23 February 2010

BBC joins the cycling debate

BBC London's magazine show Inside Out last night featured an item on Lycra Louts. You can see it again on BBC's iPlayer for the next seven days.

As you'd expect, it's all very fuzzy and never quite knows what it's complaining about. Like the local-paper letter writer with their green biro, it just splutters vague cliches: things have gone too far, the pendulum's swung the other way, something must be done.

Jumping red lights? They produce no evidence that this causes accidents. In fact, a recent study did not particularly show that such behaviour causes accidents.

There are many places where jumping red lights - oh, alright then, getting off your bike and remounting just the other side of the red lights which is perfectly legal and achieves the same effect - is the only safe thing to do. London Road, near the Elephant, is an example.

In the programme they show a Kensington cyclist pulled up by the police for jumping a red. He politely explains that there was nobody on the crossing and no traffic. Now, we know that vehicles in ASLs never get nicked. It's because the police think the penalty is too harsh - sixty quid and three points - for a trivial offence. But here are cyclists getting done, because it's only thirty quid and that's OK.

Why, when we know that vehicles kill people and bicycles don't? Well, as the programme explains, it's because residents help police set priorities. The problem being that the meetings where these are decided take place at times like 10am on Thursday mornings, when only a certain chippy type of retired resident is likely to be able attend. At least, as recent experience in the City shows, such priorities can be reversed by simply turning up. (Luckily, such times are convenient for unemployable cycle bloggers.)

So was the programme's complaint about pavement cycling? Partly. They interview the mother of a child who was hit by a pavement cyclist. I'd be pretty pissed off, like her, if that had happened to me. Pavement cycling is at best terrible PR, and at worst very rude and mildly dangerous and people shouldn't do it. Or at least not when there's anybody about, particularly a film crew. But then I nearly get killed once a week on average by buses and taxis flouting the law, and bugger all gets done about that, except for form email responses.

Of course, the programme can't come up with any figures to show how bad the Pavement Menace is. There aren't any, because it's a problem mostly created in the pages of silly newspapers and the minds of silly people. The only figure it comes up with is Westminster Council's estimate that '1 in 5' cyclists 'flout the law', whatever that's supposed to mean. Well, 1 in 5 drivers are said to be uninsured in London, and I know which pose the greater danger. They talk about 'zero tolerance'. Why not for all road users, then?

And, inevitably, they visit Critical Mass, an event many Real Cyclists are ambivalent about, and show images of people honking trumpets and blocking the traffic, rather forgetting that traffic itself blocks traffic on Friday evenings in London pretty effectively.

And they didn't manage to get anyone to put the cyclists' case effectively. They got someone in fancy dress at CM (of course) and Tom Bogdanowicz from the LCC, who always has the worried look of a politician who's left his laptop on the train. They should have tracked down the Waltham Forest blogger and interviewed them alongside anti-cyclist Councillor Angela Harvey, who also features in the video, evidently on her way to the theatre. That'd be worth watching.

Oh well. Watch it and smile wryly.


  1. Good write up! I knew there was something on I wanted to watch yesterday! If I was the cyclist stopped I would have told them how stupid it is to focus on cyclists (that is if I did stop which I wouldn't). Maybe we should write to the BBC and see if we can get a show made from cyclist perspective?

  2. Oh god, I just watched it on the iplayer: there's 10 minutes of my life I'm never getting back again...

    I'd agree that anti-social cycling is a nuisance, and of course it's awful if someone knocks someone down with their bike. We should all be more careful to ensure these things don't happen.

    But the article didn't ask WHY people RLJ, that is to say it didn't touch on the fact that nearly all of the deaths and serious injuries caused to cyclists last year happened at junctions.... so maybe rather than penalizing cyclists we should be spending a similar amount of revenue on designing danger out of junctions...

    Yeah, ha, dream on. What would "Inside Trout' have to whinge about then?

  3. Having set up the piece to show cyclists not obeying the Highway Code are such a menace the illustration of a "cyclist going through a red light" has the red light, and a cyclist going past it (right to left), but there's also a PalletLine truck whizzing past the cyclist's right ear past the same red light. Are we supposed to be blind to the truck? - like the moon-walking bear - 'cos we're focussed on the cyclist. And what they don't tell you is that in all likelihood the signal you can see in the picture is at the far side of the junction and the cyclist and truck maybe didn't go through a red light on approaching the junction. They follow this scenario with the chap you've used in your illustration being stopped by the police officer. You might well imagine that it's the same guy we saw go past a red light seconds earlier - except it isn't. They never said it was. The first guy had a yellow jacket, silver helmet and a rucksack. The second guy had a yellow jacket, silver helmet and a red pannier. Oh how the media manipulates.

  4. I'm not too worried about Councillor Harvey, because her fantasies of a massive crackdown on naughty cyclists will never be realised.

    I was more bothered by Tom Bogdanovich's contribution to the programme.

    Andreas - you would be advised to stop for that PC in the 'sting' scene. There would be bike cops or motorbike cops lurking to nab you if you didn't. But if Westminster Council gets the power to hand out fixed penalty notices to cyclists then, yes, make your getaway.

  5. "I was more bothered by Tom Bogdanovich's contribution to the programme." Why? Can you explain please.

  6. I saw how my friend was treated when he was nabbed. I think I would rather try and make my getaway! (Probably getting myself into more trouble in the process)

  7. Funny how a made-up statistic about '1 in 5 cyclists flouting the law' gets repeated as Bible on the BBC, but official statistics about 50% of cars breaking the speed limit on 30mph roads don't (see DFT speed statistics 2008). I'm sure it must be because cyclists are much more dangerous than speeding cars!

