Monday, 17 December 2018


It was bucketing down on Saturday when I made a rare trip to nail two birds with one stone, so to speak.

This story will seem a little odd to most. It's a Free From. Free From mention of cycles and cyclists.
Oh, except there's a token mention a few paragraphs down.

But hey, that’s how it is. For I wanted to see for myself the uniquely numbered platform zero at Redhill station eight miles from here, and while there to ogle at the Belmond Pullman steam charter train due through. It’s always a grand sight.

To get there was a 10 minute ride on the First Great Western service along the North Downs line.

It is a 15-minute walk to the station, through the park where a thin layer of ice lay just below the surface of the Mill Pond.  The only reason I knew this was because gulls and ducks were standing on it, ankle deep in a thin film of water covering the submerged ice.

The train was running a few minutes late.  A dozen customers – or passengers as we used to be called – took cover from the rain by crowding into the small platform shelter.

A mountain bike rider, his bike leaning against the fence outside in the rain, began running on the spot to keep warm. Evidence that the thermal qualities of cycle clothing which keep us warm as we ride are not so good at their job when hanging around.

In came the train. Ten minutes and one stop later it pulled in on platform 0. Well, well.

It really is numbered 0.

Why is it numbered 0?

Quite simple really.  It is a new platform, the fourth at this station. Surely,  platform 4, then? The others being platform 1, platform 2 and platform 3.

Ah, well. Some bright spark in railway planning reasoned that they couldn’t number it 4 because of its position.  It was just across from platform 1 and if numbered 4 this would be out of sequence and confuse customers – passengers. 

So he or she came up with the only solution possible. It would be numbered platform 0.


Part one of my day out completed, time to enjoy part two.

I bought a coffee - Sharon size – from the crazy Puccino's cafĂ© on the station.  Instead of sizing cups small, medium, large, they have given each size a name. I don’t know what they call medium, or what they call large.  But small is Sharon. And the coffees are always served with a what they call a “stupid” little biscuit, gratis.

Crazy Puccino's. When  closed a sign says “Shut happens”.

It is their way of providing a little amusement for stressed rail customers – passengers - like me.

“American. Sharon, please” I asked.

She grinned.

And then there was disappointment.  The charter train came slowly around the curve and onto platform 0, where it would be held for six minutes, awaiting its path back to London.

Oh dear.  It was headed by an inscrutable diesel! Where was the steam engine?

I needed that evocative smell of steam and hot oil, to feel the heat from the boiler as it passed, to see the pistons driving huge driving wheels, the big green loco clanking by glistening and hissing in the rain. 

Instead, a modern powerhouse glides almost silently past, its presence announced by a mere rumble of a powerful unseen force. Impressive, of course.  But I wanted a steam engine.

Perhaps it had failed?

What a blow. So I stood there sipping my Sharon and munching my “stupid” biscuit in the cold looking at the luxury Pullman cars – 12 of them – and at the smartly dressed diners in the warmth within having dinner and Champagne served by immaculately dressed waiters.

It’s not cheap, dinner on that luxurious train.  And it left me wondering how many of those diners were left with one arm and a leg.

A few minutes later I boarded my return train, Spartan compared to the Pullman, but comfortable and warm nonetheless.  It was raining harder than ever.  In my hurried walk home the gulls were still ankle deep on the ice on the Mill Pond.

At home I went into the loft to get down the festive lights.

Too commercial for our taste nowadays, the old pagan Christmas festival.   Hijacked first by the Christians claiming it for the birthday of Jesus, alleged to be the son of God in Heaven, and then by Mammon torturing us with endless TV commercials urging us to buy, buy, buy.

So I prefer to see it as a festival of Light, marking the turning point of winter, of lighter evenings to come.

Besides, ill-health in the family means we keep a quiet house by necessity.  We keep ourselves to ourselves observing a schedule that must remain the same day to day regardless.

The living room is brightened with a small tree ablaze with white Led lights, while on the patio outside the front door lights sparkle on and off along the wrought iron railings.

At bed time there was time read some more of the closing chapter of Michael Collins splendid book, “Carrying the Fire, an astronaut’s journeys”.

Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the Moon in July 1969, when his compatriots Neil Armstrong followed by Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step onto the Moon’s surface.

A remarkable book, it captures the drama, beauty and humour of that historic adventure, not to mention the risks!

They are nearly home. Just a few more tasks to complete to overcome the 50 – 50 odds stacked against their surviving this bold adventure.

Collins must get right the angle of re-entry to avoid 1: burning up in a fireball or, 2: hitting the atmosphere like a stone across water, and skipping off back into space.

Meanwhile, Ground – Mission control at Houston – radios the crew of Apollo 11 a titbit of information on their “downhill run” on this, the evening of their ninth and penultimate day before splashdown in the Pacific.

“You are now 97,970 miles out from earth. Your velocity is 5,991 feet per second.”

