Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cycle Infrastructure: The Wrong Path

A planned cycle path in Gloucestershire looks like the paradigm of what is wrong with cycle infrastructure management in the UK.

1. It sounds like a fantastic path, following a disused railway line, and will accomodate all non-motorized users.

2. It is funded, at least in part, by the National Lottery charitable funds.

3. A Parish Council has voted against the scheme due to "increased parking issues and maintenance costs".

Why is cycling infrastructure funded by charity? Road building isn't funded by charity, neither are the railways or the buses. They're all subsidized through taxes.

Parking issues? This is a bike path! Ironic, isn't it, that an attempt to provide sustainable alternatives to the car is being opposed because of problems caused by...the car. Isn't it strange how virtually anything that will attract the public is a problem because of "parking issues". This attitude is transference. The cycle path isn't the problem; the problem is cars. We cannot allow "parking issues" to be a blanket veto on doing anything worthwhile. We either need to allow that people are free to drive their cars anywhere they like and accept the consequences, or we need to restrict that freedom, or we need to provide alternatives. Right now, we're doing none of these things at a national policy level; as a result, people at a local level are left to clear up the resulting mess.
People don't see a safe and economically-viable alternative to using their cars. That in turn would be partly because cycle infrastructure is so laughably inadequate. There are a large number of people who regard cycling as loading their family's bikes onto the back of their 4x4 and driving to somewhere that has a safe, off-road bike path. They wouldn't dream of cycling anywhere on a road, because it's not safe. But if someone builds a bike path where they live, they'll have other people's 4x4s clogging up their street and they surely to goodness don't want that.
If there were more decent bike paths, people might not feel the need to drive 50 miles in their 4x4 with the bike rack on the back. Then we wouldn't need to spend a fortune sorting out the parking and congestion problems that result.
The London bike hire scheme has proved that people want to cycle. Yet successive goverments have succeeded in squashing this desire through chronic underinvestment. And what they've saved on not providing cycle facilities, they've spent on the health consequences of the nation's sedentary lifestyle: England is now the 4th most obese country in the world with Scotland at No. 2.

And why is path maintenance cost an issue? No-one is protesting about the humungous cost of maintaining roads. Why is this path not maintained out of the same budget as roads maintenance? Simple. Because cycling is the Cinderella of transport, relying on charity. The ugly sisters have rolled up at the ball in their stretch limos, leaving the engines running while they eat all the canapes. And the fairy godmother has turned into Philip Hammond, so there's no happy ending.


  1. We have commented on this proposal in Bristol Traffic - you are free to use our photos provided we get credit.

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