  8. And 'flouting' is such a dumb rabble-rousing word!

  9. The film's remit was clearly veering towards sensationalism, hence the hackneyed portryal of Critical Mass (cue the thrash metal soundtrack - did you notice?). One point of tragic irony though was the mother whose daughter was injured. She quite rightly pointed out how an injury on the highway is not regarded by society as seriously as if it occurred by other means. What the film failed to show was how this applied too all road injuries and deaths, and why, in the end, this is not a 'cycling' issue but one of creating a mutually respectful road culture. Hence, being defensive about cycling has to be done carefully, without sounding like an apologist for 'flouting' the law.

    I was relieved to see that Tom Bogdanowicz was interviewed; the point about a hierarchy of road users based on vulnerability was a point of sanity. So I too would like to know what was wrong with it.

  10. Actually, the soundtrack to CM was about the only thing that made me laugh - Rage Against The Machine (I forget which track, it was probably Killing in the Name, which at least now people have heard and, of course, the refrain is what all car drivers assume cyclists have as their mantra - Eff you I won't do what you tell me).

    The issue here is that they're focusing on the "no sh!t Sherlock" end of the market: the little girl knocked over by a pavement rider, the muppet who cycles on a pavement past a camera, the courier jumping a red, the 'selfish' CMers. Meanwhile the LCC is fixating on the cycle superhighways and won't London be jolly if everyone's on their bikes - it'll be like Copenhagen and Amsterdam and wouldn't we all rather be there? His point of a hierarchy of danger was completely lost on the compiler of the report.

    It's another piece of media fluff that attempts to paint all cyclists with the same brush. I don't go through red lights, I don't go on pavements, I don't go the wrong way down one-way streets ... but I do get really defensive when I see people having a go at all cyclists, because then they're including me and then I want to know what I've done that's so infurated them.

    The real problem is that London's roads are not designed for the quantity of users that are on them on a daily basis. There are too many red lights. There are too many controls. It's a facile observation but we'll all get on a bit better, not if we're separated but if we're all confident that we're moving. People get frustrated in queues - be they weight of traffic or at lights or junctions.

    My route averages one set of redlights every quarter miles (over about 12 miles and that's with some carefully chosen dinks around even more). There's the real bugbear. Don't force people into needlessly stopping and obeying needless controls; and that doesn't matter whether you're a cyclist, a car, taxi or White Van Man.

    But saying "London's roads are busy" isn't really much of a story.

  11. My objection to the Tom Bogdanowicz contribution was its insipidity. Asking for all road users to show respect to those less vulnerable is as banal and ineffective as engaging with road carnage through "education".

    Evidently Rob was underwhelmed too, judging by his remark that "they didn't manage to get anyone to put the cyclists' case effectively".
    Isn't that what an LCC spokesperson should be doing?

  12. I suspect that Mr Bogdanowicz had much more to say (don't you think so freeheeler?), and who knows? - maybe he did even put "the cyclists' case" effectively. Trouble is they'll edit the interview and show whatever they want on the telly. I feel sure that if he had been as "effective" as you would like, they wouldn't have shown it. It would spoil their show.

  13. Yes, @Anonymous, I suspect anything robust Tom said was never going to make it to the final cut, and all they'd ever use would be a facile soundbite that suited the anti-cyclist case.

    And Tom would know that, as a former hardline journo himself. No wonder he always looks so worried in interviews.

    BTW, I see from the LCC site that Tom's surname is indeed spelt his native Polish way, 'Bogdanowicz', so fair enough. The programme had him as Bogdanovitch and I had him as Bogdanovich; I've changed the spelling in the post lest anyone think he was Russian.

  14. The content of the Tom Bogdanowicz interview strikes me as entirely consistent with his recent peculiar Guardian Bike Blog column asserting that ‘cycling is stuck in the slow lane’ because of car advertising, and with the LCC philosophy of complying with the existing transport culture by, for example, telling cyclists not to go through a red light.

  15. I don't go on pavements, I don't go the wrong way down one-way streets but I do get really defensive when I see people having a go at all cyclists, because then they're including me and then I want to know what I've done that's so infurated them.

  16. Re: "...his recent peculiar Guardian Bike Blog column asserting that ‘cycling is stuck in the slow lane’" ..... I can't be sure of course, but it looks to me that someone - an editor perhaps - introduced that "cycling stuck in the slow lane" as a heading/ subtitle.

    It's all very well as an individual inciting cyclists to disobey the highway code; quite another to be part of an organisation actively seeking to improve conditions and build alliances and say the same thing. It isn't simply a matter of 'complying with the existing transport culture'. Of course LCC doesn't do that.

    I don't go through red lights on my bicycle or in my car. I don't feel in danger because I don't go through red lights. Maybe I shouldn't stop at red lights in my car if I can't see any traffic around or pedestrians wanting to cross? It's clear to me that the primary incentive for cyclists to go through red lights is to reduce journey time. I don't think that is acceptable - imagine if all road users behaved that way (ok a lot do already). Pretending it's a safety measure is kidology.

  17. The peculiarity of Bogdanowicz’s crackpot Guardian article is his notion that car advertising is a significant factor in suppressing cycling. It isn’t. It’s expecting cyclists to share the roads with motor vehicles which puts most people off cycling, because they rightly perceive it as an unpleasant and frightening experience.

    “It isn't simply a matter of 'complying with the existing transport culture'. Of course LCC doesn't do that.”

