Space4cycling Shows How Campaigning Works
There is something happening in the UK cycling scene at present that deserves greater scrutiny; a groundswell of popular cycling opinion, a heart-felt movement that is gaining traction all the time. It started with a whisper just a few years ago, and has grown in to a national movement that shows no sign of slowing down.
I'm talking about the wave of bike protests that have swept across the UK recently, that are lead by a more combative and vocal group of cycling campaigns. As recently as 2010 the London Cycling Campaign were so meek in their aspirations, and so unclear in what they actually stood for, I seriously questioned on this blog whether they were even pro-cycle lanes or not. Since then the LCC executed the massively successful "Go Dutch" campaign which saw 20,000 cyclists on the streets in protest and secured serious commitments from the Mayor which led to his pledge to spend nearly ONE BILLION pounds over the next ten years making London safer and more inviting for cyclists. The substantially separated Cycle Superhighway 2 extension, from Bow roundabout to Stratford, will open in the next few weeks, taking away a lane of traffic and giving it over to safe space for cycling.
Meanwhile, against a backdrop of regular deaths and serious injuries endured by cyclists beneath the wheels of HGVs, persistent lobbying, letter writing and picketing by all of our cycling campaigns has led to announcements that Transport for London and the Department for Transport will create a central London "safe lorry zone" to crack down on rogue and dangerous operators.
British Cycling asked all of its nearly 80,000 members to get behind its calls for sentencing guidelines to be reviewed, following a spate of cycle deaths that had led to paltry convictions. The Government listened and have pledged to conduct a full review of the judiciary early next year.
Following the excellent efforts of everyone behind the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have created cycling manifestos for the next general election, and the Government have been keen to point out they have pledged millions to cycling schemes nationwide.
In short, campaigning works.
And now, bouyed with confidence and with the sense that change is achievable, cycle protests are sweeping the UK. In London, we had flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge in 2011, the massive "Go Dutch" rally in 2012, and a series of space4cycling demonstrations where cyclists have been killed in Holborn and Aldgate, and on Westminster, each of which has attracted thousands of participants. In Scotland, two "pedal on parliament" rallies to the Scottish government saw thousands on the streets. And the "space4cycling" message seems to really resonate, with copycat rides taking place in Manchester, Birmingham and even motor-centric Reading in recent weeks.
For years there have been hard-working but misguided members of the cycle campaigning fraternity who have felt the best path forward is to tread meekly, to ask quietly and to not dare to dream too big. Just last week long-standing cycling journalist and industry elder Cartlon Reid proposed in the Guardian that it would be easier - and quicker - to wait for all cars to become automated and computer controlled than to campaign for the traffic restraint schemes, investment, cycle training and quality cycling infrastructure that our Dutch neighbours share (as if riding amongst many thousands of computer-conrolled tonnes of machinery would be any less unpleasent than cycling among heavy traffic is at present)
But the internet is steadily sweeping this kind of thinking aside, and encouraging people to believe they can actually play a part in change themselves. ("Yes we can!" said Obama, "Hope, not Cope!" says I.) They've seen how the Dutch got their cycle paths and are seeking to emulate the experience here in the UK. They've seen how advocates in the US are taming the streets of New York and feel like our own cities are falling behind. They've seen how Londoners out on the streets are having a direct effect on policy and cycle spending, and want the same where they live.
Campaigning works, but only when people care enough to get involved. For many years on ibikelondon we've said we should each be the change we'd like to see, but the need now for more people to get involved is more apparent than ever before. Because whilst the protests and campaigns are gaining traction, the forces arrayed against creating more cycle-friendly streets are as prevalent as ever. Funding cuts, the motor lobby, hackneyed and downright dangerous road design schemes divert our attention. Indeed, Cyclists In The City blog recently identified 5 major proposed road design schemes that seek - either through ignorance or downright spite - to squeeze out cycling. Meanwhile, at the Judiciary, drivers who kill or hurt cyclists are let off with alarming and downright depressing regularity. And at Government level the recent cash that has been pledged is most welcome, but not nearly enough to really make a difference.
The passion and protests on the streets this summer have been a fantastic start to real change, but they need to be followed up with many hours of behind-the-scenes campaigning. Whether it is with London Cycling Campaign, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Sustrans or British Cycling your local cycling campaign needs you. It is time to roll up our sleeves!