg has made his case.

Yet, for complete view, if not just for curiosity’s sake, I’m surprised that neither Professor Begg, nor the Steinbach report which he cited, passed on the information about the other income group in the original study – the cycling participation rate of households with an income between £15,0000 and £35,000 per annum.

Looking at Green’s 2010 report we find that it does in fact provide that information – and it turns out to be 2.1%. For some reason, unexplained, Steinbach omitted it and Professor Begg copied the truncated Steinbach version.

The omission is a pity. The figure for the middle income group participation of 2.1% is very close to the 2.2% of the over £35,000 group and clearly affects the interpretation of the class basis of cycling in London.

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The statistics in Green et al


Rather than the most affluent predominating in the cycling profile in London, as asserted by Professor Begg, the report shows that those households where the income is above £15,000 have effectively the same participation rate as the more affluent. The omission of this middle income group thus makes way for the insertion of the false picture given by referring only to the categories of below £15,000 and above £35,000 household income.

Obviously I don’t know why Professor Begg has omitted this middle category and I invite him publicly to explain his decision to base his argument on a limited and misleading subset of the data. I also invite him to comment on whether he stands by his assertion in view of the fact that the middle household income group has the same participation rate as the over £35,000 category. Does he think that a household income of £15,000 or £16,000 or £17,000 for people in London makes them part of the affluent?

The bulk of Professor Begg’s report is about bus times and congestion, however it is worth looking at some of the other mentions of cycling in his report.

In the first release of his report in the Executive Summary (the bit most people read), Professor Begg made the quite outlandish claim that the growth of congestion in London was down to two factors, one of which was ‘the reduction in road capacity in central London by 25% through the introduction of cycle superhighways without taking action to curtail traffic in central London.’

This amazing claim made its way into the Guardian newspaper in an article written by Dave Hill who has made his mark as a sharp critic of cycle ‘superhighways’ and of cycle campaigners. The claim initiated a stir on twitter as people realised that such a claim was utterly absurd. For some reason, Professor Begg didn’t spot the patent improbability of the assertion that 25% of central London road space had been handed over to cycleways.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 09.33.24Dave Hill has written a series of articles criticising cycle campaigners – this is an example of him in full flow in the Guardian


Following a series of complaints on twitter, both Professor Begg and the Guardian  amended the text of their reports to a less risible claim (25% of ‘key routes’) to correct this patently false claim.

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Dave Hill’s revised version in the Guardian of the 25% claim


This second claim is also made in on page 30 and elsewhere of Professor Begg’s report: “One of the most radical reallocations of road space that has occurred on UK roads in recent years has been London’s supercyclehighways, whereby 25% of road space on key routes has been allocated.”

This is still a bold statement given that the cycleways have only been operation for a few weeks and Professor Begg’s figures elsewhere in his report show congestion growing well before work started on the cycleways. Also no one has yet published any assessment of how the cycleways have affected motor traffic, let alone how total capacity has been affected by the very few cycleways that have been opened in the spring of this year. He also asserts that the result has been worsening congestion and slower speeds, resulting in the claim that “bus passengers have been the main losers.”

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Professor Begg making grandiose claims but without offering any evidence


There are still several problems with this ambiguous formulation (how many ‘key routes’ and are they all bus routes, how was the calculation done and what is the evidence for these cycleways causing the claimed disbenefits to buses and passengers?). The figure needs explanation.

Professor Begg was asked by cycle industry journalist, Carlton Reid, for the source of his claim (as none was provided in the report). Carlton was told that it was sourced from a presentation made by a Transport for London (TfL) official and I understand he is pursuing the matter with TfL.

Dave Hill of the Guardian claimed in a tweet that a TfL official had confirmed the ‘25% of key routes’ figure to him, but Hill had no other information and also asserted that he was given the information on an unattributable, off-the-record basis. Enquiries are being made for the data and calculations to verify the accuracy of the claim, as secret claims by anonymous officials are not sufficient.

What’s going on here? As noted above, Greener Journeys, is a bus industry funded lobbying organisation. The bus industry has decided to treat cycling as competition to bus services, for passengers and for fare revenues and public investment. The references to cycling in the report are an attempt to create a false narrative that large amounts of space have been given to cycling in central London – and to stop any further cycleways being introduced.

Professor Begg makes this quite clear in the following sentence: “While more sustainable forms of transport should be supported, and the critical importance of reducing cycling accidents through segregation is clear, care must be taken to ensure cycling improvements are not to the detriment of bus passengers.”

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There is no way to read this other than that Professor Begg is asserting the bus industry policy that improving cyclist safety is secondary to avoiding alleged ‘detriment to bus users’ (and bus industry revenues)


The reader should note the semantic sidestep from ‘reducing cycling accidents’ in the middle of the sentence, to ‘cycling improvements’ in the last part of the sentence. However, despite the semantic shift, it is clear that what is meant is that care must be taken to ensure that reducing cycling accidents is not to the ‘detriment of bus passengers’.

Of course, if Professor Begg, writing a report remember in his role as a bus company director, had said that there would be uproar.

Also as Mark Treasure pointed out on twitter, imagine if Professor Begg written this sentence substituting ‘walking’ for ‘cycling’: “While the critical importance of reducing pedestrian casualty numbers is clear, care must be taken to ensure walking improvements are not to the detriment of bus passengers.”

The bus company funded campaign is deliberately trying to create the false impression, in Professor Begg’s words, that “While there is often a conflict between catering for cyclists and bus passengers, and the London cycle superhighways are a topical case in point, policies favouring pedestrians and buses are more complementary and have greater synergy between them than many think.”

The reader may ask if I am not being a pit paranoid here, seeing a conspiracy where in reality there is just shoddy research, biased presentation and opinionising substituting itself for information. But a quick peek at the details of Green Journeys’ ‘campaign team’ shows that all are actually employed by the PR and lobbying firm MHP. The website describes the skills of key individuals:

“a wealth of experience in public affairs and media relations, and specialises in devising and managing successful business-critical lobbying and reputation uplift campaigns”

“joins the team having advised clients on a variety of public affairs campaigns and stakeholder engagement programmes “

“responsible for driving strategic media and social campaigns. As a former journalist at the Daily Telegraph, where she spent 10 years covering general news, health and media [and] has a deep understanding of what makes a good story, and uses this insight in her day-to-day dealings with transport writers across print, online, radio and television”

“his innate [sic] understanding of how news companies operate in the digital age, to help maximise clients’ positive media coverage and inform future PR strategies”

This is not a ‘campaign’ in the sense where concerned individuals get together in their spare time to lobby for improvements to their daily lives or some good cause. Greener Journeys is a campaign organization that employs highly paid media professionals (all bound to be earning well over £35,000 you can be sure) and Professor Begg’s report cannot be treated as anything other than a propaganda job on behalf of the bus lobby. Virtually everything it says about cycling is wrong, contentious or based on cherry-picked statistics.

However, it does allow us to see how lobbying companies in the powerful motor lobby work. One route they use is to compile semi-academic reports which spread misinformation and create false narratives – such as bus versus bicycle.

We can also see how these false ideas spread. Dave Hill of the Guardian uncritically repeated the absurd claim in the first version of Professor Begg’s report that 25% of road capacity in central London had been re-allocated to cycling and remained in place until challenged. But he was not the only dupe for Greener Journeys’ PR puff.

A leading transport industry newsletter, TransportXtra, headlined its report “Cycle lobby has overridden bus interest.” At least this doesn’t adopt Greener Journeys’ pretence that it is only concerned with ‘bus passengers’ when in fact its real concern is bus company interests which would benefit from the higher bus speeds and more space devoted to buses, and which Professor Begg’s report calls for.

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TransportXtra headlines the urban myth (and expands the myth by it applying not just to London but to the whole of Britain)


But TransportXtra’s report dutifully parrots Greener Journeys’ lobbying message: “Britain’s [sic – note sidestep from London’s to Britain’s] predominantly [sic] white middle class cycling lobby [sic] has skewed urban transport priorities [sic] to the disbenefit of buses and their passengers [sic], says Green Journeys report author David Begg.”

We are witnessing the creation of an urban myth thanks to Greener Journeys’ and MHP’s professional PR midwifery – and all based on a dodgy dossier. Professor Begg’s report is a discreditable piece of work and should become a notorious example of how expensive lobbying operations can poison public policy discussion by inserting incorrect information.

It is important to note that Transport for London officially doesn’t play one transport mode off against another in discussing ‘capacity’: It says, “In considering the capacity of the road network, it is important to consider the capacity in terms of ‘total people movement’, including travel by public transport, cycle and on foot. Where capacity for general traffic has been moved, this often (but not always) reflects reallocation of available capacity to other forms of ‘on road’ movement.” In other words, Professor Begg’s use of the term ‘road capacity’ needs to be judged in the light of overall capacity increase achieved by reallocating road space to provide space for space-efficient modes, such as cycling rather than as the zero-sum outlook evident in Professor Begg’s bus-company oriented misuse of the term.