    Yes it does.

    Consider this, and then look at the photo.

    “Our streets and neighbourhoods need to be redesigned. To encourage more people to choose to use their bicycles, the roads must be made more cycle-friendly so the risk, and the perception of risk, are both significantly reduced.”


    If you think a cycle lane like that plus an ASL makes a road “more cycle-friendly” then I think you are part of the problem, just as a collaborationist organisation like the LCC is.

    “LCC has a range of cycling-friendly corporate supporters including the Met Police and the BBC.”


    The BBC is not a “cycling-friendly” organisation. If it was it wouldn’t run crap programmes like the one in question.

    Neither is the Metropolitan Police. But the LCC will suck up to anyone who gives them money.

    It’s a failed organisation. I packed in my membership because I no longer wanted to participate in an organisation which I regard as an impediment to cycling, not an ally.

    “It's clear to me that the primary incentive for cyclists to go through red lights is to reduce journey time. I don't think that is acceptable.”

    There you are. You accept the status quo, and you are the problem. The only real reason for cycling in an urban location is that it’s quick and convenient, and the car-centric infrastructure militates against cyclists by expecting them to conform to a transport culture which is based on the motorist, not the cyclist or pedestrian.

    I checked out the blog of Chris who comments above and on it he writes:

    “My commute is around 7 miles each way. On my morning route in the other morning, just for fun, I counted the number of sets of traffic lights that I had to cycle over. 32. Thirty-two. That’s more than one every quarter mile.”

    He concludes “It’s no wonder that cyclists run red lights”

    I also suggest you take a look at this:


    The only realistic way forward for London is to adopt what has worked with spectacular success in the Netherlands – a segregated cycling infrastructure which puts the cyclist before the car. Unfortunately a lot of cycling campaigners aren’t interested in success. They would prefer to live with their prejudices and a modal share which is risible.

    If London had the kind of infrastructure which Dutch cyclists enjoy we wouldn’t need to have these kinds of argument, and cyclists wouldn’t be riding on the pavement, jumping red lights or (horrors!) cycling down one-way streets the “wrong” way. The current situation is simply a symptom of the failure of so-called vehicular cycling.

  18. freewheeler - I respect your opinion but let's assume you are right, that "a segregated cycling infrastructure which puts the cyclist before the car" is as you put it the realistic way forward. How would you achieve it?

    Note the question isn't 'how technically would you achieve it', which is relatively straightforward, but how would you convince traffic authorities, who in turn are governed by politicians, who in turn are elected by a democratic majority, who in turn are mostly car drivers, who in turn will complain if they are de-prioritised? How do you square the circle? Perhaps, by turning them into cyclists?

    One approach could be to build up a culture of cycling, methodically, painstakingly, through rides, events, consultations, negotiations, initiatives, discussions. Trouble is, this takes a long time. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes you have to accept things you don’t like along with things you do. Sometimes you have to accept that what you don’t get now simply means some day in the future you will. I understand your need to satirise and complain (and indeed I like some of your posts). But, unlike the Inside Out film, this isn't exciting, doesn't grab headlines. It's going to take a long time to achieve our cycling aspiration. I know you want it now, but sometimes it can't happen quite like that. Me, I’m prepared to do what I do for cycling, for as long as it takes. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying my cycling life (although not this week with all that rain forecast!).

    [Rob – blimey is this the longest Real Cycling blog response ever?]

  19. What intrigues me is that as soon as a body like LCC or Sustrans starts to achieve a bit of minor success and public recognition, the fundamentalists jump up and start accusing them of collaboration. I'm with Philip, accepting that it's a long slow struggle to achieve a degree of public acceptance and creep forward towards that Dutch-style nirvana, one step at a time.

  20. Yep - I agree you get what to get cycling - the best way to travel. Great blog - take a look at mine


  21. I recently saw a mother with her toddler stopped by police, taking a short cut on a footpath, avoiding a busy and narrow road, to get to the infants school. Meanwhile, on the nearby road there were numerous vehicles passing the ASL and stopping in the cycle box at the junction, there were motorcyclists speeding, dodging dangerously in and out of the traffic, having to swerve in when vehicles were coming in their direction whilst going on the wrong side of the road, motorists were going theough the lights after they had changed to red, the pedestrian crossing was blocked so that people couldn't cross the street when the lights were on red... And meanwhile one mother with her toddler was stopped and cautioned. While at the same time dangerous one ton lumps of metal were doing as they liked regardless of the law. The prejudice of the police, fuelled by the prejudice of the public, is crazy. As a cyclist I've been in a few accidents over the years. The only one with a car was when it came out of a side road without stopping. The only ones with pedestrians is when they have strayed onto the cycle lane or into the road without warning. Cyclists have an image problem and that is the ONLY reason why I want the so-called 'rogue' cyclists to cease their behaviour. But it is about time police and the general public understood the real picture.

  22. All good discussion and as a cyclist myself I was appalled at the bias apparent in the film - and glad that other people have noticed. But why not fight fire with fire? Just do a film about anti-social driving and present it in a similarly biased way. Possibly intercut with the appropriate scenes from this "so called" news report.

    More simply, is it possible to launch a complaint against the BBC for unfair reporting? (I forget what the terminology is) I'd be happy to pen a letter.

  23. Watched the video - several of the cyclists shown jumping on footways seem to be looking for a cycle parking more than anything.

    How can they blame cyclists of using footways when cycle parkings are located on these...

    I believe cycle parking should replace car parking on the pavement nexct to the footway as it is done in many places in Belgium/Germany/The Netherlands (seen it also in Brighton actually) and not obstruct footways...

