I’ve been bitten by the cycling bug this summer, and after seeing the sheer numbers at the London to Brighton bike ride last month, as well as experiencing the pitfalls of long distance cycling on top of my usual hair-raising commute to work, I felt it high time to pull together my thoughts and observations on how to support two-wheeled endeavours.
Cycling is increasingly important as a means to reduce pollution and congestion on city roads and also to combat the UK’s increasing problems with obesity and chronic illnesses. Yet infrastructure, support, services and even cultural attitudes fall short of the value cycling offers to the environment, economy and society.
The Experience of Cycling
Cyclists are vulnerable on the road, and while segregated cycle lanes help eliminate accidents with other traffic, they aren’t realistic as a solution everywhere. The TFL website and free cycle maps are helpful for London, whilst the charity Sustrans has been developing a national cycle network since the 1970’s.
Whilst knowing your highway code and being a confident cyclist will reduce your chances of an injury, all too often cyclists are injured with little idea of what their rights are. How best to act immediately after an accident is still in the realm of hearsay.
Whilst many new inexperienced cyclists will inevitably lead to accidents, there is a great gulf between where motorists’ attitudes towards cyclists are at present in London and where they should be. Hit and runs, intimidation and abuse are rife and will only serve to generate reciprocal hostility and generate a downward spiral of behaviour.
Of course, there must be compromise, and cyclists are being given the opportunity to sit in HGV cabs to empathise with drivers who cause many accidents because they can’t see cyclists. Simultaneously, such vehicles are being fitted with sensors to fill the blind spots.
Cycling communities such as Critical Mass act to raise awareness, act as a lobby and encourage participation. Montreal and Copenhagen are at the head of the field in achieving (some) harmony between cyclists and the city, largely because of their prioritisation of cultural attitudes to ensure safer roads.
Cycling is an inclusive activity, as long as you aren’t bothered by the sneers of Shaun Armstrong wannabes when you roll up next to them on your dad’s knackered racer. However, services around cycling and shop environments are largely male oriented, with staff and customers being young athletic and male, which can be intimidating for anyone not in those categories. TfL last year trialled a free outdoors one-day bike surgery, and IDEO even developed a super low-maintenance bike and inclusive purchasing experience to reduce the need for such visits altogether.
Economy (vs) Environment
The cost savings against the car are huge. Personally even the cost of public transport combined with a miserable commute by train what the key to my conversion. You can also have a look at how much you can save in CO2 and money, here. The government has further encouraged cycling through Ride2Work – a slightly painful beaureaucratic process which provides tax incentives for employers and employees to buy new bikes, and has resulted in a huge surge in demand which has left manufacturers struggling to keep up.
Whilst the UK car industry hangs in peril, it is also bloated and unsustainable, both economically and environmentally. It’s a real shame that the UK scrappage scheme is another example of how the economy and environment are often pitted against each other.
The Velibre-style schemes, successful in Paris but largely a failure in Barcelona, is an example of how the economy and environment can both benefit. Tourists and day commuters pay to hire bikes for as little as 30 minutes. This helps reduce traffic and keep the air quality in a city cleaner, which attracts more tourists and improves the living environment of locals. The scheme is to be introduced in London next year. I’ll be delving into more specific examples in the future, but for the time being, I’d encourage you all to get cycling to help reach that critical mass!