In the cycling lobby we have become accustomed to councillors and officials who do their best to constrain provision of cycling infrastructure and their friends in the media. But this report should alert us to the fact that as our campaign grows, we will meet a new type of opposition to sensible provision of cycle infrastructure as part of an integrated transport system. That opposition is one that will use all the tricks and opportunities that their corporate money can buy to destroy the prospects of Britain seeing a cycling renaissance – even as far as funding a cadre of highly affluent company  directors and PR executives to conduct a neo-Trotskyist class war campaign against a green transport mode that they decide they want removed from our roads.

Professor Begg’s report is a clear declaration of an information war on cycling from the well-funded bus company lobby.

Brexit – can we learn from Ireland?


The British EU In/Out referendum debate is pitting an economic argument against a distaste for immigration and a desire to ‘get our country back’.

The Remain lobby has clearly had the best of the economic argument. The Leave lobby has been unable to show any serious support for the case that Britain would be better off out of the EU, apart from a handful of long-term Eurosceptic economists, most notably the Thatcherite professor of economics at Cardiff University, Patrick Minford, and the Camden Labour councillor and television shopping entrepreneur, John Mills.

The main economic case put by the Out lobby has been, ‘everything will be fine, everyone everywhere will be only too happy to give us tariff-free trade deals and they’ll do it without delay.’

When confronted with the wealth of economists predicting disadvantages to the British economy if we were to leave the EU, the Out lobby dismisses them out of hand. Nigel Farage exclaimed that people were fed up with ‘experts’. All would be fine and everyone better off if only we were to shed the shackles of the EU’s Single Market.

But every so often the mask slips and Farage shows that he accepts that Brexit would slow the economy  even stating that slower economic growth would actually be desirable if it meant achieving ‘independence’.

For example, according to the Daily Telegraph, in January 2014 he said that, “Lower economic growth is a price worth paying to radically cut immigration”. It’s a point Farage has made again and again in the last couple of years.

On 7th May this year, questioned on television about the likely hit to the British economy if Britain votes to leave the UK, Farage said that it was, “wrong, wrong, wrong that the average decent families in this country, their living standards have fallen by 10% over the course of the last few years and it’s about time as a society we started thinking about not just about GDP figures, not just about the rich getting richer, but about ordinary decent Britons who had a rotten time.”

There is a rather obvious contradiction here: if we stop thinking about GDP growth, we will find it harder to reverse the fall in living standards of those decent Britons since the crash of 2007/8. But this is not the main point – though it should be a warning to those who are tempted to believe that Farage does really have the interests of poor, decent Britons at heart.

The key issue is that the Brexit lobby, when pressed, acknowledge that prosperity comes second to ‘taking back control of our country.’

This is a clever slogan. It plays on the one hand to the idea that the EU is un-democratic and that we should take back democratic control from unelected Brussels bureaucrats (never mind that the EU Council comprises elected national ministers and the European Parliament is directly elected while the House of Lords is not).

But in popular opinion what most people actually mean is taking back control of our borders; that is, reducing/stopping immigration.

The argument thus combines nationalism and dislike of immigrants to create a powerful ideology – one that its leaders acknowledge that is happy to accept lower economic growth to achieve its nationalistic ends.

An episode in British and Irish history from a little less than 100 years ago is relevant here. During negotiations in the early 1920s between Britain and Ireland about independence, writes one historian, ‘economic prosperity was not a priority for [Irish leader] Éamon de Valera and he never saw it as an essential element in his bid for power.’ (R Fanning, Éamon de Valera)

“If a man makes up his mind to go out into a cottage [vacating the mansion, i.e. the British state and economy, ‘he’ had lived in previously] … he has to make up his mind to put up with frugal fare of that cottage,” said de Valera – the selfsame view as expressed by Nigel Farage and other hardline Eurosceptics.

‘Promises of larger and more comprehensive doles [welfare payments], of protection[ism] and industrialization, coupled with repudiation of British debts, constituted a nice amalgam of nationalism and democracy. They clinched the wide and durable support which Fianna Fáil enjoyed among the poorer classes.’

Though de Valera introduced old-age pensions, the other promises were forgotten and prosperity remained out of reach as Ireland entered a long period of economic stasis. This threatened de Valera’s power base and he had to find other ways of retaining support. ‘Catholic triumphalism and [Gaelic] language revivalism alike were rooted in the necessity to find something to celebrate in an infant state scarred by political disappointment and economic austerity and by the general disenchantment typical of a post-revolutionary age … Religion and language – identifiably different from those that characterised the British national ethos – were the two most obvious hallmarks of independent Ireland.

Even as late as the end of the 1950s, De Valera could say, “The policy of self-reliance is the one policy that will enable our nation to continue to exist. I would rather go short of the things that have to be got by external loan than have an external loan’. Meanwhile, Ireland suffered migration of its people to other countries, most notably to Britain – the same neighbouring Britain that Ireland had struggled for so long to ‘take control back’ from.

The similarity between de Valera’s words and those of Farage and pals is striking. The difference is that, rather than language and nationalism, Farage et al are hawking dislike of immigration and nationalism in a mythical quest to ‘get our country back’.

Another historian, Desmond Williams, writing about independent Ireland’s foreign policy choices, said, “States are never wholly free in relation to the policy they follow … because a state must observe the limits circumscribing its geographic, economic and ideological situations in the world. What states are free to do is always subject to some restrictions and constraint.” The same words are as applicable to the Brexit debate as to Ireland.

The desired end to migration, that is the main driver of the Brexit vote, is either not attainable or only achievable by doing immense damage to the British economy and by withdrawing from the European Single Market (so as not to be subject to its essential freedom of movement commitments).

But this, in a way, does not matter. The choice is about nationalism and dislike of immigrants against nefarious concepts of cooperation and compromise with those with whom we are ineluctably joined in geographic, economic and ideological reality.

‘It’s the economy stupid’ is wrong. For many ‘it’s the immigrants stupid.’

I fear that the Breixt campaigners may win thanks to the same nationalist sentiments as those that diverted Ireland, after its heroic struggle to achieve independence, into half-a-century of economic sluggishness and the slow bleeding of its greatest asset, its young people.

Why I’m in favour of compromise and cooperation

This blog site is about cycling as a transport mode, but the UK is currently engaged in a debate of historic importance about its continued membership or quitting of the European Union. As we edge towards the momentous referendum vote, I want to explain the fundamental reason why I will be voting for us to remain a member of the EU. Two specific incidents lay behind my decision to write this blog: first, a pair of tweets from a former Financial Times journalist, and second, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour.

I’m sure everyone knows that the key steps to founding what later became the EU took place in the aftermath of the Second World War when it was recognised that the long-standing enmity between France and Germany, and that had led to three dreadful wars in less than a century, was destroying Europe. Many may also know that the first intergovernmental manifestation of this aftermath was the European Coal and Steel Community, set up with the aim of tying the key economic sectors, and the raw materials of war-making, into an inter-governmental authority. The appointed council of the ECSC later evolved into the European Parliament, one of the three main pillars of the constitutional structure of the EU, and elected by voters across the EU.

But, in fact we can discern ideas that eventually led to the EU in the First World War (and indeed back to the 17th century). During the ‘Great War’ an inter-governmental authority was set up by members of the ‘Entente’ (which included Britain, France, Italy and other countries) to control shipping resources, which were pooled. Decisions about what (troops or ammunition or food or coal) should be transported to Entente members, and in which ships, were taken in a body that made decisions which were then ‘imposed’ on sovereign states. Governments may not have liked the individual decisions, but they jointly agreed on and stuck with the structure for making those decisions for the benefit of all.

Other inter-governmental bodies were also set up. Perhaps the best known is control given to French military authorities over Britain’s troops on the Western Front in 1918 (after years of slaughter and determination not to cooperate between proud, touchy generals and field marshals).

One historian, Adam Tooze in The Deluge, writes: ‘In halting Germany’s final onslaught [in spring 1918 and which initially threatened to defeat Entente troops on the Western Front], the Entente created precedents for inter-governmental cooperation that went beyond anything ever realized in the League of Nations. … Through the involvement of a generation of businessmen, engineers and technocrats, such as Briton Arthur Salter and his close colleague and friend, the Frenchman Jean Monnet, this cooperation was [later] to provide the inspiration for the project of the EU.’

As we know, Europe didn’t go down the road of cooperation from 1918 and succumbed to an even worse bout of bloodletting in the Second World War. It took that awful conflict (which killed fifty million people compared with about seventeen million in the First World War) for a serious attempt to be made at setting up inter-governmental structures, first by pooling coal and steel resources.

Monnet, looking back with dismay at how France and Germany squandered any opportunities to put past division behind them at the end of the First World War, wrote in his memoirs, ‘It was to take many years and much suffering before Europeans began to realise that they must choose either unity or decline.’

