Since the 1950s, bicycle use has declined. The one overwhelming reason is that decades of road construction, widening, and “improvement”, coupled with the advances in car technology that put machines designed for the autobahn on British city streets and country lanes, have given us a network of hostile and frightening barriers to cycling. Cities and countries which today have mass cycling — Copenhagen and the Netherlands being the leading examples — did not escape the rise of the motor car. In the 1970s, they too were discovering the many negative consequences of mass car use, and they too were seeing the rapid abandonment of cycling as transport in response to hostile road conditions. But they have since halted and are reversing that decline.
We know exactly why cycling declined. We know the precise interventions that successfully reversed the decline of cycling. How to design streets and infrastructure that removes barriers to cycling is a solved problem, and “segregation versus integration” is a controversy that is visibly approaching a consensus in this country right now. We know what needs to be done, the issue now is how to drum up the political will to do it, and to do it properly.
David Hembrow explains how the Dutch did it: the snappily named “Stop the Child Murder” campaign of the 1970s focussed on the massive rise in deaths and injuries of children on the roads, and demanded that children be able to safely cycle to school.
Mikael at Copenhagenize explains how the Danes did it: mass demonstrations in the 1970s and 80s, and quirky action to highlight the number of cyclists being killed on the roads.
And, I notice, the Germans are doing it right now, citing now in addition environmental and energy concerns:
The way that we do it won’t be exactly the same as the Dutch, Danes, or Germans. Our situations, politics and cultures are not the same — though nor are they so different. What is certain is that even here, big things are beginning.
Haven’t you seen them? You’ll see them.