Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Referendum

Referendum disaster
AN earthquake in the UK takes my attention this week, which has pushed cycling and related transport matters to the back burner.
I refer, of course, to the public referendum  when 17 million UK citizens shocked the world with a demonstration of what many consider an act of twisted political logic and xenophobic madness by voting for the UK to leave the European Union. So  we are bound to ask,  what next can they do for Britain?
They may have  turned their backs to the world and caused some to remark  that we should never underestimate the power of the stupid, but that is to ignore their other qualities.
The migration crisis was clearly their concern. And they are right, the EU has failed to deal with this worsening crisis made worse to their minds no thanks to
a virulent right wing press winding everyone up with its distorted headlines and lies about millions of bad people coming to the UK.
However,  notwithstanding all of that, how can we now put this untapped source of political and economic excellence to further use?
How can we get them to pool their brilliant minds to do the work normally left to the politicians and experts they clearly think incapable.

Such as relieving them of the tiresome business of renegotiating all the deals  EU membership has bestowed on the UK but which will be lost now, thanks to the Leavers.

Where to begin:

Let`s not trouble the Leavers with Chancellor George Osborne’s threat to levy £30bn in benefit cuts - not to mention solving the NHS waiting list crisis by privatising the NHS thereby making it unaffordable for most.

Instead, here a few more mundane issues which may need to be sorted.

1.     How do the Leavers envisage securing around 3.5million British jobs directly linked to British membership of the EU’s single market – that is 1 in 10 British jobs?

2.     How will they  secure the 50 per cent of UK exports to other 27 EU countries – over 300,000 British countries operate in EU markets?

3.     How will the Leavers renegotiate trade agreements with the rest of world which are currently made through the EU?

4.     How will they ensure that British families continue to enjoy lower mobile phone roaming charges, lower credit card fees, cheaper flights and proper compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled – all benefits secured through the EU.

5.     How will they secure the commonly agreed EU environmental standards which have led to improvements in air quality, cleaner rivers and cleaner beaches?
6.  How can the Leavers assure the 1.4 million British people who live abroad in the EU that they may continue to access health care currently available through EU membership? Plus, how will they reassure the 2.9m foreign nationals living and working in the UK that they won`t lose the rights assured them under EU.

7.      How can the Leavers assure  UK students they can still benefit from the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange scheme – over 14,500 UK students did so  in 2012-13 .

8.     How will the Leavers continue to drive their cars when they go to Europe, if the driving licences issued in the UK are no longer valid throughout the EU.

9.     How will the Leavers assure that rights on equal pay for men and women -  enshrined in EU law - will continue under Tory rule?

10.                        How will they renegotiate the European Arrest Warrant which enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries?

That’s enough home work to be going on.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Cycling UK - the magazine not their website

In the previous post I say there is no political cycling comment in Cycling UK's preview of Bike Week and this refers to the magazine, not the website.
Today's Cycling UK website includes a news piece covering the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's (APPCG) annual  ride in London as part of Bike Week.  The ride coincided with the report of their inquiry into the Government's draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) published on Wednesday which is entitled: "Stuck in first gear - the Government's Cycling Revolution".
Their report sets out the cross-party's recommendations to "strengthen "  the Government's "ambition" for the future of cycling and walking. The report makes eight recommendations, including the need for greater investment.
And like every other call urging Government properly to fund cycling, it will be totally ignored.

blog 11

The Prime Minister wants a cycling revolution

so give him one.

My rant in last week’s blog saying that our two top cycling campaigners  Roger Geffen of Cycling UK (formerly CTC)  and Chris Boardman of British Cycling “need to wise up” didn’t go down well with Geffen and he promptly took me to task.

Geffen said. “I have to say that I didn’t learn very much from that.”

And then proceeded tersely to put me right, saying they did get Cameron to commit to cycling in the CWIS (Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy).

OK. Very good. But so what?   Because what Cameron said wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on.

I had called for cycling’s campaigners to get a grip of Prime Minister David Cameron over the derisory government funding for the walking and cycling strategy.  

