This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 100.
Since 1995, the Campaign has been working hard to promote cycling, mainly by providing feedback on planning applications and infrastructure projects. An energetic and knowledgeable team has worked on this over the years. It is for others to judge our work, but when I joined the Campaign as the co-ordinator recently, I felt very proud to be part of this group. Today, we all ride the roads and paths and bridges that increasingly accommodate all road users. Of course, much still remains to be done. The Campaign also established a great standard of consensus as a group, avoiding the tensions and conflicts so often seen in volunteer groups.
In his contribution (in the next article), Paul Robison has spelled out three main reasons why we are engaged in this cause. He speaks about our individual motivations for engaging in bike advocacy, he speaks of the stomach, of the things that make us tick from deep down below. He touches upon the public health benefits for cycling, but they don’t make his list of motivators.
Looked at from a strategic perspective, the argument for the health benefits of cycling is indeed a powerful card. It may not figure among the personal motivations he lists, but it is a mighty strong argument on the political level. Health costs are fast getting out of control, every weekend our streets offer the depressing spectacle of our gathering obesity epidemic, the generation now growing up will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents, and yes, even the American military has issued warnings that the declining fitness in the population is posing a threat to national security. True, we are not in the business of keeping the nation fit for war, but we are in a very privileged position to help our community find alternatives to the motorised forces producing the epidemic of a passive lifestyle. Theoretically, we have won all the arguments. Now our political strategy is to aggressively promote cycling as the healthy choice.
In recent years I have been involved in bike advocacy in sunny California. The local rhetoric tends to be a bit shriller over there: issues often present themselves with the absolute urgency of immediate salvation. This may not be quite the style of the old country, but I still believe that a health-focused agenda has a mighty ring. Everybody can object to a special interest group, but who would argue against health? The right to health is indeed a human right, and those who stand in the way of healthy choices, stand in the way of, well, humanity. But how can we present our option with the same loudness and the same sophistication as all the car manufacturers together?
Once it was proved that cigarettes harm those nearby, the end of smoking did suddenly come into sight. Once we have convinced the public that the car is actually making us sick, and that there are real financial costs associated with this, perhaps the miracle of the non-smoking movement will be ready for a replay. Once a movement has achieved a certain momentum, it becomes unstoppable. Our job now is to work towards this point of no return.
Earlier in the year some of us were involved in discussion about the ‘Cycling Dismount’ signage. It was news to some people that these blue signs only have the status of a recommendation, even if their grammar resembles a command. The general public, as managed by the local newspaper, was quick to depict cyclists as a bunch of moaning nutters who wanted their traffic signage with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. The public, at least that part which engages with the local press, clearly has not got the message that in our communities the car has become a massive public health problem, for which the bicycle is the universal remedy.
But where is the magic wand? How can we make it happen? When a few people come together to construct something they believe in, they can achieve amazing results. If you were thinking you should get involved, if you wanted to do something amazing, meaningful, together, then I do have news for you. We have an entire suitcase of projects which need people to carry them forward. Manpower, womanpower, enthusiasm, expertise, time and all the rest: bring it to us and help our organisation to reach the next level. First up: a Volunteer Organiser.
Once we have a Volunteer Organiser in place, we can open our suitcase of un-cycled projects: educating bus drivers to the needs of cyclists (Oxford has set the precedent), inviting the taxi companies to a dialogue about sharing the road, working with local schools, educating cyclists on how to share the road with cars, recycling abandoned bicycles, developing a new website, working with employers to offer bike services, educating our elected officials by inviting them to (Dutch or Danish) places where cycling has radically improved life in the community, creating a sense of celebration and pride among local cyclists, documenting the local history of cycling, working with artists to create a meaningful reflection about cycling, challenging the colleges and the universities to be heard in the conversations about transportation and health, documenting over-ranking taxis with video, addressing the local resentment which depicts us as moaners and nutters, working with legal professionals to reduce future collisions, publishing profiles and stories of local cyclists, and much more.
Nothing in our suitcase for you? Well, then show us the project buried in your suitcase. You know how to find us. The magic is when people come together.
Michael Cahn, Co-ordinator