Vision: What if?

In the last two posts we looked at the pro’s and con’s of cycling as it currently exists in the UK today. In summary, cycling is very good for you, your pocket and the environment but current cycling infrastructure and provision does not encourage or accommodate everyday cycling. Quite the opposite in fact, it puts people off getting on a bike.


We have a long term problem: our towns and cities have been designed around the motor car. Billions of Great British Pounds are devoted to the vision of cities built around cars, the vision that was sold to the world by people like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Norman Bel Geddes with his 1939 Futurama. It started with a vision which has been faithfully implemented by planners and politicians, but has resulted in frequently gridlocked traffic choking towns and cities, pouring out pollution, and our urban spaces dominated by corridors of noisy and dangerous traffic.

Of course we need cars and trucks, I’m not suggesting we get rid of them, but what I am saying there is a better way of organising our urban landscapes so that we accommodate people instead of cars.

Today there are new visionaries who are providing us with an alternative. Architects such as Jan Gehl and Bjarke Ingels recognise the motor car is unsustainable and undesirable as the central fulcrum of urban design. Australian architect Steven Fleming, on his excellent and inspiring blog Behooving Moving, describes himself as being on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings”. And Toronto architect Chris Hardwicke has a particularly insightful vision of the way forward.

Many cities are beginning to recognise there is a better way to do things, and this usually includes better provision for people to cycle.

As things stand, massive amounts of money have been allocated to the budget for implementing the vision for our roads over the years. But what if, having seen the huge benefits cycling brings, a large part of the transport budget was devoted to implementing the new vision of healthy, sustainable urban transport? What if, instead of integrating the car into all the planning decisions, it was the bicycle that featured in the centre of the planning decisions? And by doing so, as well as the existing cycling benefits of health, wealth and environmental goodness, we could add safety, comfort and convenience?

If all these things were possible, then the answer surely has to be that such a vision is worthy of serious consideration. And that’s what we’re going to do in the next part of this series.


Vision: Pro’s and Con’s (2)

In the first article, we said the principle benefits of cycling were health and fitness, financial, environmental and actual enjoyment. In this post we’ll look at the downsides of cycling, but to be clear, what I’m referring to here are the downsides of cycling as things are at the moment, with the state of our roads and cycling provision as it is at present.

Given the recent publicity cycling has had with the spate of deaths of cyclists in London in particular, first and foremost of the downsides is SAFETY.

Some people say cycling is dangerous. It’s not. What is dangerous is having to cycle in the same space used by cars, trucks and buses. That IS dangerous! When cyclists have to ride on the same road space as traffic, it’s inevitable it will be dangerous. However, in places where cycling has its own space, like The Netherlands and Copenhagen for instance, then the level of safety rises enormously.

The other main downside of cycling, as this stand at present, is comfort and practically. It may be impractical for some people to cycle because they’re unwell or simply not physically able to ride a bike, that’s fair enough of course. What I’m referring to here are these sort of issues: where do I park my bike safely (security)? How do I get to where I’m going (lack of safe cycle routes)? What if it’s pouring down or blowing a gale, or both? Or snowing? (bad weather).

Cycling in the Copenhagen snow! (Photo: Copenhagen Cycle Chic)

Cycling in the Copenhagen snow! (Photo: Copenhagen Cycle Chic)

These are genuine issues that anyone contemplating cycling as a means of urban transport in Britain today will consider. And many people consider them too much of an obstacle. Why indeed should people take to their bikes on a cold and windy day, when they have a nice, warm comfortable car on their drive? Indeed. In fact, it’s only those who really want to cycle who do, because our towns and cities do not accommodate cycling. In fact a lot of the time, if you cycle, you’re made to feel a second class citizen, far less important than if you drive.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though! In the next part of this series, we’ll look at how it can be different!

Vision: Pro’s and Con’s (1)

In order to clarify the vision for cycling, I believe we first need to clearly recognise what the benefits of cycling are. However, as things stand today, there are clearly drawbacks to cycling as well, and we’ll look at those in part 2. Here though, are the main benefits of cycling:

Health: However you use a bike, when you cycle it helps you get healthier. Whether it’s using a bike to cycle into town, to cycle to work, to go for a leisure ride in the countryside or you’re into speed cycling, when you cycle you’re getting active. This is good for you! Your body was designed to be active! Inactivity is contributing to the levels of obesity in our society that is in turn putting huge strains on the NHS. Cycling helps you be healthy. As a result, you’ll be less likely to suffer from colds and general illnesses, so you’ll need less time off work due to sickness. 🙂