Britain, of course, stood aside from these moves to build cooperation in European in the aftermath of the Second World War until some years later. In 1975, twenty years after the end of the war, a referendum voted to ratify Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

We hear frequently that we were told in 1975 that the EEC was a purely economic organisation and that joining it was all about trade. Well, I was around in 1975 and in my early 20s (and voted in favour of ratifying the treaty with the EEC). I have to say that I cannot actually recall any arguments that were used at the time – and quite honestly I doubt if more than a small fraction of those proclaiming what was said four decades ago by some politicians actually remember it. More likely people remember having heard this claimed incessantly in recent years by Britain’s predominantly Europhobic press.

What I can recall is the reason why I voted in favour of the EEC all those years ago. It was because I thought that Britain would be better by being more European, more like some of our neighbours and less like Enoch Powell’s vision of Britain with its rivers overflowing with the blood of our fellow citizens. Those were the years of young people’s revulsion at the US’s methods of war in Vietnam, and with Britain’s addiction to small nasty colonial wars in far away places; they were the years in which many grew up to hate the racial segregation in the American South and South Africa; they were the years of the early awakening of realisation of issues about gender equality and ‘gay liberation’. And, a year after the referendum was the birth of punk, with the new Britain screaming out its rejection of the old.

Joining Europe to me was about rejecting a call to cling on to Britain’s imperial glory and its hangover of racism, sexism, militarism and class division. I was in favour of becoming just another European state. I voted for Britain to be more European.

Perhaps, being young, I didn’t pay enough attention to the debate others were having about joining a trade bloc, but trade policy really had nothing to do with my voting to be ‘a European’. In the years since then, my awareness of what became the European Union does has grown and it remains my view that we did the right thing in joining a supranational institution that can, on the one hand, restrain the nation state in its atavistic tendencies and, on the other hand, empower nation states and peoples, through working together, to foster progressive international cooperation.

Coincidentally (or not), 1975 was also the year in which the British public first made acquaintance with the memorable character of Basil Fawlty. Here was the classic representation of the ranting little-Englander with his literally knee-jerking behaviour when German guests turned up at his hotel. The tag line, “Don’t mention the war” became a national theme. Here was boring, staid, inward-looking England in painfully laughable form.

The tweets that prompted me to write this blog post came from a former Financial Times journalist, Paul Quigley, a supporter of Britain leaving the EU. He tweeted that he had ‘to say how cultured and compelling the Brexit case has been made, unlike the lies, and disgusting scaremongering of the Remainiac gang’.

cyc Quigely 2

This was not long after Quigley had posted another tweet. This one had a photo of a severe looking Angela Merkel eyeing an out of focus profile of David Cameron. Quigely’s text ran:

AM: So, Herr Camoron. Venn vill vee haff ze British?
DC: ‘Projekt Fear’ is going as planned
AM: Schnell!

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Given some of the very convincing parody sites on the web, I suppose it is possible that Quigley is running a parody campaign to damage the reputation of the Brexit lobbies. But, taking his tweet at face value, we can see here an example of a disturbing change in the last four decades – of how Basil Fawlty has morphed from figure of fun to role model, with Quigley’s sharp-suited, post-modernist Fawlty being just one of many resurrecting Basil as a man to emulate.

We sure laughed at Basil, but I can’t raise even a giggle for someone so unaware of the gross and reactionary irony (100 years since the First World War) of labelling funny German accents as ‘cultured.’ It’s all getting very serious now. We may well be on the way out of the EU after the referendum. This will be bad news for the younger generations who already will have to face challenges such as climate change and to deal with potential very dangerous countries such as Putin’s Russia. The dying generations may carelessly destroy the tools the younger ones need to cope with the future.

If the Remain lobby is deploying Project Fear, the Out camp is plugging away at Project Paranoia. In the UK the press is overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. The EU is routinely described as ‘dictating’ to us. This was the other prompt to me to write this post, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour. He complained that he was “sick” of Britain being told what to do by Brussels.

My neighbour, now retired, spent many years as a water industry civil engineer and has observed and written extensively about the global water industry. I reminded him of something which he knew was true: we have European law to thank for our clean beaches.

Without pressure from the EU’s commonly agreed water quality standards you can be pretty certain that the ‘dirty man’ of Europe would still be pumping raw sewage out into our bays and beaches (and indeed we still do in storms).

I welcome having the UK forced to mend its ways and take environmental responsibility. In return for agreement on other things that the British government wanted, the UK government agreed to undertake what others wanted – a level playing field where all nations improved their coastal water quality for the benefit of all. If you have a dirty neighbour polluting their seas and the prevailing currents send the pollution to your costal areas, you may question whether it’s worth the cost and effort of cleaning your own beaches. Working jointly on problems that cross-borders and oceans is what the EU is about – and it involves compromise with others.

Those tempted to say, ‘we don’t need others to tell us what we should do as we are quite capable of solving these problems for ourselves’, should look at the related issue of air quality. Currently it is estimated that some 9,000 people are dying early each year in London alone because the British government, terrified of the motor lobby, has allowed air quality to become dire. As a nation we face fines for successive governments having failed to implement agreed EU law on improving air quality.

Brexit would mean the end of any prospect that British politicians, of the left or right, would take on the challenge of tackling air quality. But continued EU membership may help lead our recalcitrant government to summon up the political will to tackle air quality issues that it would much rather ignore.

One problem is that these complex subjects easily become complex technical matters, far away from the day to day life of citizens. They don’t translate easily into tabloid articles or twitter debates or mock German accents.

Yet, in our global world, such issues can and do affect everyday life. Indeed, they are often matters of life and death (directly so in the case of air quality) and demand international cooperation to be resolved. The EU gives us opportunities to organize that cooperation. Why walk away from that?

For all its great difficulties and challenges, for all its weak and divided response to the financial crisis in 2007/8 and to the current migration crisis (caused by war, repression, widespread rape, mass torture, economic collapse and environmental degradation in part caused by global warming), the EU remains an essential tool of cooperation between the nations of Europe in a dangerous and changing world order. It remains a good thing, something we should cherish.

After the First World War, France initially tried for a ‘moderate’ peace settlement. But this depended on structures of common agreement and common economic policy to ensure security and economic recovery. Failing this, the French recognised, that security would have to be ensured by a “peace of reprisals and punishments”.

Some twenty-five years on, another Frenchman observed that, “a couple of years in a Gestapo cell and Buchenwald concentration camp could inspire either a passion for revenge or a determination that there would be no more camps.” The author of those words, a wartime Resistance leader Christian Pinean, signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 on behalf of France, initiating the construction of European integration. I will be voting to continue his work.

New uses for London’s streets

Cities are a mix of the old and the more recent. Street patterns in particular may persist for long stretches of time, indeed for well over a thousand years in some instances. But over time, the way we use those streets changes.

In London’s old centre, known as the City of London, many of the narrow medieval streets are the same as those described by Samuel Pepys in his seventeenth century diaries and were old even when he wrote about his daily travels around the city, at first on foot, but when Secretary to the Navy, in his important status symbol, a personal horse-drawn carriage painted appropriately with sea scenes.

Even older are some of the roads that head out of the centre of London, slicing through Central London, Inner London, Outer London and beyond, to the far corners of Britain. They date from when the Roman legions would have marched along them. Today, within the bounds of the capital, these roads are usually clogged with motor traffic – for example, the Edgware Road.

But London was primarily a city built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and most of London’s roads date from these more recent times. One very specifically nineteenth century road is the Embankment on the north bank of the Thames in Westminster. It was built when the river was confined into its present much-narrowed channel. In recent decades, like most nineteenth century streets, the it has been a conduit for motor traffic.

Something quite revolutionary is happening along the Embankment these days and it involves that mode of transport that has played only a tenuous, marginal role in London in recent decades. Along the Embankment, and in a few other locations, the humble bicycle is getting its own infrastructure.

I hasten to add that this ‘revolution’ is not introducing any great innovation to cycle infrastructure. High-quality cycle networks are new to London. But not to Copenhagen or Utrecht. All the same, in London it is a challenge to deeply ingrained patterns of use of the public road system.

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New cycleway in development along the Embankment, near the Houses of Parliament [photo: Transport for London]

London’s street culture is severely dominated by motor vehicles which race from one set of traffic lights or traffic queue to the next hold up. Motor traffic is so dense in the centre that average speed is 13kph or less. However, attained speeds, as a convoy of vans, taxis and cars rush from one stopping point to the next, can by as high as 80kph and on many heavily trafficked roads 65kph is commonly achieved between traffic signals. Only congestion limits speed.

This pattern of driving is seriously problematic. There are added air quality consequences from fuel burned during lots of rapid acceleration, deceleration and concomitant idling. Also it degrades the public sphere for pedestrians, and the few who dare to cycle, making cycling a singularly unpleasant experience when compared with cycling in the Netherlands or Denmark.

The high speeds are bolstered, formally and informally, by a legal system that encourages fast and aggressive driving.

There is, for example, a rule in the Highway Code that motorists should give priority to pedestrians crossing a road into which the motorist wants to turn. This will not strike many European readers as anything unusual. However, in the United Kingdom, though this rule exists, it is universally ignored and entirely unenforced.

As a pedestrian, if there is not a traffic light system that gives you the right to cross the road, it can be very difficult to get from one pavement to the next at junctions. For many Londoners the rule is ‘wait for a gap in the motor traffic and then RUN!’