  24. I’m pleased to hear Philip acknowledge that segregated infrastructure is ‘relatively straightforward’ technically, as quite a few cycling campaigners assert that it’s totally unrealistic.

    How do we get there? In the first place acknowledge that segregated infrastructure is the only way to achieve mass cycling and have it as your core philosophy of cycling. The LCC doesn’t do this. Neither does the CTC. Neither organisation shows much interest in the Dutch template.

    Thirty years of the long slow approach hasn’t delivered on even something as non-contentious and inexpensive as cycle parking. And who now remembers the “Cycling Strategy for London” which aspired to 4% modal share by 2004 and 10% by 2012. These targets were fully endorsed by all political parties in the run-up to the 2000 London elections, and were also accepted by London’s boroughs. Funny how it hasn’t happened.

    Tim, I suggest you take a look at this critique of Sustrans:


    I don’t regard Sustrans as my friend when it tells me that a street with a cycle lane 1.5 metres wide running between a parking bay on one side and overtaking traffic on the other, is ‘cycling friendly’. But I guess that’s just me being a grumpy fundamentalist.

  25. Philip,

    Just to give you my testimony of what I have observed in France with the tram schemes that were implemented in many french cities: these schemes resulted in:
    - the complete reorganisation of road space with a clear shift towards pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
    - massive pedestrianisation of city centers (closure of wide and busy through roads -crossing city centers (see Bordeaux, cours de l'Intendance, Boulevard Alsace Lorraine for instance, Le Mans Avenue Jean Jaures, Strasbourg, Nantes, Clermont-Ferrand, etc)
    - the insertion in the road space of the tram tracks resulted in most places to the suppression of all the car parking and reduction in the number of car lanes along the route with no reallocation what so ever, etc

    At the begining people were massively opposed. They predicted gridlock of the road network, downfall of the cuty's economy
    However, most mayors persisted because it was for everyone's benefit.

    Nowaday, all these tram schemes are a massive success, people redicovers their cities via the pedestrianised area, discovers that it is possible to travel around in a different way then by car. The city center economy is booming, housing prices along the lines are up, companies want to be located close to these tram lines, etc (despite the obvious lack of car parking/car accessibility along these lines)...

    The method is radical (3 years constant of road works), it requires a lot of political courage (some politicians like in Nantes have lost elections in the process) but the results are worth it.

    So now, replace "tram scheme" by "dutch style cycle schemes" and tranfers it Britain.
    I would also like to add that:
    - France used to be equaly "car centered" as Britain
    - Cycle schemes are much cheaper than tram schemes

    So why a radical change in road design and a massive shift of road space towards pedestrians and cyclists cannot happen in the UK? It's a matter of political will because at the end everyone wants to live in a better place, removing car traffic is key to make living places more pleasant.

  26. That's an interesting example, Oldboy. It was very much the same story with the earliest pedestrianisation schemes in Britain - hysterical opposition from shopkeepers, doom-laden prophecies of collapse, followed by booming sales and regeneration.

    Groningen encountered bitter hostility from shopkeepers when the six lane road was torn up and pedestrianised. Now shopkeepers outside the centre are begging to be included in the walking and cycling only zone.

    I don't actually believe that Britain's car dependency is driven by the democratic will. Non-car ownership levels in London are still very high. Most drivers are in favour of speed cameras, though you'd never know this from the media. The problem has a lot more to do with car dependency among decision-making managerial elites across the social spectrum.

  27. Freewheeler – Yes it’s relatively straightforward but that doesn't mean it should be used everywhere (or better perhaps to say there should be a targetted, phased approach to implementation). The degree of segregation should depend on general traffic speeds and flows. I.e. if it's a big, busy road, look to segregate cyclists. Neither Denmark nor Netherlands use segregation everywhere, as a visit to either country or a viewing of the multitude of internet cycling videos filmed there will reveal: they 'share the road' as much as have cycle tracks. One difference is the attitude of drivers, underpinned by the law which puts the onus of responsibility on them.

    I also think you’re being a bit too pessimistic with progress? Who’d have imagined what we’re seeing in London now, whatever you may think of the quality of its execution or implementation, even 10 years ago? The ‘slow approach’ by the way is not so because we want it that way, but because that’s the only realistic way of doing things. If I had a magic wand…

    Oldboy in London – I believe a lot of that has to do with French cities having a directly elected executive mayor, like we do in London. I wish other UK metropolitan areas also had such a political system which hopefully would revive them and enable bolder transport initiatives – witness the rejection of the Manchester congestion charge and associated funding for sustainable transport.

    Everyone – no-one has yet given me an adequate explanation of HOW they will achieve what they want to achieve that’s different to what I said. (But perhaps we shouldn’t hijack Rob’s blogspace – maybe I should start my own.)

  28. In London, the main mistake that has been made is the segregation/diversion of cyclists on minor road instead of providing facilities on major road. Though, major road are what they are because they connect, in the most direct way, major attracting points.
    Indeed, as Philip points out, in the Netherlands, segregated facilities are only on major road were the level of traffic make cycling unpleasant/dangerous.

    I have noticed that in some inner/central London inner Road, major road have often 2 lanes in each direction including often a bus lane. I believe in this case (I know it's a bit radical), bus lanes should be removed in favour of segregated cycle lanes.
    My main example is the Camberwell New Road (I cycle there every day):
    - it is a main road with no "side/quiet road alternative"
    - it has very large amount traffic including a lot of lorries (also quite a few cyclists)
    - the carriageway is very wide (11m) which encourage speeding.
    - the cycling environment is not to say very poor as the road is more or less congested at all the peaks.

