The cycle lobby: Andrew Gilligan messes it up

Andrew Gilligan accuses “the cycle lobby” of thinking only of themselves and not “putting themselves in the heads” of non-cyclists. In-fact, failure to think as a non-cyclist is exactly why the policies of Boris Johnson are such failures.

Despite the “cycling mayor” image he encouraged early on, after four years in City Hall, Boris has been getting a beating from folk who cycle in London. His flagship scheme for cycling was meant to be the Cycle Superhighways, intended to “transform” London, “boost safety” and — independently of all other initiatives — contribute to modal shift to the tune of 120,000 more daily journeys:

“I’m not kidding when I say that I’m militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I’m determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Kulveer Ranger, said: “Cycle Superhighways form a key part of the Mayor and TfL’s target to increase cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2025, compared to 2000 levels. From cycling the proposed routes myself, and speaking to a whole range of cyclists, I’m sure that these routes will prove a hugely welcome addition to London’s cycling infrastructure – giving many more people the confidence to ride”.

But this hyperbole soon backfired on Boris when it turned out that the Superficial Cycleways were, except for sections of existing dedicated infrastructure taken over on CS3, little more than £100 million paint on the road — paint that dances and dodges around petrol power, does nothing to transform the experience of cycling on the capital’s busy arterial roads, and does nothing to boost the confidence of the would-be and wanna-be cyclists that Boris claimed would be attracted by the novel hued bike lanes. Although TfL have been able to claim that there has been a large increase in bike traffic on the Superhighways, they don’t really appear to be doing much to enable or encourage non-cyclists: at most, some existing cyclists have been tempted out of the backstreets and onto the main roads; few new cyclists have been created. The most common question Londoners have about the Superhighways is: are they joke?

Since people started dying on his Superhighway at the Bow junction on the East Cross Motorway, Boris has taken the emphasis off the dozen radial routes which were once “central” to his cycling revolution, and when he does talk about them these days he will tell you that the blue paint is a navigational aid — no mention of excluding “petrol power”, boosting safety, or transforming experience. What were originally sold as part of a cycling revolution which would enable and encourage people to take to their bikes have turned out to be, at best, something to help existing cyclists find their way to the square mile.

This is why Boris has failed on cycling: he’s trying to drive a cycling revolution — more people cycling for more of their journeys — by providing for existing cyclists. Hilariously, Gilligan is so clueless about the substance of the disagreement between Boris and “the cycling lobby” that he attributes this problem exactly backwards:

“Cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist or politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle rather than the 98 per cent who drive or take the bus.”

Go Dutch, and The Big Ride, are precisely the product of the London Cycling Campaign “putting themselves in the heads of non-cyclists”, and calling for streets to be arranged for the 98 per cent who currently would never dare to cycle on them. The Go Dutch campaign was squarely pitched at the non-cyclist, showing everybody how, with a determined leader, London’s busy roads could be transformed into places where anybody and everybody can use a bicycle, and share in all the benefits that come with cycling. Gilligan seems to think that the campaign and ride was a demand by existing cyclists that they must be pampered and privileged in their niche activity. Far from it. The point that The Big Ride made was that the “cycling revolution” that Boris Johnson promised will not be delivered so long as he continues designing cycling policies and “Superhighways” for the 2 per cent who already cycle. Indeed, many of those who rode with us on Saturday are, on any normal weekday, part of the 98% themselves.

As part of the two per cent willing to — no, no, as part of the one per cent happy to — cycle on the streets of London as they are, Boris is the last person who should be appointed to lead a “cycling revolution” aimed at enabling the 98 who don’t cycle to take it up. He boasts that “scooting down Euston underpass” and around Hyde Park Corner are “no problem” when you’re “used to it”, and his now infamous comments about the Elephant and Castle being “fine if you keep your wits about you” tell you everything about how far he has penetrated the minds of ordinary non-cycling folk.

Boris’s “cycling revolution” seems to be designed around the premise that there is a large population of Londoners who are just on the cusp of taking up cycling and who just need lessons in “keeping their wits about them”, or blue paint and hire bikes to help them to “get used to it”. Boris understands how his 2% cycle so he designs policies for more of it. But the conclusion of last year’s Understanding Walking and Cycling project (admittedly primarily based on research in England outside of London) was that there is no such substantial section of the population just waiting to take up cycling in traffic, ready to be nudged in by one cheap and simple little thing. The Understanding Walking and Cycling project — which has informed and given urgency to infrastructure campaigns like Go Dutch — “put themselves in the heads of non-cyclists” and found that the 98% will not cycle so long as they expected to keep their wits about them and get used to the Euston underpass. There are very few waiting to join the 2% cycling in heavy and fast traffic: if you want a cycling revolution, you have to try something new and different. The 98% look at the policies of the Cycling Mayor and see irrelevant “Superhighways” which they presume must be good for Cyclists but on which they would never dare to cycle themselves. They look at Go Dutch and see civilised dedicated space on which they might. And Gilligoon thinks it’s the latter who are out of touch and appealing to the minority on cycling.

Boris even came close to showing signs of understanding all this when he talked of not having to “dance and dodge around petrol power”. But like so much about Boris, that turned out to be all waffle and no substance.

The problem with Boris and his cycling revolution, and the many reasons why he has messed it up on cycling, obviously go far far wider and deeper than his inability, as a contented member of the 2%, to understand why the 98% are so reluctant to join him. But I’m not sure I can bring myself to write about, or even think about, it any more. Please, just make it stop.