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To cross the road in London: wait for gap in the motor taffic and then RUN! [photo: Paul Gannon]

Traffic engineers make matters worse by chipping away at the pavement to provide motors with easier turning angles – resulting in faster turning by drivers. All this is so deeply ingrained that even pedestrian lobby groups don’t appreciate the nature and scale of the problem.

Change on London’s streets always generates resistance. The few kilometres of cycleways currently being introduced in London have generated a hysterical response from the old enemy of change, the taxi lobby, backed by the tiny minority of people who live in Inner and Central London and hold firmly to the view that ‘one simply must have a car to get around in London’.

A proposal to stop motor traffic driving through one of London’s premier parks, Regent’s Park (while still allowing motor access to the Zoo and other destinations within the park), is raising another storm of protest. One of the organisers of the protest wrote, “If this goes ahead, none of us will be able to get around London and theatres, art galleries and restaurants, not to mention commerce, that make this the amazing city that it is, will all die out, as no-one will be able to get from one side of London to the other. There will no route from this area [Primrose Hill] to Theatre-land, unless we are prepared to sit in hours of traffic along Prince Albert Road, which will cause the most dreadful pollution and endanger the health of us all.”

Such protesters routinely ascribe to bicycles and to cycleways the pollution actually caused by the burning of fossil fuel to power motor vehicles. Further, they label the space-efficient bicycle as the cause of all congestion of motor vehicles in London.

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Opposition to plans to remove through traffic from within a park

The mayoral candidate of the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith, promised to subject the cycleways to a special test – which has never been applied to any other transport mode – namely to see to what extent cycleways had worsened congestion and pollution and, if necessary, to “rip them out”.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Lord) Nigel Lawson, told the House of Lords that the new cycleways were, “doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz” (as the Second World War bombing of London is called). A taxi driver announced on twitter that he had driven Lawson (who is actually resident in France) along the Embankment and that Lawson “couldn’t believe it” when he saw a proper European-style cycleway so close to the Houses of Parliament.

One of the running themes of those opposing new cycleways in London is that they attract ‘fast, lycra-clad cyclists’. The mayor of London, who approved the new cycleways, helped promulgate that myth both directly and indirectly. He did this by supplementing the cycleways with a mishmash of what have been called ‘quietways’, aimed at ‘less confident’ cyclists. These look, as expected when they were announced, to be a monumental failure for two fundamental reasons. First, they are based on the flawed concept that there needs to be different types of network for different cyclists. Second, they are actually favoured by the mayor’s office and local borough administrations because they are cheap, largely symbolic (being implemented with minimal engineering, relying on paint and signs) and, critically, insufficient if any, motor traffic reduction.

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So-called ‘Cycle Quietways’ are used by cars, vans and lorries as well as cyclists and pedestrians [photo: James Watthey]

On the other hand, even before they are fully open, the cycleways (standard European style cycle paths remember) are already proving immensely popular with the ordinary person who wants to cycle and some are even willing to let their children use them.

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A new sight on the roads in Central London – thanks to cycleways [photo: Mark Treasure]

Something, that just two months ago was inconceivable, is now a practical possibility – cycling with a child alongside the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, and maybe soon to Regent’s Park and other places too.

And, what, if anything, will the provision of cycleways do for the poor pedestrian in London? One councillor, Vincent Stops, fears that cycleways will be ‘trip hazards’ for pedestrians. In his view dedicated cycle infrastructure will ‘always disappoint’, regardless of a multitude of cyclists telling him that the well built cycleways very definitely don’t disappoint. His fellow councillor, Rita Krishna, has expressed her disquiet at the idea that ‘public space’ should be devoted to cycling inherently at the cost, as she sees it, of the pedestrian.

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The environment of London is potentially being improved: this scheme may be introduced on Tavistock Place within a few months [image: London Borough of Camden]

My view is that pedestrians will benefit in lots of ways from reducing motor dominance of the streets: fewer fumes, lower speeds, less space needed, plus all the social and health benefits that ‘active urban travel’ offers.

And, critically, cyclists can help pedestrians regain the priority at junctions that has been lost to motorists and which remains the biggest problem facing those who try to walk around London. Cycleways lend themselves to installing ‘continuous footways’ over junctions where both cyclists and pedestrians have formal priority over turning motors, aided by the need for motor drivers to slow down to negotiate the turning.

This would be an enormous advance for pedestrians as junctions are the place they are most likely to be struck by a motor. Again, this is something that many, or even most, continental Europeans will take for granted. But for one of Europe’s great cities, London, it truly is a big step.

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Cycleways offer the opportunity to starting enforcing the Highway Code’s pedestrian priority at junctions [photo: Mark Treasure]

London is a pretty large city. Change will happen fitfully and patchily. But with the Central London cycleways we are potentially witnessing the start of another historic change in the way London’s streets are shared and used. Motor vehicles have lorded it over the city’s streets for several decades. But it’s time to start thinking of a pattern of use that is fit for the 21st Century.

Campaigners are feeling confident, and lots of London businesses and other organisations such as colleges and medical institutions, have backed the case for high-quality cycle infrastructure. So we may well be seeing a lot more cycling in London in the coming years if more cycleways are installed, and hopefully we can introduce significant improvements in conditions for pedestrians along the way.

Is UK cycling on a roll, or on hold for the next 10 years?


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Are we witnessing the birth of a cycling boom in Britain? New cycleways and filtering projects coming on stream in London (thanks to Transport for London and the boroughs such as Camden and Waltham Forest) offer the potential for revolutionary change in British cycle policies.

Or, are we facing ten years of stasis, another lost decade marked by continued disregard for cycling as a transport mode by central, devolved, regional and local authorities alike? This, certainly, is what the government’s recent Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, with its pathetically minimal funding, promises.

The answer has to be that the future could take either course (or indeed some other course, but for the purposes of this article let’s pretend that there are two quite distinct possibilities).

An energetic twitter exchange between Carlton Reid, journalist & author, and Katya Leyendecker, an academic and campaigner, about this question prompted me to write this blog. The twitter exchange followed an article by Carlton in BikeBizNews reporting some pessimistic view of prospects for investment in cycling in the opinion of his contacts in industry and the professions.

 Carton’s article:

& Katya’s reply:

Katya found Carlton’s tone too negative and wanted him to report as well on the potential for change for the better. She tweeted, ‘I think it’s glass half-empty [to say that there was] “no chance that there will be any national investment.”’

Carlton’s twitter response was, ‘I am not predicting, I am reporting, after talking to folks at the very top who know exactly what’s coming.’

I have much sympathy with Carlton here. We need journalists to report all points of view and not to act as cheerleaders. We need to know as much as possible about the situation we are in and what might be possible to change that situation to the better.

Many of the greatest blunders in history have followed on from misunderstanding the starting situation, the intentions and motives and capabilities of others. Trying to establish the actual prospects we face following publication of the government’s wishy-washy document has enormous value.

However, Carlton goes too far in suggesting that his folks can know ‘exactly what’s coming’. This is simply too big a claim. No one can know ‘exactly ‘ what’s going to happen in the future (especially journalists, historians and sundry experts, who have lamentable records when it comes to predicting events). A common rule of thumb is to say that no prediction will be totally correct (though many will be totally incorrect). Looking into the future is about assessing the options and likelihoods, not just about relaying the thoughts and wisdoms of the better-connected experts. But more important, both experts and the rest of us can also easily overlook the potential for contingent events to affect what happens.

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The result of a new protected cycle route to a Swansea University campus site

Only a month or two ago the present British government was at the top of its game having won the 2015 election and then seen the election of a rather ineffectual leader of the opposition. The government looked forward after the 2020 election to at least one, probably two or more, terms in government.

But, look how much its prospects have changed in recent weeks: a bungled budget, a botched response to the Mossack Fonseca leak, and all to the background of a civil war that threatens to rip the Tory party asunder. I doubt any experts predicted the sudden crisis of confidence that would strike the recently victorious government.

Carlton’s (reported) predictions may well turn out to be more or less what happens in reality. But it is a mistake to assume that the path of the future is pre-determined.

Yes, the car is deeply embedded in the economy, topography and psychology of modern life. To imagine life without overwhelming reliance on cars is beyond most people. To the average cycle campaigner it must seem that the power of the oil and motor industries is unassailable. But history has many examples of seemingly permanently entrenched institutions that collapse in a fairly short time span.

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In the late 1980s many experts predicted that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (and the Apartheid State of South Africa) would survive and thrive into the future. They were, we were told, too solidly buttressed and too powerful to change (or at least not without apocalyptic violence). But, in both cases a crisis of confidence in the ruling elites of hollowed-out, contradiction-ridden societies led to the surprisingly rapid dissolution of those seemingly all-controlling, security-obsessed states.

Change can happen much more quickly than looks likely to those who live in the shadow of some impressive-looking social edifice, whether it be the Soviet ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ or the Reign of the Car.

