Bicycles won’t be a true part of the city until its made clear what UK cities could look like. Slow progress is a failure of the imagination as much as anything.
Ahead of any cyclist is a choice. Every ride is about the decision to be aggressive or safe; mundane or adventurous; challenging or relaxed. You’re not necessarily conscious of choosing the roads you do, but every journey is an exercise in imagination and it’s your ability to do that that influences the road you take.
The UK Government’s enquiry has begun listening to the voices of the country’s cycling community as it tries to decipher where to take cycling next. After listening to urgent warning after cautionary tale, it must be hard to ask why indeed more hasn’t already been done to champion cycling. As The Guardian puts it, the country needs commitment at the very highest level and what’s becoming apparent is that in these months, following what was a monumental year for the sport of cycling, could lie a unique opportunity to convince doubters that cycling could really become a much larger part of British culture.
But could it? It’s easy to see cyclists making a home for themselves in any environment – we’re remarkably hardy creatures really – but the kind of change in society that advocates are talking about is difficult to envisage. Maybe it’s the victim mentality, but the first thing that comes to mind when you conjure UK urban roads is struggle, strife and potholes.
We need to believe that that there’s a future where the current system seems as distant and distopian as Victorian workhouses. We need a vision.
In some respects you can look to the continent to get a taste of what roads look like where cyclists are less marginalised. More bicycles means a healthier populace, fewer traffic jams, greater representation for cyclists. Imagine the changes as an individual – a clearer commute, less luminous clothing and more coffee shops with bike racks outside. Businesses would start springing up to support the needs of cyclists, kids would be able to cycle to school and everyone would grow up understanding how to behave on the roads.
Selling cycling isn’t hard – or at least it wouldn’t be hard if it wasn’t for the weather and the occasionally terrifying roads. Selling the country on the idea of roads and cities and communities built for cycling is a different prospect.
Ahead of every cyclist is a choice and ahead of every person are decisions about what kind of place they want to live in. If advocates, institutions, government schemes – even Bradley Wiggins on a soapbox – can paint a convincing picture of this happy shiny future where cycling has a much bigger place in society, they will have a comparatively easier time gathering the support they need to make it a reality.
In the Netherlands one of the root influences behind the changes that they undertook as a society to promote cycling was that parents wanted their children to be able to get to school on their bikes in safety. The UK needs inspiring individuals to tap into that collective imagination of what the future of our cities could look like in order to have a real shot at getting people on their side.
If you liked this article, please subscribe to the &Bike Sunday Read newsletter – an exclusive, in-depth article every Sunday delivered to your inbox. Also, please share using the widgets below. Finally, we’d love to hear your views, either through the comments section or via email.