Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's wrong with the London Cycling Campaign?

I like this Crap Waltham Forest blog. It's well written and raises a lot of important issues. But I'm not sure its criticism of LCC is justified.

The thing is, the LCC is the only game in town. Could the LCC do some things better? Probably. Could the LCC have more effect with a more hard-line strategy? I'm not so sure. There is no point in making a lot of noise if no-one is listening. The media, and the general public are at best pretty ambivalent about cycling and they don't really 'get' the idea that something needs to be done to change the transport status quo. Shouting a lot about the Netherlands won't change that. Being right simply isn't enough. The cold, hard reality, which political parties understand only too well, is that media strategy is key.

In my view, it is political will that is lacking. All political parties in England today slavishly follow public opinion. They don't want to upset 'Middle England'. Good politics should be about leading public opinion, in the knowledge that real change will always meet with resistance. We need someone with vision, and the political means to make the vision a reality. We've had 12 years of a government that claimed to be in favour of changing the balance of transport policy, but never followed through on the promise. I don't see that the LCC could have done much about that.

So what of Boris Johnson, the Superhighways and the Cycle Hire Scheme? It is easy to see the flaws in these schemes: the Superhighways are not much more than a blue makeover of existing cycle lanes, and Cycle Hire provides bikes but nowhere (well alright, nowhere safe) to ride them.
But here's the thing - flawed they may be, but they will generate cycle journeys, and they will generate media interest. And what may, just may, happen is the following: people will die on the Superhighways. Tourists will die on hire bikes. That will make the news. There'll be an outcry over the carnage, there'll be finger-pointing and safe cycle routes could become the flavour of the month.


  1. So you think the unstated strategy is to encourage more people to cycle to generate more cyclist deaths and injuries to galvanise public demand for safer streets?

    I've begun to suspect much the same of Bristol's Cycling City project. But isn't it a horribly cynical strategy, akin to the First World War strategy of sending young men over the top into the enemy machine gun fire?

  2. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a strategy...just an unintended consequence.
    I suppose the counter-argument to that accusation would be that cyclists live longer than non-cyclists, so even with more cycle crashes there's a net gain.
    There's a 'body count' approach to road safety generally - it takes a pattern of accidents in one place to get a speed camera put in, so I suppose there's no reason for us to expect cycling to be treated differently....

  3. But shouldn't we expect road safety altogether to be treated differently? Personally I can hardly believe the apathy that exists to the horrific toll of deaths and serious injuries on our streets. If the same level of attrition arose from say train travel or terrorism there would be outrage. Why is it acceptable on our streets when caused by motor vehicles?

  4. I haven't got a clue...there seems to be an inverse relationship between how many people die and how much is spent on improving safety...
    Maybe there should be a Wooton Bassett for road crash victims?