Where are we going?

This article by John Franklin, chair of the Cycle Campaign Network (CCN) and author of Cyclecraft, appeared in a recent CCN newsletter. It struck a strong chord, so we thought you would also like to read it. What do you think? Letters welcome as always (by 9 March for publication).

The promotion of cycling is at a crucial stage. Just a year away from the 2002 target of the National Cycling Strategy, by which cycle use should have doubled from 1996, cycle use is actually seven per cent lower than in the base year. Now concern is mounting that the remaining target of quadrupling cycle use by 2010 may not just fail to be met, but fail spectacularly. The implications of this for continued political support for cycling cannot be overstated.

So where have we gone wrong? Is it all Government’s fault, the actions of the road lobby or motorists, or could it be that at least part of the problem lies in the strategies pursued by cyclists?

Without doubt we have succeeded in persuading Government that the promotion of cycling is a good thing. Most councils now have policies intended to encourage cycle use, and development plans commonly have to show that they have considered cyclists’ needs. But are those policies the right ones and is the perception of what cycling really needs correct?

Feedback from cyclists increasingly suggests that many don’t like what they’re getting, whether it be cycle facilities, traffic calming or expectations of where they should ride. Costly initiatives such as the new town-cycle-networks, urban demonstration schemes and the Gloucester Safer City project have not only failed to increase the number of cyclists but, in the opinion of many, have made conditions worse, a fact often reflected in casualty statistics. The National Cycle Network, too, has not led to any overall increase in cycle use despite the substantial sums invested and considerable publicity.

Cyclists within the professions put the blame on a lack of understanding about cycling, driven by the constant perception of cycling as ‘dangerous’ and therefore not compatible with traffic. Much of the emphasis on ‘danger’ and the need for ‘safe routes’ and special facilities (which de facto imply danger) has come from cycling organisations, yet as Malcolm Wardlaw demonstrated at the Autumn Cycling Campaign’s conference in Chesterfield, cycling is not by any reasonable standard a dangerous activity, whilst improved safety is much more likely to come from greater cycle use than the other way around.

It is all too clear that the general public now strongly associates cycling with danger, which must weigh heavily against its otherwise well-known benefits. As the Transport Research Laboratory has acknowledged, you don’t encourage people to cycle with messages about safety or danger.

Michael Jackson won this year’s Falco Lecture Prize with a paper Promoting bicycling as a normal part of a healthy lifestyle, in which he advocates advertising campaigns based on positive images. No other product would try to sell itself with negative associations, so why cycling?

A large majority at Chesterfield supported a view from the floor that it was time to move the emphasis from the ‘hardware’ to the ‘software’ in encouraging people to cycle. After all, even if the hardware was right (is this a realistic possibility?), would the software be programmed to accept the changes as sufficient?

So how is it best to boost cycling in the 21st century?

John Franklin

Stepping stones to a better cycling future, Malcolm Wardlaw

Promoting bicycling as a normal part of a healthy lifestyle, Michael Jackson