So I mentioned that Carlton Reid and I both like the idea of mass bicycle use, and that we agree that high volumes of fast moving motor vehicles are a barrier to it. But while I have drawn the conclusion that high-quality conspicuously safe dedicated cycling infrastructure is a pressing requirement if we are to make any progress, Reid’s experience tells him that this is an unachievable dream; a political dead end:
In such a car-centric society as the UK it is politically naive to demand to take meaningful space away from cars. Millions of vote-toting motorists would scupper any such plans.
The UK is in a different situation to Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, Carlton reminds us. We have Motorists, and they just won’t stand for any loss of road space.
Instead of hard engineering, Reid proposes that there are other ways to overcome the traffic-barrier that stands in the way of mass bicycle use: soft behavioural and legal approaches. We should continue to educate drivers to play nicely, and keep up the campaign for strict liability, proper enforcement, and meaningful punishments.
Because that has been working great so far.
I mean, those campaigns are great and important and I’m totally on board. Those changes, if possible, would totally be an improvement. But if campaigning for good infrastructure is considered a naive waste of our time, how stupid are we going to look asking for strict liability? How long have drink-driving and mobile-phone use been illegal, and how long have governments been telling drivers of the dangers not to do those things? Look how fast those campaigns have progressed.
The fabulously batshit “Grumpy”, member of the Association of British Nutters, tells us (after some entertainingly paranoid Mailesque diversions through xenophobia and homophobia) what the man in the Cul-de-sac thinks of strict liability:
They’ll be leaping out of lay-bys, dodging in and out of traffic, invading the motorways, going the wrong way round the M25 – the world’s their oyster, because they’ll be able to do no wrong. I wouldn’t put it past one or two of them to accidentally-on-purpose ride under a lorry just in order to claim the compensation.
I agree with Reid that we will never get Philip Hammond to say “yes” to any of our proposals. But there’s a crucial difference between the law of the land and the priorities of planners: planning is not all in the hands of the man in Whitehall. Many of the people we need to influence are local, and many of them already consult cycling organisations on projects (often to be told that all cyclists like to ride like they’re on a motorbike). Bad luck if you live in the Tory provinces, but we have a mayor, an assembly, a regional transport department, an ongoing bicycle infrastructure project to argue about, and an election campaign to look forward to. And our electorate don’t have the same transport priorities as the rest of the nation.