    I think it would be quite strait forward to redesign this road by providing 2 meter wide one way cycle lanes on each side with trees as well. This will also massively enhance the living conditions of the local residents who current have under their windows a permanent traffic jam (with the noise and pollution that go with it).

    But to answer your question, I think in this case it is only the political will from the top that is lacking. A strong political will would be the only way to allow radical changes as it happened in France or in the Netherlands. Because in general people are conservative and don't really like to change their habits (going by car is comfortable, safe, etc). The only way to do so it to push them strongly by, for instance, restricting their car habits. But the majority of people do not want any restrictions to their travel habits...
    Therefore the only way is a radical change impulse from the top.

    Unfortunately, in London with the current way policy is implemented, it will not happen in the short term. Politicians tend to rather follow the main stream ideas (keep going with car travel as it used to) that following advise of transport planners and other transport specialists.

  29. started watching the film on iplayer, got half way through after reading your article and couldn't be arsed to go any further...
    like you say, pretty wooly stuff. poor journalism

    I have to say, I'm an offender. I burn through red lights, and take their warning colour to mean "be aware" - and I never take the michael.

    Some do, some are nutters.

    but Jesus wept! we all went to school! we all live in the real world. We know there's bad fuckers everywhere!

    if you look at the statistics of cycling versus driving in terms of lives lost, pollution, congestion, health of the traveller (in terms of money saved for the NHS), quality of life etc... the cyclists must beat car drivers by millions to one!

  30. What a fascinating discourse this is - and all prompted by a bit of crap telly. I would like to address a couple of points raised:

    1. The programme. It was poor quality journalism in the extreme and as such we should all feel slighted (and should all complain appropriately) I do wonder if Tom was given the real brief from the BBC about what he was being interviewed about, otherwise I am sure he would have come up with some better soundbites about other road users being at fault in 85% of all bicycle accidents, etc. It's a shame it didn't look at the casualty rates to peds and cyclists and the causes... but then the BBC is never going to run a sensationalist piece about 'killer motorists rampaging through London' now is it?

    2. The LCC (Freewheeler & Phillip)
    Fundamentalist though he may be, Freewheeler is not the only one I know who looks very carefully at our friends at the LCC and is concerned by what he sees. I have heard similar (albeit milder) discontent from a number of people recently (also directed at the CTC and Sustrans)
    Whilst demanding that we build segregated infrastructure RIGHT NOW isn't going to get us anywhere, likewise there is growing exasperation at just how slow the 'slowly slowly' approach actually is. Celebrating the increase in cycling levels in central London smacks of being self-congratulatory when so much of it has been as a consequence of Tube strikes, the Congestion Charge and marketing, as oppose to actual physical interventions. Yes, it's great, but as an overall level it's still tiny, and lots still remains to be done (including challenging physical interventions). In the same breath, Rome wasn't built in a day and if the LCC wants to get ahead they have to do so much sleeping with the enemy; this is the lobbyist's lot these days I'm afraid.

    Still, if the Dutch can be brave about it, I don't see why we can't either. It would be nice, at least, to have a statement of intent from the LCC along the lines of 'Yes, one day we would like to see 40% cycling levels in London and we are prepared to campaign for what is necessary to achieve this."

    A fascinating debate this, that needs to be had out in the open methinks.

  31. ...and another thing!

    Gosh, so LCC is crap, CTC is crap, Sustrans is crap, in fact every goddam thing you can think of is crap crap crap!

    Anyway, I wouldn't necessarily say that the 'radical' campaign approach is not desirable or doesn't work. It can work very well if done in a coordinated and focused way. History is full of successful radical campaigns, from antislavery to the suffragettes. The 'working with' approach is equally desirable, and both together are required for an effective campaign strategy, a bit like a good cop/ bad cop approach.

    We need the satirists, they are society’s guardians of conscience. We need the negotiators, because at some point the parties have to lay down their arms and work together. Although there will necessarily be some friction between the two modus operandi, they shouldn’t be fighting each other.

    Alone, some effect; together, potentially devastating.

    My concluding points are:

    * Cycle campaigning is as much a political issue as it is a technical one – we need both.

    * Promotion of cycling can be brought about through both hard (highway engineering) and soft (training, marketing) measures – both together are more effective than if done alone.

    * Road danger is never just an issue about any one mode but about promoting a mutually respectful culture, even if it requires legal sanction of some kind.

    And if I have to sleep with the enemy, well let me check them out and I might be willing to sacrifice myself…

  32. There seem to be some misconceptions here about what it's like to cycle in the Netherlands. As I live here, and cycle every day, I will try to explain. No guesswork required.

    Almost all cycling is on segregated facilities, both in town and in the countryside. The only roads which you share with cars are extremely un-busy ones. In many cases they are not through roads for cars. It's not true to say that we "share the road" as much as we use cycle paths. While the city I live in has twice as many km of road as cycle path, the areas where there are just road are not main cycle routes. Rather, they are residential areas and some small parts in the very centre of the city (the one exception being a "bicycle road". That is in effect a wide cycle path which drivers are allowed to use for access. Not a through road by car and no parking allowed. You find very few cars on it.

    As an example, my commute is 30 km each way. Of this, just 2 km or so are on minor roads and 28 km are on cycle paths. Almost all side roads which I cross give cycles priority and there are just two sets of traffic lights in that distance. One of these defaults to green for bikes, the other is a right turn for me and as it's legal to turn right on red at that junction I rarely have to stop at all on my commute. Indeed, most traffic light junctions here completely separate cyclists and drivers.