We can see signs of the crisis of confidence within the realms of Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor’s office. A steady growth in cycling numbers, a critical level of fatalities and astute campaigning (aided by the organizational & propagandizing wonders of the internet) combined to weaken the traditional attitude of London’s circles of governance towards cycling: ‘no demand, no space, no way.’

By the skin of his teeth, in the last few months of his tenure, Boris Johnson, aided by Andrew Gilligan and presumably others less well known, shattered that old approach. The cycleways have established, even before they are officially opened, that if you build quality cycle facilities there is indeed much demand for them, that there is enough space if you re-allocate it from often wasted functions (such as wide striped lanes in the centre of roads) and that, given the political will, there is very definitely a way: a Cycleway.

Few could have predicted that this would happen and happen so quickly. London Cycling Campaign was engaged in the organizational equivalent of contemplating its navel – talking about changing its name from London Cycling Campaign to London Cyclists – and had to move sharply to catch up when a bottom up campaign caught it out introverting. Other established cycling organizations have not caught up as rapidly as LCC, and, to the great sorrow of many of us, Sustrans seems not to even have noticed the on-going revolution in attitudes to the desired quality of cycle facilities.

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So, that’s all a long-winded introduction to my countering Carlton’s assertion that he or his contacts know ‘exactly’ what is going to happen. Chances are that it will turn out as Carlton reports/predicts. But there are always countervailing forces, as society is made up of multiple interlocking, overlapping, cooperating and conflicting forces. What actually happens depends on the ever-changing interactions of these forces. Things that look firmly entrenched (the Czar or the Car) may be ready to crumble.

The issue at heart is how firmly entrenched is the motor vehicle. Any attempt to provide for alternatives, such as the humble cycleway, can give rise to the most incredible opposition, indulging in an Alice in Wonderland anti-logic, where the non-polluting bike becomes responsible for pollution, not the fossil-fuel burning machines that actually create it, and space-efficient bicycles become the cause of all congestion anywhere, anytime in the foul air of the Great Wen.

Just look at the exaggerated rhetoric of the anti-cycleway London cabbies and ‘StopCS11Hell’ doom-mongers: you ‘won’t be able to get to see your dentist in Maida Vale,’ or visit ‘Theatreland’ and ‘London’s arteries will clog up and the city will die,’ (yes, that has been claimed). It seems obvious, to many if not to most, that modern society cannot function without millions of motors parading around our cities and towns.


Pro-car zealots pretend to have environmental concerns


The powerful industrial interests of British cotton mill owners opposed the emancipation of American slaves (it had already been outlawed in the British Empire). ‘So crucial was slave labour [to the mid-19th century British economy] that the Liverpool Chronicle and European Times warned that if slaves ever should be emancipated, cotton cloth prices might double or triple, with devastating consequences for Britain.’ In 1844 ‘A Cotton Spinner’ wrote, “Emancipation [of US slaves] might shake Britain to its “very foundations”.

US slavery was abolished after the Civil War despite the immensely powerful British and American cotton industry lobbies, which had previously and successfully persuaded their respective governments to conduct industrial, trade, financial, foreign and military policies in their favour.

Despite all that entrenched power, the plantation owners lost out to other interests (especially those of cotton manufacturers) and social currents (rooted in Enlightenment ideas about human rights) in addition to purely economic interests. Yet, many simply believed that life would end without slavery, just as many nowadays many believe modern life would be unlivable without a car.

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However well entrenched a social or political or cultural or industrial institution may appear to be, it will have weaknesses, internal contradictions and all sorts of opposing forces. These external and internal influences can lead to crises of confidence and consequent rapid change.

Such problems can easily be hidden when an institution is on the rise or has reached a dominant position. But eventually they eat away at the functioning internal organs and expose the fragility of the institution. The Ottoman Empire inflicted some shattering defeats on the British Empire in the First World War, at Gallipoli and at Kut (in Iraq). For the first time, European imperial forces suffered serious defeats at the hands of an army of a non-European, non-industrialized state. Yet, this was the high water mark for the Ottomans. Even as it achieved these military victories, internal contradictions fatally undermined the Empire’s ability to prolong its war effort and the Ottoman Empire joined the Romanov, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires as immediate victims of the devastating war they (and others) had started in expectation of easy victory.

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One internal contradiction that will have unpredictable effects on multiple aspects of the world of the automobile is what will happen when it does become automatic. The consequences of self-driving automobiles are all but impossible to predict and the role of driving software may well present challenges to industry and socially condoned road driving practices. We allow dangerous styles of driving because the effort of enforcing road law would be too disruptive to society for many reasons. However, the introduction of driving software offers an opportunity for social currents to lobby for safer driving practices precisely because judges and juries are less likely to feel the sympathy for corporate software interests than they do for fellow drivers. I’m not predicting what will happen, but new possibilities will open up for campaigners against the dominance of the fast, urban motoring model.

Most important, what Carlton’s deterministic prediction omits is any appreciation of the potential for the solid-seeming car culture to collapse of its own contradictions – if given sufficient push by campaigners for change. What Carlton’s experts cannot know is how independent actors – cycling campaigners, air quality campaigners, urban walking campaigners and others – will act and organize.

One prediction I will make is that the new London cycleways will prove to be highly successful and very popular, broadening the appeal of cycling in the capital.


Plans for Tavistock Place, Camden if the present twelve month trial is successful

The next mayor of London will have to face a strong, reasonably well organized cycling lobby that will be on a roll, it’s own predictions confirmed about safe, attractive, protected cycleways (and other effective approaches such as filtering).

The nay-sayers will look foolish and as a result the absurdity of their propaganda about cycleways causing pollution and congestion will look ever more ridiculous. Outside the capital, it is guaranteed that campaigners in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in many other places, will be pointing to London and saying ‘we want that here’.

And, among the public, people will be saying to themselves and others, ‘I could cycle on something like that.’

Cycle campaigning has grown in the last few years, but it may well be on the verge of achieving an even faster rate of growth. The confidence and level of expectation of the British cycling lobby is about to collide head on with the paltry ambitions of the government for cycling.

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel was informed that the rail locomotive in which he was heading west on the GWR was steaming straight towards a locomotive on the same single track coming from the opposite direction, he ordered the driver to go faster, aiming, he hoped, to push the oncoming loco aside through ‘superior momentum’.

The question is, can we divert the government’s measly projected strategy by the superior momentum of our growing movement and our own more expansive strategy? The future is not determined.

‘Dangerisation’: myth or reality?

As Easy As Riding a Bike blogged recently ( about a phenomenon known as ‘dangerising’. Basically this suggests that cycle campaigners in particular should avoid talking about the alleged dangers of UK cycling policy which in general requires cyclists to share the carriageway with fast-moving motor vehicles. The reason for this, it is asserted, is that talk of danger puts people off cycling. A further twist is the assertion that cycling in the UK is not dangerous and also the idea that training and learning about ‘taking the lane’ can improve (even, in some claims, guarantee) safety.

Over the years campaigning for British authorities to adopt continental-style cycle networks, primarily because of the unsafe and unattractive cycling environment of mixing it on the road, I have repeatedly heard the claim that I am putting people off cycling by doing so. We are told that cycling on British roads, whatever our own experience, is not dangerous.

As Easy As Riding a Bike’s blog cited Anna Glowinski (cyclist, clothing designer and Cycle Show presenter):

“I think it can be quite damaging to talk about how ‘dangerous’ cycling is. I really don’t think it is that dangerous.”

Bob Davies of the Road Danger Reduction Forum (ironically given the name of his forum, Bob is a leading proponent of the ‘don’t emphasise the dangers’ tendency and author of a book entitled Death on the Streets) wrote:

“I think there are indeed issues associated with the talking about danger which are highly problematic and worthy of consideration. “Dangerising” is a real issue. Often, in everyday discourse, the use of the word “danger” and associating it with cycling is not (just) about danger to cyclists. It is implying that cycling is indeed (whatever you correctly think) intrinsically hazardous. It also involves the association of cycling with endangering others.”

I added comments to the blog asking for the evidence to show that campaigning against road danger discouraging people from cycling. Bob conceded that there was no direct evidence and he linked it a wider range of negative attitudes to cycling. He said:

“The area I’m trying to analyse is that of beliefs, ideas and culture (as used in the anthropological/sociological sense). I can’t give the kind of evidence requested because it is either difficult or impossible (depending on what philosophy of social science you adhere to).”

Other comments re-asserted the link, but offered no proper evidence. Colin McKenzie said:

“The point about dangerisation of cycling is not that it will put people off cycling. It already has, massively, and continues to do. For evidence, look no further than the catastrophic decline in children cycling to school since the 70s. Over that time, the roads have not got more dangerous for cyclists (actually they are safer), nor has the traffic got significantly scarier.”


What I struggle with is the mechanism by which my and others’ campaigning about the dangers of cycling in the UK influences the wider population. The best coverage we had for years in the media was the occasional letter, written by a cycling campaigner in response to a consultation or crazed coverage of cycling, in a local newspaper. In Camden we could get an article in the local newspaper, the Camden New Journal, if we could get a national celebrity photo-shoot opportunity – fortunately local resident Jon Snow called be called upon now and again to get us a bit of coverage. No national celebrity, no coverage. (That Camden borough council was becoming one of the handful of local authorities starting to transform UK cycle policy was beyond their news agenda.)