13 thoughts on “The cycle lobby: Andrew Gilligan messes it up”

  1. Well said. I tell them how many people wish that they can ride and assure them that the 2% will ride no matter what. You can make it 0legal to hunt us 2% and we’d still ride.

    Thus, infrastructure is NOT for the existing cyclists so it makes no sense to talk about our small numbers.

    About 60% (or more) of non-cyclists want to ride, but can not.

    Thus, this is the notion of using motoring gas money to help existing motorists get around while getting a workout, too.

    Plus cycling infrastructure saves motorists lives, helps them stay healthy, reduces road wear and tear (thus saves tax money) and reduces asthma.

    It is not a “cost” for 2% but an investment for the 100% of us with lungs, ears, and minds which all need a break from the problems that motoring brings.

    Why not listen to the motorists and spend their money on what they want: cycling infrastructure?

  2. There is an interesting debate about this topic (infrastructure and who its aimed at / benefits) over on Martin Porter’s blog (

    Personally, I think we need to be clear that infrastructure (done properly, to the Dutch standard) CAN suit exisiting cyclists as well as prospective ones. This is amply demonstrated by David Hembrow’s superb blog – A view from the Cycle path.

  3. Andrew Gilligan is probably quite right about “the cycling lobby” as it existed a few years ago. What he has probably missed is the rapid changes in cycle campaigning recently, with the LCC Go Dutch campaign, the formation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and much better communications between ordinary people who just want to ride bikes for transport. Even CTC is re-visiting the issue of segregated facilities, perhaps prompted by their attempts to become a charitable organisation that must work for more of the population than just their cycling-enthusiast members.

    The “cycling lobby” has been campaigning, me included, for decades. But we only appeal to “cyclists”, and as such are a small minority. The “people just wanting to ride bicycles for transport” lobby are MUCH bigger and politically-interesting group, and are already starting to have an effect on transport planning and policy.

  4. Great article. Please consider removing the rather juvenile Gilligoon, I think it weakens the end severely.

  5. Hi Joe,

    It is certainly not unreasonable to point out that Boris Johnson has promised more than he has delivered when it comes to cycling, but when I called TfL a few years back and asked them to give me just a single example of the LCN+ working well, I had the phone put down on me.

    Andrew Gilligan suggests that cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist, or a politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle. He quickly goes on to say that he doesn’t necessarily agree with this, but that is the political reality we have to face.

    The case is, surveys routinely demonstrate that measures to reduce our dependency on cars in the built-up area are very acceptable to the general public. That 98% of the population don’t currently cycle should not be taken as evidence that many of them wouldn’t like to.

    But I do think Andrew Gilligan is correct to assert that the cycling lobby is making a bog-up of its case. I went to the LCC talk hosted by the Movement for Liveable London, as you did, and I believe that if LCC had built their campaign strategy on the solid ground identified by Richard Lewis, instead of setting meaningless ‘tests’ for the next mayor, then the cycling lobby’s voice would have been irresistible.

    Charlie Lloyd said recently: “Going Dutch is not really about segregation. It is about planning for people to have easy, safe access to wherever they want to go.” Taking this at face value, what we need, therefore, is a *plan*.

  6. The issue is NOT the Euston underpass – the issue is the cycle route OVER the Euston underpass. That cycle route is exactly what campaigners appear to be calling for, but it’s perilous because pedestrians treat it as though it doesn’t exist and walk directly across the path of bikes they haven’t noticed. This is what Boris is pointing out in the provided link.

    And, this calls into question the real value of “Cycle London Go Dutch”. Why is this cycle campaign insisting on shared pedestrian/cycle spaces when they’re typically difficult and dangerous for cyclists (especially novice cyclists) to negotiate?

    1. Gosh. You’ve not been paying much attention, have you? I suggest going and finding out what the LCC are actually asking for (it’s not difficult: there are pictures and everything) before accusing campaigners of asking for more of TfL’s crap facilities.

      1. I have already looked at the very pretty designs provided by the LCC and they have much more the feel of the the Stroud Green Road’s kerbed cycle lane than the Netherlands – unpalatable, unmaintained lanes that are used primarily for roadworks and pedestrian overflow and add no value to cyclists.

        Whether or not it’s their intent, it feels like LCC are asking for TfL’s crap facilities to be done more and worse. Sorry for the disagreement.

  7. It’s possible that Boris was talkig the truth about the Super Highways, but I suspect, when it came to implementation, TfL pointed out the conflict with “smoothing traffic flow” and he simply folded. And now he believes he has a mandate to continue with “smoothing traffic flow”. I do partly agree with Ronald above, the LCC designs are not Dutch and incorporate ASLs which the 98% would not want to let their children into.

  8. So you’re just like all the other so-called “cycling advocates” on the Internet: you’re actually more concerned with sticking it to the motorist than you are with making cycling safer. Being a cyclist himself, Boris has done far more to help cyclists than Livingstone did. But because Boris has also been less aggressive towards motorists than Livingstone was (and also because he’s a Tory), he is doomed to constant opposition from you and your ilk no matter how much good he does for cyclists.

    It’s a lot more transparent then you seem to realise. Why not drop the “I’m just trying to help cyclists” pretence and admit that your main aim is to discourage motoring because it conflicts with your Communist, anti-freedom, control freak values?

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