    However, tonight I did something completely different coming home. We're taking a load of bikes to a show in Germany tomorrow, so I drove a van and trailer back home. By motor vehicle there are 8 sets of traffic lights over a slightly longer distance. Over that distance it is quicker to drive, but not by as much as you'd expect. Over shorter distances within the city it's almost always quicker to cycle.

    This is the sort of thing which straightforwardly gives cyclists an advantage here which they rarely get in the UK.

    The Guardian blog post about car advertising was indeed bizarre. There are as many car ads here as anywhere. Car ads don't stop people cycling. It's riding bikes in the close proximity of cars which puts people off cycling due to a lack of subjective safety. The high cycling rate of the Netherlands came about due to a very high level of separation between cyclists and drivers.

  33. “Who’d have imagined what we’re seeing in London now”

    Eh? What exactly is it that I’m supposed to see which is supposed to fire my imagination? Do enlighten me, Philip.

    It depends what you’re seeing, I suppose. My views are coloured by my local outer London cycling experiences. I don’t regard any of my local streets as cycling-friendly. That’s right. There are around 1,300 streets in my borough and not a single one is one which I’d call cycling friendly. And most people agree with me because the overwhelming majority of local residents don’t cycle. And when the local LCC branch did a survey of local cyclists they found that people really only like cycling in traffic free environments, i.e. places like the Lea Valley. Not of course that what cyclists feel about things is likely to influence the ideologues of LCC, who strike me as being far more fundamentalist in their rigid and inflexible commitment to crap like 1.5 metre wide cycle lanes on horrendous A roads. Crap that LCC even gives prizes for.

    I can quite understand why most people don’t fancy travelling by bike. I don’t find cycling from outer London to the West End a very attractive experience. When I get there I’m still a very unhappy bunny. And if someone can advise me on a route from Russell Square to Marble Arch I’d be pleased to hear it. But not along Oxford Street, please. Oxford Street is not good for my lungs.

    With things as they are, I anticipate cycling’s modal share in London to be still tiny in ten year’s time, with no significant progress. I think the LCC’s currently pathetic vision of ‘one in five by 2025’ is as delusional as the targets it dreamed of back in 2000, which have failed spectacularly, though no one wants to talk about it, since amnesia rules OK. In fact I’m sick of targets. Targets are the opium of dreamers. Instead, provide the right kind of safe and convenient infrastructure, and then watch cycling expand. Do things the Dutch way and you’ll get your rise in modal share. But talk about stuff happening in 2025 and it won’t. That’s just a way of putting off effective campaigning.

  34. How do we achieve mass cycling? First of all accept that Dutch infrastructure is the way forward. Just getting cycling campaigners to accept that will be quite a struggle, since most probably are vehicular cyclists. One problem is that cycling campaigners are hardcore cyclists who put up with crap and learn to live with it. They then expect everyone else to. But most people won’t. And quoting road casualty figures at ordinary people isn’t the way to get them cycling.

    Secondly, to get political change you have to do more than just write letters or participate in discussions, not that the LCC is even very good at that. Restricting car parking is an important part of freeing the streets for cycling, but when the GLA did a consultation on parking in London the LCC, with its paid full-timers, couldn’t even be bothered to make the effort to send in a response. Nor did it encourage its members to deluge the GLA with demands for less on-street car parking and more free space for cycling. If you believe in cycle lanes and cycle access through closed-off streets, than at least demand double yellow line ‘no waiting at any time’ restrictions to protect them. The LCC was too supine even to ask for that. It couldn’t even be bothered to argue the case for it. It’s a feeble organisation. Whereas I and 399 other Londoners made the effort to send in suggestions.

    I’ve done all the boring stuff but I think it’s time to exert pressure through stunts and protests. There’s always a great surge of shock and anger on the cycling threads when yet another London cyclist is crushed to death by a left-turning lorry, but those strong feelings are dissipated. The LCC damps down that outrage. It won’t even mention lorry/cycling fatalities on its website for fear of putting people off cycling. Whereas I suggest that the next time a cyclist dies under the wheels of a left-turning lorry we have a mass cycling protest. Bring that junction to a halt for 30 minutes. Decide what it is that you want and use the media to promote it. As far as I’m concerned that would be a segregated cycle lane and separate lights for cyclists, to avoid any possibility of lorries and cyclists having to share space at a junction. The LCC line of ‘more education’ simply perpetuates the bloody status quo.

    Everybody seems to agree that the BBC programme was crap and unbalanced. Which once again raises the question of why the LCC describes the BBC as “cycling friendly” when it patently isn’t. By all means protest to the BBC with an email but I’ve grown tired of that, and the head of BBC News no longer accepts my diatribes against the organisation’s absolute refusal to regard cycling deaths as newsworthy. Time for a demo outside the BBC, too. The media loves stunts, and the Daily Mail would love to see some BBC bashing.

    I agree with Mark when he identifies the rise in cycling in London as being “still tiny” and the consequence of factors other than infrastructure. But that rise seems to be largely made up of commuters in the age range 20-45. Look at other road users and you find that The number of cycling trips made by children and young people [in London] declined between 2001 and 2006/07. And probably is still declining. Which is a symptom of a cycling-unfriendly environment. And while cycling numbers may have risen on some A roads, so has the number of cars. Therefore both may simply be a symptom of an expanding population, rather than a glorious shift in transport culture.

