Thursday 14 November 2013

Cambridge Cycle Campaigning 2034

Indulge me if you will. This is a speculative piece about what we'll be saying in 2034, assuming we continue with the kind of crap we're seeing on our roads now. Its a worst case scenario, or at least approaching that - its a warning against cheering on the kind of crap we're offered. 


Looking back at cycling in the UK since I first started this blog, I'd like to be able to say now where it all went wrong but, really, thats rather difficult. What is viewed as a great heyday for cycling back in 2020 was really nothing of the sort, and what we now call 'peak bike' was just a demographic passing through at the time. A now dispirited, angry, ageing demographic.

I think we laid the foundations for our failure back in 2012-2015. Thats when we needed to hit harder - numbers were on the up and campaigners talked about a 'cycling revolution' happening in London and in other major cities. Even then, Government projections were for cycling to fall (as it has done) in the intervening time, but at least then there were a few scraps of money given our way to improve facilities - we needed to fight harder to get what we really needed.

While the Dutch were going further and further with fully segregated infrastructure, we remained static. In Cambridge, key battles we lost were at the Catholic Church junction, Perne Road and Cowley Road (2012, 2013 and 2014) - more of the same old crap was branded as 'high quality' and we didn't do enough to challenge that. In London investment in 'cycle superhighways' dried up a little later after accusations that they were unsafe, and the project failed to deliver a meaningful rise in cycling. Specific investment was frittered away on nonsense that barely benefited us at all - as a result cycling in Cambridge continued to stagnate outside of the city centre. Cycling 'facilities' that were too awful to contemplate simply weren't used, these useless routes (such as the shared use facilities that were briefly put in around the Perne Road roundabout) became known as Curtis Ways (named for the head of what was then the County Council in charge of roads in Cambridgeshire who famously stated that the County could not go 'all the way' for cycling at the Catholic Church Junction); this became synonymous with wasted money, with councillors angrily cutting budgets in response to the widely predicted failures of these schemes. 

Ironically, although we said these changes would fail to increase the number of cyclists, and while we complained at the misappropriation of cycling funds for them, their failure was used as evidence that the whole idea of cycling facility investment was a waste. The failure of bad schemes was proof that good schemes couldn't work - and yes, it does take an unwholesomely stupid set of councillors to come to that decision. This was the era of the Tories running scared of UKIP.

As a result funds dried up by 2020; not just in Cambridge, but across most of the UK. While numbers of cyclists remained buoyant in London and Cambridge a little longer than elsewhere, we've been in a slow decline ever since.

Looking overseas, in stark contrast with the UK we see that the Netherlands and Denmark in particular, through continued investment in cycling, have remained among the healthiest, slimmest nations in the developed world while our former obesity 'epidemic' became the 'health crisis' we see now. We're living shorter, less healthy lives than our parents - with obesity due to inactivity linking in with the harm caused by ever worse smog around our cities killing more now than even smoking did in the 20th century. 

So where are we now? We're suffering the result of generations of failure - we still know what needs to be done but we're fighting an ever harder battle against a population for whom active travel is no longer even a thing. We're now battling against a population whose parents and grandparents simply didn't walk or cycle - even the bad cycle lanes we had have mostly reverted to car parking because even our police forces don't want to enforce parking, its too unpopular with people who only see the world through their windscreens.

The solution? Sadly most have voted with their feet. Or, rather, their ever more obese arses - cycling is now a niche activity even in Cambridge, policed by angry motorists who are willing to enforce their hate on us at every opportunity, a practice effectively condoned by police inactivity. As our climate tumbles out of control, token efforts of cyclists to do the right thing are viewed with even more hostility by a populace in denial of the harm they're doing to themselves, each other, and the world about them.

Where next? God only know.


  1. I think this sort of situation is coming:

    1. Yup, we're there. I hear that today the Met were stopping cyclists in London and telling them to wear hi-viz and helmets. While ignoring the problems that have in the last fortnight killed half a dozen cyclists in London.

  2. My own personal opinion is that in 20 years time cycling will be on the increase and motoring on the decrease, not from any great triumph in campaigning or governmental change of heart, but simply because petrol will becoming scarce and it will become prohibitively expensive to drive a private automobile.

    1. Maybe. Although if reserves of shale gas and oil in tar sands prove to be as big as some fear, 'peak oil' may be further off than anyone had thought.