I doubt that in pubs, cafes, hair-dressing salons, schools, factories, office, canteens and shops throughout Camden, let along the whole of the UK, people were excitedly discussing the latest press release from Camden Cycling Campaign calling for safe cycle tracks:

“I was thinking of cycling, you know, but I read a quote from a cycling campaigner in the local paper about how dangerous it is, so I’m not going to bother with that now even though I’ve already bought a bike.”

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As has been discussed by other bloggers, ordinary people think cycling is dangerous because of what they can see happening on the roads. They think it is dangerous because it is obvious that mixing vulnerable flesh and bone travelling at 15mph with a ton upwards of metal travelling at 30 to 60 mph in a contested space is inherently dodgy. They do not think cycling is dangerous only because someone else has told them that it is. The ‘dangerisation’ thesis is so patronizing.

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The danger of ‘dangerisation’ is a common theme too among those who promote cycle training as providing more than it can in fact deliver in an anti-cycling public environment (which denies people the opportunity to gain vital experience). David Dansky wrote:

“While this is happening [i.e., cycling is on the increase and safety improving] the voices shouting how dangerous it is have been getting louder, more strident, and calls for separation and the introduction of Dutch infrastructure all paint (pun intended) quite a negative picture. Apart from these scares putting off some new riders there is also an effect of not acknowledging progress and successes that have been achieved without Dutch style infrastructure.”

This is weird as, if one thinks about it, those engaged in training are among the biggest ‘dangerisers’ of all. They must be, they have to alert trainees to dangers, such as dooring or guttering, that they had not previously thought of. Understanding the dangers of cycling empowers people to be aware of those dangers and to take action to minimize them. This applies to campaigning as well as to individuals; we will make no real gains if we deny actuality. Recognizing the reality of road danger has galvanized the UK cycle lobby over the past decade or so.

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There seems to me that there is another flaw in the ‘dangerisation’ argument. The starting point here is a graph showing the age and gender profile of cyclists in the UK (and other countries).

The first set of graphs dates from the late 1980s and was compiled by the OECD one of whose remits is the preparation of internationally comparable statistics. It should be noted that the vertical scales are different, having been adjusted to use the whole space available for each graph.

Three things stand out about Great Britain: the low number of cyclists comparable with Denmark and the Netherlands (reflected in the different vertical scales used); the overwhelming dominance of men in the British cycling profile (unlike the Netherlands and Denmark with a balance and Finland with more women cyclists than men); and the very rapid rate at which male cycling declines with age in Great Britain.



The second graph for the UK only is somewhat more recent, coming from around 2010 ( It is essentially not very different from the late 1980s in terms of gender profile and rapid decline of male cycling rates with growing age. One difference to note is that the first set measures distances cycle per day, while the solo UK graph measures number of trips per year. Whichever way you look at it, cycling in Britain is predominantly a male activity and there is a fairly rapid fall-off rate as these men age. This has been true for 25 years or longer. We can surmise that we are looking at clear structural features that endure over long periods of time.


Leaving aside the main lesson about the higher cycling numbers and better age and gender profile of countries with plenty of high quality cycle networks (such as the Netherlands, Denmark & Finland), what conclusions can be drawn from such graphs regarding ‘dangerisation’?

The high rate of decline of cycling with growing age, sometimes called a high ‘churn’ rate, implies that there must also be quite a high rate of take up.

If one simply looks at figures of total UK number of cyclists, miles cycled per year, cyclist trips, etc., measured over a number of years, the most obvious feature over the past few decades is the drastic decline in cyclists. But the age profile statistics reveal to us the rate of churn that exists within those total figures. (And it is relevant that people who give up cycling most commonly cite road danger as the main reason for doing so.)

The argument about so-called ‘dangerisation’ is drawn from statistics showing a long duration decline in cycling in the UK. It is assumed, wrongly, that this means that people are being put off cycling. A closer look shows that there is a much higher up take of cycling than the total figures show. Bike sales in the UK have remained more or less level for the last ten years, another indication that loose talk of ‘dangerisation’ is not endangering the desire of people to cycle.


‘Dangerisation’, is thus a phenomenon that is contradicted by the statistics and has no mechanism for its propagation. It is a myth, not a reality.

So what lies behind it? In the case of traditional cycle campaigners such as Bob Davies of Road Danger Reduction Forum and Colin McKenzie I suspect that they have simply heard and taken up an argument that they can deploy against something that they dislike: continental-style cycle networks.

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‘Dangerisation’ is a tool, a device to be deployed in argument. David Dansky makes this clear in the quote from him above where he explicitly asserts that it is those who argue for segregated (actually for high-quality continental-style cycle networks) who are, not just putting people off cycling, but arguing for an unnecessary approach because of the advances being made in Britain without such networks. Dansky is antipathetic to cycle tracks except in very specific and limited circumstances and he is just adopting the myth ‘dangerisation’ to attack something he disapproves of.

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‘Dangerisation’ should be added to the list of urban myths that circulate in the anglophone cycling world, along with the thoroughly disproven assertion that high-quality cycle networks are less safe than cycling in the road and that in countries that have pioneered their use are now in the process of getting rid of them, as asserted in the blog comment above. I’ve been hearing that last claim, about the Netherlands and Denmark consigning cycle tracks to the “scrap heap”, for the last two decades; despite the clear evidence to the opposite, this claim is another one that just won’t go away.

It’s time to do away with this nonsense about cycle campaigners and ‘dangerisation’ being responsible for the decline in cycling in Britain, but I expect we will continue to hear it rehearsed for some time yet.

Institute of Economic Affairs joins anti-cycling lobby

The cycle lobby in Britain is finally beginning to show some progress with the decision by Transport for London, TfL, to build two ‘substantially segregated’ cycleways in London. This is rightly seen as a major step forward with potentially significant potential for developing cycling as a realistic means of transport in the UK. It is indeed the first major positive move in cycling policy in the UK in modern decades and also marks a major advance in the organizing potential of the modern UK cycling lobby.

However, a bitter battle will now be necessary to ensure that cycleway routings are direct and coherent, and that the quality of implementation will be high enough to provide effective safety.

The hardline opponents of the cycleway proposals, such as the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which represents about one-third of London’s black cab drivers, and the Canary Wharf property group, are left consoling themselves with empty threats of judicial review.

The next issue will be TfL’s detailed plans and the attempts to modify them by recalcitrant bodies such as the City of Westminster and the City of London. Then there’s those other bodies comprising (no doubt well-recompensed for their efforts) London’s “great and good” and in particular the traditionally anti-cycling-obsessives at the Royal Parks Agency who are objecting to routing a cycleway in front of Buckingham Palace and also intend to close routes via Hyde Park at dusk.

As if this is not all bad enough, the anti-cycle lobby has attracted an influential voice, the heavyweight Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA. This well-established think-tank is a regular provider of ‘call it as it is’ economic analysis on the BBC and in the newspapers. Tough, hard, unsentimental economics is the trade-mark of the ‘free-market’ IEA. No sacred cow is too sacred to be spared its searing insights into why economics must be taken seriously.

IEA spokesman Richard Wellings recently put out his take on the economic costs of the cycle lobby.* Referring to a seminar on ‘Cyclists and the Law’, Wellings regretted that none of the policies he supports was put forward by the cycle lobby: “It was disappointing that several win-win measures with the potential to benefit all road users were not mentioned. Removing a high proportion of traffic lights, for example, would speed up journeys and improve safety for both cyclists and motorists.” His only other policy was to improve pot hole repairs and road maintenance, but he overlooked that this is something the cycle lobby also favours (though it shouldn’t be that surprising even to a free-market economist like Wellings that this was hardly likely to be top of the agenda at a seminar about cyclists and the law, unless he wants a law to compel better road repairs).

But what of Wellings’s economic analysis? What’s the free-market low-down on the economic case for or against cycling?

From an economic perspective”, he writes, “two aspects of the seminar were striking”.

The importance of cars and lorries to London’s economy was almost completely ignored. According to Jenny Jones, ‘London has become a city of buses, pedestrians and bikes’. This simply isn’t true. Within London, cars carry as much passenger traffic as the Tube, buses, trains and bikes put together. It is correct, however, that car use has been falling in recent years. This is unsurprising in the context of falling living standards and transport/planning policies specifically designed to push people out of cars and onto other modes. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of motoring within the capital means that any measures that increase delays are likely to have substantial economic costs. Using DfT estimates of the value of time and making a conservative allowance for running costs, it can be calculated that a 1 per cent increase in car journey times will impose costs of approximately £200 million on motorists in London [the precise accuracy of this figure is less important for this argument than its order of magnitude]. And further substantial costs would be imposed on other road vehicles such as HGVs. The impact of particular measures is of course time and place specific, but it was telling that the potential economic costs of some cycling policies, both to other road users and taxpayers, were barely discussed at the event”, [emphasis added].