    Unlike Sustrans, the LCC does have one strength, though. It’s a democratic organisation. That means if the membership feel the organisation is pursuing a failing strategy they have the chance to turn up at the AGM and change things. I wish they would. I’m quite encouraged by the dissatisfaction which is rumbling among the membership on the CTC threads.

    For more on my feelings about the LCC check out this:

  35. Wow what a thread!

    freewheeler if it's any consolation you are not alone in your desire to see a more radical LCC as several active members have expressed similar thoughts. Anyway, thank you for at least expressing what might be an alternative approach to campaigning, but note, as I've tried to say, this is not incompatible with other not-so-radical forms of campaigning, and both are necessary at some point.

    What’s in London now? Projects, rides, cycling initiatives happening all over London, cycling on the political agenda, modal cycling shares in the AM peak in inner London of up to 30 per cent on Red Routes. Small beer you say? Well it’s only just started.

    David, you’re website is very nice, I’ve seen it before. I’m sure your local journey is as you describe but what can I say, I’ve lived in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and my experience in those larger cities is a bit different. But that’s not really the point I’m making. We could ask if the extent of the infrastructure a consequence or a cause of mass cycling? In reality it won’t be one or the other of course, it’s a complex mixture of both. I accept that more cycle infrastructure is necessary. What we need to do in the UK is bring about social ‘engineering’ as much as road engineering. The trick is how to bring that about. I have some ideas, but alas I’m no genius, and no-one’s done a website of that yet. Or have they?

  36. Philip, you said earlier maybe you should have a blog. Yes, you should. The more cyclists who blog about their cycling experiences and how they think things could change the better.

    You say

    “What’s in London now? Projects, rides, cycling initiatives happening all over London, cycling on the political agenda”

    But all that was true back in 2000, and the projections of a major rise in modal share made then have failed to materialise.

    “modal cycling shares in the AM peak in inner London of up to 30 per cent on Red Routes. Small beer you say? Well it’s only just started.”

    But I think that’s cherrypicking the stats. I could reply by citing the recent Sustrans response to the Mayor which noted that “The number of cycling trips made by children and young people [in London] declined between 2001 and 2006/07.” I assume that decline is continuing, and I attribute it to the not unreasonable public perception that London’s roads are no place for children to cycle.

    As you are a transport professional maybe you can enlighten me what Keith Gardner of TfL meant when he told the IMPACTS conference in Berlin last June that “Recent tailing off suggests growth from interventions may have peaked”


    As a cyclist in outer London I can only say that the notion that there will be a vast rise in cycling in the outer London boroughs strikes me as wildly optimistic, for all the reasons I give on my blog.

    You say “We could ask if the extent of the infrastructure a consequence or a cause of mass cycling? In reality it won’t be one or the other of course”

    Why ‘of course’? If I have understood David Hembrow correctly his whole cycling philosophy is based around the notion that cycling-friendly infrastructure draws people in to cycling. You don’t need marketing, or celebrities. Provide a safe and convenient cycling infrastructure in the way that the Dutch do and people will cycle. Expect ordinary people to share cycling with speeding cars and lorries and the majority won’t cycle.

    Even in the Netherlands the variations in modal share seem to be entirely related to how good the infrastructure is, with Rotterdam doing very badly. But I’ll leave David Hembrow to pursue these topics, as he can do so far more authoritatively than me. I think his blog is easily the most important cycling blog there is, and it has certainly changed my outlook:


  37. Phil, you should know that Freewheeler will always have the last word!

    Except this time I'm going to have the last word.

    It's 'zythum', which my Chambers says is a kind of beer made by the ancient Egyptians.

  38. Freewheeler – thanks for that link to the Berlin conference; although I’ve seen various stats in it before I hadn’t seen that presentation. As for “Recent tailing off suggests growth from interventions may have peaked” I can only guess that as the speaker is referring to the list of initiatives from the London Cycling Action Plan of 2004, he means that they may have reached their potential and by inference pointing to the three high-profile initiatives that have since been initiated, e.g. Cycle Superhighways, Cycle Hire, and Biking Boroughs. He does however say ‘may’ and I would suggest there are still valuable initiatives in that list whatever else may be pursued.

    I’ve read the blog post in your last link before and I thought it was very good. As for my own blog, well I’ll try but it’ll be yet another time commitment. I’ve been an LCC campaigner for about 10 years, I coordinate two LCC groups, I have a cycling related day job, and much of my social life revolves in some way or other around cycling. I’ll have to fit it into that. Gosh so much cycling, maybe I should drive more? Actually I used to have a car but I let it go at the closing stages of the last millennium.

    On my desk I have a copy of the Dutch ‘Design manual for bicycle traffic’, published by CROW. I read it from time to time. I would love to implement what is there outlined, but the obstacles and challenges in getting things done for cycling are, shall we say, many. Either you give up and move on or you persevere. I’ll never give up, so long as there’s a drop of oil on my chain and the wind in my hair.

    Rob – zymurgy

    1. [n] - the branch of chemistry concerned with fermentation (as in making wine or brewing or distilling)

    Beat that!

  39. It’s just typical of today’s cycling campaigners that none of them has ever heard of zyzzyva, a South American weevil that infect plants.

  40. Only biologists will have heard of Zzyzx in California, since it gave its name to the Apolysis zzyzxensis, a kind of fly.

    Though, after reading Rob's post today about quirky excuses for a long bike ride, it might be a good destination to head from after setting out from Å in the Lofoten islands. (Except that Å is not the first letter in the Norwegian alphabet, but the last).