Fitness: When you ride regularly, such as commute to work using a bike, your levels of fitness rise. When you’re fitter you feel better in yourself. By being fitter, you’ll be able to do more and enjoy a wider range of activities, such as other sports, walking, etc. 🙂

Money (1): It’s simple! If you go by bike instead of by car you’ll save money on fuel! I bought my bike three years ago on a Cycle to Work scheme. What it cost me per month was largely offset by the amount of fuel I saved by cycling to work instead of driving. After one year the bike was paid for and so every time I cycle instead of using the car I save money. Simples! Also, as I use my car less by going places using my bike more, I’m putting less wear and tear on my car, reducing my maintenance costs, less miles on the clock means less wear on the tyres etc, etc! 🙂


Money (2): People often criticise cyclists saying they don’t pay road tax. Well, road tax was abolished a long time ago, and what drivers are charged is actually Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). This is calculated on how polluting your vehicle is, so that the more your car pollutes the atmosphere, the more you pay. Sounds fair enough? Of course. So, as cyclists create no pollution it’s fair enough we don’t pay VED! 🙂

Environment: Leading on from the last benefit, by cycling you create less pollution, which is obviously good for the planet (as people are want to say these days!). It’s also good for us here and now, though, because who wants to breathe in polluted air full of exhaust fumes? Not me!

Environment (2): Not only is it engine fumes that pollute the air, but also cars create noise! Noise pollution from traffic is something we almost don’t notice until we get away from it and realise how much nicer the place is when there’s no road noise. When you cycle, you make almost no noise. 🙂

There’s two more benefits that are less tangible but no less real:

Fun: Cycling is enjoyable. The actual act of cycling is a pleasurable thing. I’m not talking about cycling into a head wind and heavy rain, that’s not much fun of course, but I mean the simple act of cycling is fun and enjoyable. 🙂

Anne-Katrine in Copenhagen (phot from Copenhagen Cycle Chic)

Anne-Katrine in Copenhagen (photo from Copenhagen Cycle Chic)

Cool: In many places around the world, people are realising it’s actually pretty cool to cycle, too. It’s long been cool to cycle in places like Copenhagen and The Netherlands, but look at the various Cycle Chic websites and you’ll see how cool it’s becoming in lots of places including New York, Montreal, Malmo in Sweden, Berlin, Barcelona etc, etc. 🙂

Making bicycling a priority in Indianapolis

Another excellent Streetfilms short video featuring Indianapolis (in the USA) and the progress made there under the leadership of Mayor Greg Ballard. He’s clearly a firm believer in attracting young men and women “to come and raise families and build businesses” there, and he’s doing that by making the city more liveable by embracing and prioritising cycling.

“Across the nation, many big-city mayors of both political parties are embracing the bicycle and livable streets. As you’ll see, Indianapolis’ Mayor Greg Ballard believes in creating a city that attracts young people and families because it’s good for business and good for the future. And part of that equation is making the city safer and more enjoyable to bike in through infrastructure investment.

Mayor Ballard has expanded the number of miles of bike lanes from one (in 2007) to over 75 and plans are for that to reach 200 by the year 2015. In addition, the city has seen the grand opening of the magnificent Indianapolis Cultural Trail which features eight miles of protected biking and walking lanes through the heart of Indianapolis.

Mayor Ballard also does it with his body and voice. He now personally leads four bike rides per year through the city encouraging people to get healthy, have fun and see their city from a different perspective. And how do you know he’s a true cyclist? He’s got two bikes.

But this mayor is going beyond bicycling. Indianapolis has committed to moving their entire fleet of city vehicles to post-oil technologies by 2025 and is already making great progress in meeting that goal.

You should definitely put Indy on your list as a place to go bike this year.”


London Cyclists stage mass ‘die-in’

Dutch bikes in the UK

Following the recent deaths on London’s busy streets, cyclists in the capital held a vigil and protest outside the headquarters of TfL (Transport for London). Despite the cold we lay down next to our bikes and made a pretty bold statement that TfL can no longer ignore.

tfl 2

London’s die-in was reminiscent of the famous Dutch die-in that took place in the 1970s on the museumplein outside the Rijksmuseum.

The Dutch campaign was motivated by the number of people (particularly children) who were dying on the roads. Their protest achieved remarkable things in terms of their infrastructure, and 40 years down the line they are still reaping the benefits.

Dutch solutions to London’s problems aren’t really so radical, and their implementation would only requires a modest degree of commitment from the government.
Look at how they deal with HGVs and roundabouts – surely this sort of infrastructure is desirable for everyone…

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