Interesting, persuasive even. All that cost – £200 million on cost for every 1 per cent increase in car journey times – induced by ‘any measures that increase delays’. Well, actually any measures except one. Missing from Wellings’s analysis is the present policy of providing as much throughput space as possible which induces demand and creates congestion through stimulating use of the most inefficient space using transport modes.

The other looming gap in Wellings’s analysis is the imbalance of his concepts of economic value. Reducing motor traffic and displacing it onto space-efficient modes will provide multiplied benefits. One person out of a car and onto a bike or into a tram frees up much more space than they use in the new mode of getting about. If this cannot find room in the IEA’s economic analysis, it suggests that they aren’t taking a really very thorough look at the economic issues.

Furthermore Wellings’s analysis has another gaping hole – he obviously finds no economic value in the time and productivity of those who use cycling and other space-efficient modes. But the value of motorists’ time and productivity is very high. If it were an undergraduate essay the imbalance of analysis might be merely embarrassing, but in the blogspot of the august IEA it’s laughable.

Wellings’s other concern with the conference was that, “it was notable that the focus was almost entirely on ‘command and control’ measures centred on extra regulations, more surveillance, stricter enforcement and the centrally planned installation of new infrastructure. Once again there was little awareness of the economic costs of such policies or the misallocation of resources likely to result from the knowledge and incentive problems facing state bureaucracies.

Once again in Wellings’s analysis there was little awareness of the costs of the lack of enforcement of traffic law. This week’s news that casualty numbers are increasing as police enforcement is rolled back underlines the need for deeper analysis of the economic (as well as the social) costs of scaling back enforcement.

Among the policies discussed at the seminar and pilloried as economic ignorance by Wellings was the idea that “cycle lanes should continue across side roads”. Not surprisingly Wellings didn’t offer any rational case as to why he thinks that this is an economic problem. The more one reads them the more obvious it becomes that the IEA’s views on cycling are simply the prejudices of the chronically car-bound dressed up in economic jargon.


Speed limits for Dutch cycle paths?

Fietsberaad proposes 25kph speed limit

The arguments over the use by non-traditional pedal cycles of cycle paths in the Netherlands has taken a new twist with the Fietsberaard organization proposing a 25kph limit for cyclepaths in urban areas. Any user who wanted to go faster would be expected to leave the cycle path and use the carriageway.

The proposal is one of a number of solutions being suggested to deal with what is seen as a growing problem. Defining the problem is in itself controversial. Partly it is defined as inadequacies in existing cycle path infrastructure given the growing number of users. But the problem is also partly defined as being that non-traditional modes travel at higher speeds than traditional bicycles; these new modes include ‘snorscooters’, faster pedelecs as well as allegedly growing numbers of race cyclists and fast recumbents.

The problem, if it is a problem, is essentially a manifestation of the success of cycle policy in the Netherlands which has seen significant growth in cycling and the new motorized forms of scooters/mopeds/e-bikes.

The proposal is likely to cause some controversy especially among lobbyists for non-traditional users, but even the cyclists’ organizations, Fietsersbond, has cast doubt on the value of a 25kph limit, preferring a limit of 30kph, if a limit is to be introduced. However, the Fietserbond, in common with many individuals, does question how a speed limit could be enforced (not least as bicycles are not required to be equipped with a speedometer).

Snorscooters have speed limiters fitted, but these are easily, and it is claimed widely, disconnected allowing them to be ridden at speeds of up to 40-60kph. Cyclists organizations, such as Fietsersbond, have been expressing discontent with the increase in higher speed users on cyclepaths.

The proposal from Fietsberaad follows the recent rejection in the Dutch parliament of a proposal, put forward by Amsterdam council, to move snorscooters from the cyclepaths and require them to use the carriageway (and also thus to use a helmet which is not required for riding on cyclepaths).

According to the Het Parool newspaper, the Amsterdam council is ‘disappointed’ at the rejection of its proposal and a member said that ‘It is clear that something must be done on the flow and safety of the ever more busy Amsterdam cyclepaths and the rapid growth of the number of snorscooters’. He said that the council was working on a new set of measures.

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However, there is vigorous opposition to the proposals. Blogger David Hembrow ( argues that, while ‘Some mopeds are ridden aggressively .. this not a problem due to mopeds. Some cars and some bicycles are also used aggressively. Sending responsible people onto the carriageway with a slow vehicle, with nothing more than a token helmet for protection, is not an answer… The best way of avoiding this danger is to keep light and slow vehicles away from large fast vehicles, and that is what the cycle-paths of the Netherlands already do extremely well. But the majority of injuries to cyclists are not the result of crashes with motor vehicles of any kinds. The two biggest dangers are inadequate infrastructure and personal behaviour’.

He also challenges supporters of speed limits or proposals to shift faster modes to the carriageway to back up claims of ‘thousands’ of collisions between scooters and cycles and increasing numbers of users.

Hembrow acknowledges that ‘Subjective safety is very important for cycling. If cycling feels unsafe then people won’t cycle. Subjective safety is improved by building an environment where it feels safe to cycle. Quite apart from separating high speed traffic from low speed traffic, a high degree of subjective safety also requires changing the infrastructure so as to reduce the frequency of conflicts on the cycle-path.’

However, he adds, ‘concern over subjective safety should not be used to mask a desire to ban a minority group based on prejudice.’

This argument is not having much impact on the Fietsersbond which maintains its view that ‘speed pedelecs do not belong on cyclepaths in built up areas.’ They also argue that ‘cyclists who want to go faster than 30kph should have the choice of using the carriageway’ (which may well be forbidden on certain carriageways according to present regulations). Pressure is coming from cyclists who find the higher speed users of cycle paths uncomfortable and the Fietsersbond and local authorities are expressing their view nationally and locally.

The Fietsersbond in one town in Friesland supported a trial, which began last August, whereby ‘hardfietsers’ (ie fast cyclists) who wanted to go faster than 30kph were offered the opportunity to use the carriageway

According to the Burgemeester the aim is to reduce the speed differential between users of cycle paths. ‘On the carriageway the fast cyclist is not hindered by slower cyclists and thus can easily move forward and this also makes them more visible at junctions. This means too that the speed differential on the carriageway must not become too great’.

The locations for the trial have been carefully chosen, says the Burgemeester, to ensure that they are not dangerous for faster cyclists to use.

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The recumbent cyclists’ organisation said that the ‘eager’ media attitude to the proposals for speed limits had caused ‘indignation, disturbance, surprise and amazement’. They suggest that more attention should be paid to improving the infrastructure rather than seeking to limit cycle path speeds.

One reader’s comment on the recumbent’s organization website illustrates the anger and frustration that is creeping into the debate on all sides: ‘The problem is not that there are more people cycling at higher speeds. The problem is that there are ever more people cycling slowly’.

British cyclists will be jealous that the Dutch have to face the problems of success. It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are considering lifting any ban on cyclists using certain carriageways. The first point raised by British (and US) cycle activists who oppose dedicated cycle paths in the UK (and USA) about the Dutch system is their concern that it leads to cyclists being banned from using carriageways. This issue would disappear if faster cyclists were encouraged/expected to share the carriageway.

Finally, I want to add that I am not taking any sides in these debates, primarily as I don’t have enough current experience with cycling in the Netherlands. I am only reporting the debate for the enlightenment (hopefully) of English-speaking cycle activists to give an insight into the Dutch debate.

Dutch cycle lobby beaten by motor trade lobby in battle over ‘snorscooters’

Dutch Parliament rejects plans to banish scooters from cyclepaths in Amsterdam

The Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament last Thursday decided that ‘snorscooters’ will not be forced to use the parts of the road used by motor vehicles instead of cycle paths.

Snorscooters are normal scooters fitted with a speed limiter that restricts them to being driven at no more that 25kph. They have become popular with people who don’t want to cycle, but who don’t want to have to share the road (and traffic queues) with motors. Also, snorscooter riders don’t have to wear helmets. As a result sales of scooters have increased in recent years leading to complaints from cyclists, especially in Amsterdam, about having to share cycle paths with much faster scooters.
netherlands 16aThe Binnenhof of the Dutch Parliament

The proposal to banish snorscooters to the motor lanes and require use of a helmet was proposed by the Burgemeester of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, following lobbying by the Dutch national Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond). The speed limiters are easily removed and snorscooters are said to be driven at speeds of 40 to 80kph on cycle paths. It is claimed that there are ‘thousands’ of collisions between snorscooters and bicycles every year.
netherlands 14aThe Dutch Parliament in the Hague

The motion was rejected with parliamentarians arguing that the speed difference between snorscooters and general motor traffic was so great as to create considerable danger.

According to the Dutch newspaper, Telegraaf, the motor trade lobby organization, Bovag, was ‘pleased’ that the motion had been rejected, arguing that because snorscooters were limited to 25kph it would have been a ‘dangerous experiment’ to force them to ride in the motor lanes. The ANWB backed the opposition to the proposal.

