Being realistic

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.

–Joe

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4 responses to “Being realistic

  1. “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.”

    If this is true hen it is politically naive to expect mass cycling in the UK. It is pretty much that simple.

  2. As well as having a regional Mayor and all that goes with that, we also have neighbourhood policing with priorities set by whoever turns up to meetings and complains most. Currently many neighbourhoods are prioritising things that do nothing to help cyclists and may even hinder them, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If cyclists made it their business to turn up to the meetings that set neighbourhood priorities we could get the police to do more on enforcing the current rules of the road. So it is certainly not the case that what Carlton Reid is talking about requires legislative change from central government. A lot of it just requires better local lobbying to get the police to enforce the laws we already have.

    Also, I read Carlton as saying that we need to grow the cyclist constituency before we can reasonably expect government or the Mayor to just hand over large chunks of road infrastructure to us at the cost of motorists. That seems completely reasonable to me, and as well as describing fairly accurately what has actually happened in the last few years.

  3. I would not push uniformly; I would concentrate efforts in those places where success is most likely. In American terms, it makes more sense to promote bike lanes in Silicon Valley (flat, moderate climate, dense) than it does in Atlanta (often hot, more spread out). Why set yourself up for failure?

  4. Pingback: AWWTM: Being realistic | Joe D

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