  41. ***and breathe***

    Philip, freewheeler, you're both to be congratulated on having a superb discourse without descending into the chaos and shouting that is usually the reserve of online forums.

    I'm inclined to agree with Philip that there is a 'chicken and egg' situation that precedes mass cycling and this is where social campaigns, 'hearts and minds' stuff can count. The more it encourages people to cycle (in our frankly currently appalling road environment) the more cyclists there are, the more sway we have at political level, the more likely decent, as oppose to tokenistic, infrastructure will be built. But god isn't getting there like pulling teeth?

    I also agree entirely with freewheeler that TRUE mass cycling will see children and grandmothers cycling to school / work / the shops. At the moment it just doesn't happen, and no amount of social campaigns will change that - for that we need some David Hembrow magic dust (aka decent segregated infrastructure)... which brings us back to the first point of how do we get enough cyclists on the road in the first instance in order for us to be taken seriously enough for our politicos to consider spending the cash needed on this kind of thing...

    Round and round we go. Therefore, both approaches are needed. In order for groups like the LCC to exist they have to use the good cop / bad copy routine- they just wont get audience with the likes of Boris Johnson if they go in all guns blazing all of the time. So in that respect, freewheeler, Rob, let's be the shouty mouths, let's be the bad cops - the ones who garner the publicity with direct action, or angry demonstrations, or furious blogging or whatever - we can highlight the problem, the LCC can go in and offer the solution: that's what will get things done around here. But the LCC (and hoorah for it being a democratic org) MUST lay out it's vision for the future more clearly and give it's word that it is truly committed to the desired outcomes of all us 'real cyclists' (as oppose to just sustaining itself and it's full time staff - oops - did I say that out loud?)

    Answers on a postcard please!

    Oh, and Rob - Americanisms and Weevils don't count. I'm going for zyxt, which is Old Kentish for see... :o)

  42. "getting off your bike and remounting just the other side of the red lights which is perfectly legal and achieves the same effect"

    I believe that's exactly the same offence as cycling through. It has been claimed by many that Crank v Brooks (1980) makes pushing through a red light OK, but AFAIK that's not been tested in court. If you dismount and push onto the pavement before the white line, cross as a pedestrian, then remount in the road after the junction you may be legal. Dismounting and walking straight through the junction almost certainly isn't.

    "vehicles kill people and bicycles don't"

    Er... bicycles are vehicles.

  43. Well I was quite content to leave the last word to freewheeler or Rob but anyway...

    In summation, just to say that I haven’t been arguing against segregated facilities per se, but highlighting the fact that there needs to be an interim strategy to build up numbers of cyclists to increase demand for and justify more cycle-related infrastructure, whatever they may be. Over the years of cycle promotion and campaigning I have had to deal with the difference of opinions of engineers, politicians, members of the public, and others besides, in both a voluntary and professional capacity. It’s not a case of knowing what the solution is technically (well, it may be a case of UK practitioners needing to gain more experience in implementing facilities). It is more a case of trying to find a way through the social and political obstacles that prevent more cycle-friendly measures. Sometimes it’s a case of getting the ‘interim’ solution now with an eye on the bigger Hembrow prize in the future.

    Oh, one last thing:

    (zzzzzzzzzz) x [ ∞ ] + 1

  44. @dkahn - Ah. Oh. I see. Crank v Brooks, eh? I'd better look that up... must admit, I thought I was reasonably safe from prosecution if I did the dismounting thing through a red (if done for safety reasons of course). But maybe the City Police know more.

    I'm sure lawyers know more too, but you can imagine the problem: ask two lawyers for an opinion, and you get two completely different invoices.

  45. As a pedestrian i'll cross any road or junction that is clear, and despite an ordinary bicycle being a 'vehicle', cannot see any reason why a cyclist cannot do the same through a red light as long as he/she doesn't do so in the path of oncoming traffic, and of course gives absolute priority to pedestrians.
    Providing a cyclist satisfies both these criteria and isn't in any danger doing so, the only real issue apart from the highway code is the jealousy of motorists stuck at the lights.
    As a motorist I hate sitting in queues - they suck big time - but that's no reason to hinder anyone's progress, whether they their feet touch ground or turn cranks.
    As a cyclist I sympathise with the guy in the episode recieving an on the spot fine for jumping red. Asked by the Officer why he did, his reply was simple - "There were no vehicles coming and no pedestrians about" - so when a motorist can get off with all but his conscience for knocking a cyclist off a bike, why on earth can a cyclist be fined for endangering nobody, not even himself?
    I suppose the obvious rant is, "Go catch some REAL criminals", but I guess as not all cyclists are faultless the Police have to be seen doing & all that...

    Glad I don't live in London though...Wrighty is only on Channel 5 up here near Manchester...who else followed the link, looked at his mug and thought AARRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

  46. all i can say is that i applaud the british
    for creating a helmet law i wear a helmet every day in fact the other day i bought a helmet from a garag sale and decided to wear it home
    the next thing you know im in a bicycle accident
    because the lady was talking on her cell phone and didnt see me. that helmet i think saved my butt let alone my head from being seriously injured so i would say to wear one everyday for some kinda of protection

  47. No, @mouse, Britain does not have any helmet laws. You are free to cycle unencumbered by helmets, chainmail, suits of armour or lead-lined radiation suits.

    Arguments in favour of helmets are often weak, anecdotal and unsupported by stats. So my grandfather was saved in the Great War when a sniper's bullet was deflected by his cigarette case; does that mean you should start smoking?

    I am anti-pro-helmet, and would vigorously resist any attempts to make helmet wearing mandatory.