Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad
This morning it was revealed that the department for transport (DfT) is going to be injecting the largest ever lump sum investment into the UK cycling infrastructure. The kitty will total £63 million with about half of that to be set aside for city councils to improve their streets for cyclists. Another element of this redevelopment project will be to spend £9 million expanding and improving the bicycle parking facilities at train stations all around the country. This can be taken as a genuine attempt by the government to get more people to take up the dual mode commute of bike and train. Better still the DfT seem eager to get rid of the cash: “We are keen to get a move on. The intention is to spend it as soon as possible” said the DfT junior minister Norman Baker, the popularly styled ‘Minister for Cycling’ who is behind the project. Never a truer word has been said when you consider that the UK has as many cyclists per capita as some of the more lowly (no offense intended) EU nations such as Malta, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
It looks as if the government are trying to improve our woeful cycling statistics by building on the cycling successes that we enjoyed as a nation in 2012. Even if you consider the Lance Armstrong story a negative one it has certainly given the sport a profile a boost all the same. Getting back to the honest, worthwhile cyclists it can be said without doubt that we have been galvanised to get back in the saddle by the achievements of Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott, Chris Hoy and most of all Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins being the first and only Brit to win the Tour de France which is not only the biggest event in the cycling calendar it is also the world’s most popular annual sporting event and, in my eyes, the toughest test of endurance to be found anywhere in the world of sport. As such he was awarded the special responsibility of opening the London Games 2012 before going on to become Britain’s most decorated Olympian for a grand total of four days until Chris Hoy took the accolade.
Even though the cycling associations are enjoying higher membership numbers than ever before the question still remains: why do only 2.2% of Brits consider the bike their main mode of transport. This question is especially pertinent when you consider that in places like the Netherlands and Denmark almost a third of all journeys are completed by bicycle. It is true that these places are flat insofar as the biggest hill you will encounter in Amsterdam is the gentle camber of a canal bridge. I however don’t buy the topography argument, I think that it is down to attitude, more importantly it is the attitude of the four wheeled road users that put off many willing cyclist in the UK. Being able to park your bike at the station is great but what if the local drivers don’t treat you with the respect that they would a motorised road user? What’s the use of a cycle lane when people think that it’s fine to park right across them? The main thing preventing commuters getting on their bike is the attitude of drivers and the danger that they feel because of this inherent lack of respect. George Orwell would have put it something like this: All road users are equal but some road users are more equal than others. How are we going to get drivers to give cyclists the space, respect and acknowledgement that their fellow road user deserves? Only when this happens we will feel safe enough to get on our bikes and catch up with the rest of Europe.