BOARDMAN NEEDS TO WISE UP
HERE’S some advice for cycling campaigners, such as Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman. He and the rest of them, including Cycling UK’s policy and campaigns director Roger Geffen, are banging their heads against brick walls in frustration and confusion at the government’s low-level of funding for cycling.
They need to read transport journalist Christian Wolmar’s latest book: “Are Trams Socialist – why Britain has no transport policy.”+
Then they might better understand what direction their campaigning needs to take. Then they might understand why the government appears on the one hand to support a cycling strategy while on the other quite clearly they do not . For in his book Wolmar reveals the thinking that has guided government thinking on transport ever since the first trams started to run, and how when cars arrived, the freedom they promised was received with what seemed to me a fervour bordering on fundamental fanaticism which you challenge at your peril.
The consultation period for the walking and cycling strategy is unlikely to result in an increase in funding. No surprise there. According to The Devil’s Dictionary by American journalist Ambrose Pierce, published at the turn of the 19th century, to consult means:
“To seek another’s approval of a course already decided on.”
It is all so predictable. Yet cycling campaigners don’t appear to realise this, even though every attempt to persuade government to give serious consideration to cycling has got nowhere in the 40 years I have reported on this scene.
As well as poor funding for this latest valiant strategy, the government has further handicapped progress by insisting that the walking and cycling strategy is for Local Authorities to put in place, not the government, when everyone, including the government itself, knows that this is way beyond LA’s expertise.
So it’s all double talk. Government may say they like the idea but then they place obstacles in its path to prevent anything coming of it.
The question is why?
The answer comes in Wolmar’s book which provides a fresh perspective into successive government’s laissez-faire attitude to transport, the unwritten policy of non-interference.
Basically, governments have for decades been under the influence of the motoring lobby and will do nothing to upset them. That means they do not want to see any transport development perceived as a threat to car driving.
That means no integrated transport, no national cycling strategy, whatever they may say to the contrary. We have all felt this was the case.
Wolmar’s book provides the evidence.
There’s a good chapter on cycling which Wolmar, who worked for Cycling England, pioneering small but effective town cycling development until it was disbanded by the Conservatives, begins by saying: “Nowhere is the failure of coherent thinking on transport more apparent than in relation to cycling.”
Wolmar provides a clear explanation of this. It is entertainingly written but grim reading all the same. And he spells out why British transport policy has been, still is, in mess.
One reviewer says Wolmar “captures the intellectual bankruptcy” of British transport policy. Another calls the book a clarion call for change; for proper funding of cycle networks and describes it as “required reading for any transport minister.”
To which I may add it is also essential reading for any cycling campaigner and in particular for Chris Boardman, British Cycling’s policy advisor, and Roger Geffen, Cycling UK’s policy and campaigns director, who are both lobbying government.
Once it is understand what cycling is up against, these two guys will need to recalibrate to expose the government’s great lie.
They will need to tackle the PM head on and then go public.
Then we might be getting somewhere, instead of going round and round in circles, trying to impress on government all the benefits that a healthier cycling nation will bring.
They know all this. Individual MPs, the good guys, they care. But they don’t care at Cabinet level.
Parliament gave its whole hearted support for the Get Britain Cycling Report which led them – obliged them! - to come up with the walking and cycling strategy.
We know that Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed the report. And that he then declined to give it cabinet backing.
Asked why, he said it was for the Local Authorities to do the work even though he must know that Local Authorities have made a pig’s ear of cycling development over the years, paths too narrow, too short, on pavements where they mostly should not be; lampposts and bus shelters in the middle of them.
The LAs, for the most part, have shown they neither have the expertise nor the political will to put a co-ordinated cycling network in place. And if they did, they haven’t got any money.
We know that the government were advised that their walking and cycling strategy would need funding to the order of £500m a year. Yet they awarded a miserable £300m spread across three years! This equates to a drop in the already very low level of spending per head of population (England) from £1.50 to £1. In Holland it is in the region of £24.
Boardman, speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group‘s inquiry into the government’s commitment to cycling this week, said: “It is simply not possible to make cycling the ‘natural choice’ for short journeys by investing less than £1 per head – less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
British Cycling described the level of funding as “laughingly low”.
In my view, after reading Wolmar’s marvellous tome, it seems to be me that the government is shit scared of being seen to promote a cycling strategy on the admirable Dutch scale for fear of it being perceived as a move against car culture.
Ever since society was liberated by the private car successive governments have supported and encouraged car owners in the belief that they can drive anywhere whenever they want.
It’s not just cycling development which has been held back, it’s the whole idea of an integrated transport system in Britain as a whole, offering real choice to suit different needs, bringing a better balance which would, ironically, reduce the jams for those choosing to drive!
And why? Because of the inherent fear peculiar to British politicians that an integrated national transport strategy will be perceived as tampering with the great freedom the car has bestowed on society – the belief that you can drive when and where you want.
That’s what I take from reading Wolmar’s book.
As it stands, no UK government will dare to do anything that will almost certainly be misconstrued as being anti-car.
How can they be persuaded that a cycling strategy is not anti-car, its pro bike?
ARE TRAMS SOCIALIST – WHY BRITAIN HAS NO TRANSPORT POLICY.
£8.99 (including free P&P within UK)
Published by London Publishing Partnership,
Unit 212, Bon Marche Centre, 241-251 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BJ.