I had invited Geffen  and Boardman - who I cannot reach - to read my blog which was based on a review of
Christian Wolmar’s book “Are Trams Socialist – why Britain has no transport policy”.

Wolmar’s story is an eye-opener, especially as, in the view of one reviewer, cycling has suffered the most because of it.

As every different mode of transport came into the spotlight – first the canals way back in the 18th century, then the trams, the railways, the roads, and air travel, never has government applied any strategy to guide development. 

Planning permission and funding had to be sought, but never has government imposed a strategy aimed at getting the best out of each of them.

So it was that roads were designed in the first instance with only drivers in mind, with the needs of pedestrians as an afterthought.

Other than those early cycle lanes put alongside new dual carriageways 80 years ago – which had no rights of way at side roads and dumped cyclists back on the main road at roundabouts – the needs of cyclists were never considered.

Given that this ad-hoc approach to transport development has been consistent for over 200 years, how realistic is it to expect a national cycling and walking strategy to be given anything other than token support?

This is endemic. We can go on about the cost benefits until we are blue in the face, government listens but does not hear.

And I made the point that the cycling world should be making a song and dance about this – just as Wolmar’s book does.

Because government backing for cycling is now lower than ever.

And set to get lower still, as Geffen reminded me.

“The Government’s funding allocations for walking and cycling is going in the opposite direction: between 2017/18 and 2020/21, they are set to fall by 71%.”

Or, to put it into monetary perspective, the pitifully low spend per head of population (in England) which has stood at £1.50 for decades, and was advised needed to be raised to £10 per head but was dropped to £1.39 has now been forecast to reduce still further, to 0.72 per pence.

In other words, f... all. 

Anyhow, over to Geffen who wanted to put me right.

He said I have suggested that he and Chris Boardman don’t realise that consultations like the one on the current draft CWIS are mostly tokenistic. 

“Actually I know that perfectly well, and I’ve no doubt Chris does too.  He’s not stupid either.”

To my suggestion that they tackle the PM head on, and then go public with what he says, Geffen said that is pretty much what they did in 2013 following the Get Britain Cycling inquiry.

He doesn’t say they met the PM personally – and if they had I am sure he would said so. I imagine it was probably all done through intermediaries.

However, Dave duly trotted out what was expected of him, carefully choosing his words - as politicians do - so he couldn’t be held to account when his government came up short.

Which they did.

CWIS called for £500m per annum – or £10 per head of population. The government awarded £300m – over three years, so reducing the spend to £1.39. “Derisory”, cried British Cycling.

Geffen said they had piled the pressure on Cameron to make a public commitment to co-ordinate action across government to promote cycling. 

“After several months of badgering, we finally got him to make a public statement (in the middle of summer, when nobody was paying attention) in which he called for a “Cycling Revolution”

“DfT even came up with some money to accompany that announcement.  Later we got the PM to declare that he wanted cycling investment to reach £10 per person annually…”

All hot air! Cameron was merely a puppet allowing the cycling lobby to pull the strings.

Cycling’s funding was actually reduced!

You have to feel sorry for Geffen and Boardman. If they come across too strong, they probably fear government would no longer meet with them!

But that’s a risk worth taking, I suggest.

Because just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse it does. As we know, funding is set to drop to 0.39 per head over the next few years.

A prominent journalist once said to me, that if the PM really wanted his government to get behind something, then they generally do!

So from this we can take it that Dave doesn’t really get cycling.

Geffen said I was right that transport policy is dominated by the motoring lobby.  “The reason for this is fairly obvious: it’s a lot bigger, both numerically and financially, than the cycling lobby," says Geffen.  "Again, I’m surprised at your apparent belief that Chris Boardman and I are blithely unaware of what we’re up against.”

He said it that instead of just diagnosing (that’s what a reporter does), it would be useful to come up with a few suggestions about how to overcome this (That’s what policy makers are supposed to do).  He said that he has been looking for answers to that one for a long time!

