Been reading a couple of blog posts about bike advocacy recently. Firstly an uncharacteristically downbeat post by Bike Snob NYC on David Byrne’s role. Rather a depressing read, essentially it seems to argue that the bike is not a viable form of transport because we can’t all live and work in gentrified Manhattan. Secondly a thought provoking post by Karl McCraken questioning whether if to effect change cycling advocates should abandon widescale action and focus on winning gains in small areas of towns and cities.
Personally I am convinced by Karl’s analysis and unconvinced by Bike Snob. In terms of changing the culture, small areas with flourishing active travel modes demonstrate that there is a possible alternative future and celebrity endorsement works. We may all know that unlike David Byrne we need to commute daily but cycling has suffered for too long with a ‘bicycle clips and plastic mac’ image.
But changing the culture is not enough, changing our approach to the built environment has to happen for those who might feel warm to cycling to put it into practice. My cycling commute is 34 miles a day. Most people don’t want to do that. Hey there are some days I don’t want to do that. I do it at the moment because I know I am investing in fitness for the summer. Cycling is part of my life and it is more than a transport choice. So I am atypical. Now consider the person who just wants to get to work. Let’s say 5 miles is a reasonable maximum one way trip for someone like that. Then where they live and where they work becomes critical. If they work in a business park built in green belt just off Junction 37 of the M1 the likelihood that it is an easy, five mile max, cycle commute from where they live is lower than if the office is in the centre of a town. If they live in a new housing estate in Stocksbridge even if their workplace is in the centre of Sheffield it is not a likely commute. 600 new homes approved, 10 miles from the centre of Sheffield, how many extra cars on the already cyclist unfriendly A616 as a result? We need to be tougher on what gets built where, so that people who want to adopt sustainable and active travel modes can readily do so. Changing the culture so they want to is not enough.
And while we are tightening up the rules on what gets built where we need to tighten the rules about what counts as good development. When Sheffield Council can refuse planning permission for a small supermarket because there is no car parking and argue parking on the road is potentially a problem, they are still thinking that accommodating the car is the answer. It isn’t, we need more small supermarkets so people aren’t tempted to get into their cars in the first place.
With the first closely run general election in nearly 20 years it will be interesting to see if politicians have the appetite for the difficult truth that some freedoms (such as for an unpolluted atmosphere) come with an associated price tag of restrictions.