However, the Dichtbij website said that ‘one thing is clear’, namely that the MPs who opposed the motion had obviously never ridden a bicycle in Amsterdam as ‘no snorscooter is driven at 25kph’. Dichtbij also pointed out that Bovag was not an organization concerned with road safety but a trade body that wanted to promote scooter sales. If the proposal to banish them from cycle paths would have made scooters less attractive as they would have to wait in traffic jams, so sales would fall. The website said that the cycle lobby had been beaten by the motor trade lobby.
nederland 802aAmsterdam’s cyclists have lost out to the interests of the motor trade say cyclists’ organisations

‘Cyclists in Amsterdam are clearly the losers’, said Dichtbij, ‘yearly there are thousands of accidents [ongelukken] on cyclepaths where upgraded snorscooters [driven at 40 to 80kph] run cyclists down’. Scooters also cause air quality problems on and around cyclepaths, with Dichtbij claiming that one scooter is as dirty as between 20 and 2,700 freight lorries (depending on whether the scooter is 2-stroke or has been upgraded).

A New Act for Wales?


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Wales – Setting the Stage for a New Act

Wales has the opportunity to develop the infrastructure needed to increase levels of walking and cycling with its new ‘Active Travel Act’. Whether the Act proves to be an effective tool for change or turns out to a damp squib will in part depend on how well we organize to take advantage of it.

It is one of the ironies of devolution that the nations with devolved powers have so far been more British even than England in road design. It is devolved London that is now posing the first serious challenge to the status quo with proposals on the agenda for east-west and north-south cycleways. But with its Active Travel Act (Wales) 2013, Wales could possibly make real progress.

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Millions wasted on bendy-bus vanity project in Swansea

The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), strapped for resources, has chosen to legislate in a way that it is hoped will nudge local authorities into undertaking the changes they have so ignored. The problems look overwhelming.

Up and down the land cycling and walking are treated by local authorities with contempt. The bustling south Wales coastal city, Swansea, spent many millions and many years re-vamping its city centre to cater for bendy-buses and taxis – but overlooked installing bus priority signals – so buses sit for ages at traffic lights that give priority to motors. Cyclists didn’t get a look in.

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Total absence of cycling infrastructure in major redevelopment in Swansea

True a natty little cycle path was added next to the pedestrian crossing outside county hall – but it leads you on a nasty main road and into the realm of the anti-cycling city centre-wide bus & taxi track-way.
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Token cycle crossing that goes nowhere in Swansea

Or take Porthmadog on the northwestern coast of Wales. Here an opportunity arose to re-surface the tarmac in the town centre. What did the council do? It created a new concept in road engineering – what we might call a maxi-mini-roundabout with acres of tarmac for motors and a tiny central island. Pedestrians were corralled on narrow pavements behind railings (necessary given the way the roundabout encourages speeding through the town centre). Cyclists didn’t get a look in.

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‘Maxi-min-roundabout’ with narrow pavements in Porthmadog – all it needs is a sign saying: “cyclists – don’t come here on holiday we have no space for you”

A town which depends entirely on tourism for economic sustenance might have seen the sense of making something out of its town centre. Regrettably the council could only stretch its mental apparatus to conceiving of tons of tarmac.

This is the sort of official and political lethargy that the Active Travel Act will come up against in Welsh local authorities [LAs].

There are two stages to the Act’s requirements. First, LAs must draw up a map of all existing cycle and pedestrian routes and assess them to a specified standard for safety and attractiveness to users. This is due by September 2015. Second, a map showing how the routes will be brought up to standard is due to be completed by September 2017. Roger Geffen of the CTC described the Act as a ‘policy breakthrough’. He said that the design guide sets high standards and the audit tool will give lobbying organizations the opportunity to check the assessments of the LAs and lobby in a more informed way for improvements.

The Act requires LAs, when creating, maintaining & improving highways to take reasonable steps to enhance the provision made for walkers & cyclists. As well as the maps of existing provision and proposed future enhancements, LAs must also make enhancements for ‘active travel’ in all new road schemes.

Enhancements must have regard to statutory Delivery Guidance & Design Guidance. Based on 5 criteria: coherence, directness, safety, comfort & attractiveness, the guidelines also encourage innovation where existing practice is not suitable for cycling &/or walking. There is also an emphasis on inclusive design for all ages and ‘abilities’.

The acts means that LAs “must have regard to the needs of walkers and cyclists in setting priorities and making decisions about how to secure the expeditious movement of traffic”.

“Be prepared to challenge blatant disregard of the guidance”, said Roger Geffen. There remains a number of ‘get outs’, such as where it is considered not possible to provide safe provision.

Richard Keatinge, of Beicio Bangor cycling lobbying group, said the Welsh design guidance means that roundabouts should be made slow and tight so that cyclists can safely share a single lane or provide separate tracks around the outside, preferably with priority”. The Perme St roundabout in Cambridge shows that “we need separate tracks. We should say so.”

Unfortunately, the WAG is not providing any funds and all Welsh LAs are under considerable financial pressure to fund the most expensive of the core areas of local provision – education and social services. Transport is likely to become a candidate for ever greater cuts and LAs are likely to continue to prefer motorways to cycleways and pavements within the diminished budgets. LAs never have trouble devising excuses for disregarding cycling and walking as transport modes. And Welsh councils are as effective as this as any in England, especially as quite a few are ‘one party states’, all but impervious to public pressure.
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Colwyn Bay cycle track – the cycle track designer fell asleep at his drawing board pen in hand, but no one noticed and actually built this!

However, the Act is about politics and gives local organizations a tool with which to step up their campaigning, as Roger Geffen explained. The whole process of drawing up the maps will be repeated three years after the first cycle has been completed, giving cycling and walking organizations the chance to lobby councils again once the weaknesses in the process have been identified.
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Colwyn Bay – a good indication of how LAs have no idea of the concept of high-quality cycle infrastructure

Roger also pointed out that it would be possible to raise a legal challenge in the form of a judicial review if a LA was clearly defying the spirit and the letter of the Act. There is no other formal means of challenge and this could only be done in a case where a successful challenge was likely, but he suggests that the wording of the Act is strong enough to make this a possibility in the future.

Roger was speaking at a Campaigners’ Training Day, organized jointly by CTC, Road Justice and space4cycling in Llandudno in north Wales.

Speaking to another workshop, Richard Keatinge, reported on some developments in the city of Bangor in northwest Wales. A major local bus provider recently went bankrupt, partly as a result of cuts in public bus subsidies. This has sparked off a row as the council will no longer fund a bus service that took children about 2 miles to school from one side of the city to the other. They have been told that they will have to walk.

Now a proposal has come forward for a cycle route to be developed running through the city centre that, if implemented to a high standard, could allow the children to cycle to school and back home.

In the present financial situation the council may decide it doesn’t want to spend money on cycle routes. But it may come to its senses and understand that it can do away with the on-going bus subsidy for a one-off development cost and at the same time help increase children’s activity levels and health and well being as well as improving the city’s image. Hopefully the atmosphere created by the Active Travel Act will help push the council towards adopting the proposals.
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Fishguard – ultra short distance cycle track (with bench) – what were the designers thinking? 

It is too early to say what effect the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 will have. It may well not make much difference – or it may help create an atmosphere where cycling and walking begin to be taken seriously in Wales. If so that would be a justification for devolution. Just carrying on as before would make one wonder why was devolution necessary if the politicians have no idea of how to change things for the better once they’ve got the powers they’ve been asking for. This is a test of the politicians of Wales as much as a tool for improving conditions for people walking and cycling.

I am not a member of the CTC and haven’t been since the early-1980s, having then discovered that it didn’t represent my interests in urban cycling conditions or have sympathy with my preference even then for dedicated cycle networks. However, I must say that I found this recent meeting very refreshing. Yes, there were some traditionalists, but the greater majority of those present took for granted that space4cycling meant giving a central role for dedicated/segregated cycle facilities and this was also how Roger Geffen and his CTC colleague, Robbie Gillett, presented it.

The atmosphere was completely different from many meetings of LCC and other cycling groups that I recall from the late 1990s and early 2000s, where opposition to segregated solutions was emphatically and patronizingly expressed.

I came away from this recent training day with the impression that CTC supports the case for high quality cycle infrastructure. Whatever happened in the past is gone and having the CTC on side, arguing for high quality infrastructure, is an enormous advantage to the progressive UK cycling lobby. The CTC has the experience and resources to give serious backing to our campaign to put high quality infrastructure on the political agenda (in all the constituent nations of Britain) and I for one welcome this development.

One final point, my first act of cycle activism was in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Cardiff city council opened the first stage of what eventually became Lon Las Cymru, the national north-south cycle route. The first stage usefully went from near my then home in central Cardiff to Coryton where I worked on the northern limits of the city. On the day it opened I rang up the council cycling officer to say thank you very much for the route. I also asked if it was possible for the track near the centre of the city to be swept clean of the considerable number of shards of glass that littered its surface. The officer exploded in anger, shouting at me, ‘What, you want us to SWEEP it for you as well.’ The conversation rapidly ended, but in the years since then I have, now and again, been involved in campaigning for better provision of cycle facilities, spurred on in part by memory of that unwelcoming response.