Do I have any suggestions?

Yes - make cycling an election issue. But I’m sure he knows that, too. But I don’t see anyone calling for this.
Cycling UK's plug for National Bike Week this month has no political content whatsoever.

Perhaps cycling can become an election issue as more and more people take up cycling.

The Dutch revolted some 60 years ago, reacting to the unacceptable death toll on Dutch roads, with too many children the victims.

Today, we envy Holland’s cycle lane and route system, the way they have engineered their roads with cyclists in mind.

But may I suggest that if we are fire people up to demonstrate, to get them to on side, we need first to place cycling’s problems into the historical context of the ad-hoc development of transport in this country. We have to spell this bizarre story out. 

We can go on and on about the cost benefits of cycling until we are blue in the face. We are blue in the face. The government listens but does not hear. It turns a deaf ear.

Every cyclist needs to read Wolmar’s book. It’s not long. It’s a damn good read; it’s also funny as well as tragic. And it makes you very angry that the ruling elite could have gotten away with messing with transport for so long.

I reckon Boardman and Geffen should get themselves a Battle Bus like the posh Sky Pro Team buses - and tour the country, rouse cyclists everywhere, fan the flames of revolution?

Could British Cycling and Cycling UK support that?  Or has Cycling UK sold its soul in becoming a charity? Maybe they fear that by upsetting government they may not get the  funding they seek to bring more people into cycling?

“Explore the past to understand the present and shape the future”

That was the headline to a review by Susan Graseck of Robert Hellbroner’s prophetic book, “An enquiry into the human race” published in 1974.

That headline applies to everything we do. And it applies to cycling, if we are ever to understand the true position, and maybe find a way to break the deadlock.

And that is why I think it necessary to go into the diagnostic detail of the deep seated issues which have led us to this place, to unpick it; the better to understand why cycling fails to get the funding it deserves.

Those huge family rides in city centres need to become protest rides, Critical Mass rides. Boardman and Geffen could tour the country in their big battle bus.

 They could start in the provinces, as do plays, and take this cycling theatre of woe around the country, stopping in the major cities where the intrepid duo would ride forth to lead the protest rides. It would gather momentum so that by

the time they reached London the movement would fill not just Trafalgar Square, but the West End. I envisage Boardman and Geffen chaining their bikes to the gates at Downing Street. Cameron said he wanted a Cycling Revolution. Give him one.

Or whoever replaces him after the shambolic nonsense of June 23.

Just an idea!

Here's a few soundbites….


The big problem with MPs, former transport minister and cycling advocate Stephen Norris was fond of saying said back in the 1990s, is that many of them are afflicted by big projectitus.

They are seduced by grand schemes.

The current furore about the viability of HS2 – the £multibillion rail high speed rail project to link London with the North of England -   is the latest perfect example of this, as reported in The Guardian this week.

In Monday’s edition, Christian Wolmar argued that there was better value to be had by re-opening closed lines and improving existing services.

In Tuesday’s paper, it was the turn of Simon Jenkins who ran a detailed story on what he called the most extravagant infrastructure project in British history. He said no one can say why we need it!

We “need it”; it appears, simply to satisfy the egos of its promoters hankering after a similar high-speed rail link to France’s successful TGV.  

It does have its opponents in government, people who see it as waste of money. But crucially, Chancellor George Osborne, who is said to have a weakness for megaprojects, has been seduced by HS2 and is willing to spend £billions on it.

This is the same man who cut the already miserably low level of funding for cycling further earlier this year.

Clearly, cycling isn’t sexy enough for George.

And finally, this final paragraph tells us all we need to know about the hopelessness of cycling’s case.

In the May 8, 2014, issue of Cycling Weekly there was a question and answer interview with Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee, who was leading a committee enquiry into cycling safety.

She was asked how committed did she think “we as a nation are to developing cycle and pedestrian-friendly cities?

She replied: “I think, overall, we are still a long way from understanding that concept, even though individually there are some good examples.”