Maybe it’s the sign of post-holiday season jadedness, but this constant chatter about the ‘cycling revolution’ is ageing fast…
If you believed everything you read, you’d have been in for a shock last week when you got back in the saddle for the first dreary commutes of the year, only to find that cycle lanes weren’t wider, motorists still cut you up and that Bradley Wiggins didn’t appear in a puff of fairy dust to help you out when you got that flat.
No-one has been foolhardy enough to suggest that cycling has somehow become the mainstream mode of transport in the UK – but the idea that 2012 was some kind of ‘year of cycling’, thanks to countless op-eds and pieces off the back of sales figures or Olympic excitement that opined how 2012 was the year where the British people not only realised they loved cycling, but that they were going to do something about it.
But there are gaps in the thinking here. There are gaps between the enthusiasm for cycling and the willingness and practical ability of a populace to get a bike and ride it frequently; there are gaps between the growth of cycling clubs and the packs of racers that fly round parks and the creation of a society where everyone can and will take up cycling; there are gaps between the perception that cycling on this great journey of activity and progress and the reality of botched programmes and conflicting interest.
Feeling deflated? Try this on for size: cycling on the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN) is forecast to have fallen in 2012 for the first time since 2001/2. That’s not to say that the number of journeys taken in London necessarily took a dive, or that those forecasts spell out a decline for the rest of the country, but it’s enough to undermine some of that rosy thinking that’s been fogging our judgment. In so many ways 2012 was a great year, but let’s lose this talk of revolution for the moment.
The real problem here with the idea of a revolution is that it doesn’t capture in any sense my experience, and I suspect many of your own experiences, of cycling on a day-to-day basis. Jackie Ashley talks about cyclists taking over Richmond Park as though it were some kind of proto-transport network, but it’s such a divergent world from 99% of the roads and streets of the capital.
You might read an article about where cycling is going next and what great things our Bradley is up to over a morning cup of coffee and then it’s on to the pothole-ridden streets to do battle. Your experience might well be like mine: I don’t see change and I haven’t seen change in years of cycling – beyond, perhaps, Boris bikes. You might see more cyclists, depending on where you are, but is that reflected in changes in the law? Better roads? Better drivers? Better cyclists?
In some instances, there has been change, but when you’re forced to look at how far the personal experience is divorced from the rhetoric and the general discussion in the media around cycling…well, reality bites.
Statistics, opinions from journalists that have taken a trip to Richmond Park, politicians paying all kinds of lip service to cycling: I’m looking forward to the day when I stop hearing about the positive changes in cycling and start seeing them.
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