Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free Money for Cycling

Free money for cycling?

According to the report, "Any community group or organisation can apply for funding from the Community Cycling Fund for London, which can be spent on bicycles, training and other necessities to promote cycling in your neighbourhood".

Sounds good huh?

Two problems with this.

First problem. LCC is administering this grant. The money comes variously either from the government (such as TfL), or organizations with close links to the government (National Lottery). This subverts the LCC's ability to campaign against government policy, because the government can use the (implied, unstated) threat of withdrawal of funds as a stick to keep LCC in line. You gotta know who your daddy is. Particularly as some active LCC folks are involved in the bike industry and benefit directly or indirectly from these funds. In other words, there is a conflict of interest being generated.
Now I am not for a moment saying there is anything corrupt going on, or questioning the good intentions or integrity of anyone involved. I am just pointing out the political landscape of the situation.
You can draw parallels with the situation at Sustrans, as documented here and here. For that matter, the same situation exists at CTC. Is it a coincidence that LCC and CTC unite in their strategy of pretending that everything in the garden is rosy, and we just need a bit of training to get more people on bikes or subsidise bikes, do a bit of marketing showing happy people cycling and then the safety-in-numbers effect will magically make the roads safe? The only people who seem to be pointing out the parlous state of cycling infrastructure and the dangers to cyclists are bloggers like that whingeing Waltham Forest bloke .

Which leads into the second problem. Training without attractive, safe, continuous infrastructure that enables people to cycle to where they want to go - the shops, library, swimming pool, for example - won't result in more people cycling. At least, the effect won't last long.

Changing people's habits is very, very difficult. It seems to me obvious that if you want people to leave their cars at home and use their bikes more, you need to make cycling very attractive. You need to make motoring unattractive too, but that is politically difficult to do.

The real danger with the 'marketing over substance' approach is this:

1. You get a bunch of new cyclists cycling.
2. They discover that the attractive cycle routes where they live don't actually go anywhere much before they soon turn into unattractive normal roads, with lots of traffic.
3. They have one or two near misses.
4. They quit cycling.
5. They tell other people how scary it is.

Does that sound unduly pessimistic?

Well, I've been keeping a diary for the last three months or so of my near misses. I've had about a dozen in that time. Now I like to think that, as an experienced cyclist who knows London road conditions pretty well, and has in the past driven vans and ridden motorcycles, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect out there. I've had the training and the experience to anticipate and avoid dangerous situations like passing up the inside of lorries. Also, I deliberately avoid busy roads and tune my routes for safety rather than speed. I don't think I scare easily. What I mean by a near miss is, a situation where a driver has done something obviously dangerous/illegal and physically threatening. Cut me up, pulled out in front of me, passed very close to me. The kind of thing that would really scare a novice cyclist. So, again, a dozen near misses in three months - is that enough to put a novice off cycling?

Maybe I'm just unlucky.

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