And with that calming thought, the Apollo 11 crew bid Houston good night and turned in!

I closed the book and did the same.

Monday, 3 December 2018

BREXIT - no rhyme or reason

BREXIT: no rhyme or reason

Will Pak Choi from Morocco no longer be in the shops if Britain quits the European Union with no deal on March 29, kissing goodbye to the Customs Union?

Will there no longer be any bananas on the shelves, that staple of British diet, that nutritious fruit from Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil?

We’re told that up 40 percent of food stuffs from abroad may no longer be available.

Not to mention medicines. This is serious.

There can be no rhyme or reason for any of this. But it’s on the cards!

And what about our sport, our pastime of cycling? A hobby for most, important livelihood for many.

Will there be complications with trading, effecting supplies of Campag from Italy and Shimano from Japan and all other stuff from overseas we take for granted?

 Will those beautifully cut cycling bib shorts and jerseys and those exquisite cycling shoes, made in some far flung province, still be available?

Will the import and the export of goods suffer if parliament cannot bring itself to halt the Brexit juggernaut, sort out some half-decent leaving present or, better still, commit to remaining in the EU?

Or will they remain chained to this lunacy born of that fateful day in 2016 when the referendum asked people to vote on whether Britain should remain  in the EU or leave.
And 52 per cent -  many suffering economic hardship as a result of the Conservative government's cruel austerity measures screwing the poor - voted Leave.
While 48 per cent voted Remain.

The three main concerns of the Leavers were:
1,  immigration was too high, foreigners were taking jobs away from the British; 
2, the £350m a week paid to the EU would instead fund the NHS – (this bogus claim by the Leave campaign swung the vote, I understand); 
3, take back our sovereignty, in the belief that the UK should be self-governing and not be told what do by the EU.

Remainers did not share any of these concerns to anything like the same degree. Indeed, they feared economic and political chaos would be the result of leaving the EU and that Britain would be worse off out than in, especially in relation to public sector jobs, in particular the NHS, which rely heavily on foreign nationals.

For instance, I read that 10 percent of doctors and seven percent of nurses are EU nationals. A third of all EU nationals in the NHS work in London.

Since the referendum there has been a 90 per cent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work for the NHS. Many foreign nationals living here no longer feel welcome.
There can be no rhyme or reason for this mess bequeathed us by the Leave Campaign.
We are told that all sorts of problems now lie ahead. Let’s start off with issues which will be the least of our concerns but nevertheless help form a picture of the craziness awaiting us.

Here’s lightweight one for starters.

Will the British members of the Sky Team need a visa if they are to get to the start of Le Tour for Geraint Thomas to bid for a second consecutive victory? 
Will a British driving licence still be valid over there?   

It may seem trivial, but what about the supply of cycling components? 

We don’t hear much said about the British cycle industry these days, outside of trade circles. Nothing British about my bikes.  My current model was designed in London but made in Italy. All my nice cycle clothing is from abroad.  

However, it does seem that the British cycle industry is alive and well.

Reynolds tubing of Birmingham, for instance.  Brompton bicycles of course.

What about wheels?  Is there an all British wheel? Does anyone know?

Most rims are made abroad, I believe.  Is that right?

As for spokes, are there any British made spokes?

There are certainly hubs – plug now for Royce hubs, very well thought of, I understand.

Insofar as the fate awaiting the UK cycle trade better I refer you to a story published on the Cyclist webpages -

It does a pretty good job of explaining the complexities of international trade which is conducted in US dollars and speculates as what may or may not occur after March 29.

To summarise, at present, the current arrangements with the EU allows goods to move freely from one country to another.

And little change to this is expected if Theresa May’s proposed deal - seen as very controversial and expected to be rejected by Parliament  - does actually go ahead.

However, should Britain crash out of the EU with no deal  leaving us outside of the customs union, there is speculation that all trade arrangements will impact heavily on prices and on the availability of brands.

Surely this looming chaos can be averted?

I recently had an exchange of letters with my MP, Sir Paul Beresford on this very matter. He was a Remain man. I asked him to support a Peoples’ Vote on May’s deal.

He couldn’t do that, he told me. He said he is holding to the view that the will of the people who voted leave should be upheld.  He now backs Theresa May to finalise a deal.

The will of the people! The will of the people was subverted, I told him.  He knows this!

I said this to him. “The referendum, fought by the Leave campaign, was anything but honest. They made a host of misleading claims on immigration and at least one outright lie. 

They claimed, in big letters on the side of their Battle Bus,   that the £350m paid to the EU every week would go to the NHS instead! Many people voted Leave on the strength of this bogus claim.  

And almost immediately the vote was cast the awful Farage, who started all this nonsense, admitted it was wrong, that that money cannot simply go the NHS.

Not to mention Boris Johnson spinning anti—EU rhetoric and misinformation in his newspaper column for decades for which, remember,  he was eventually sacked from, oh, which paper was it, the Telegraph, The Times?  Doesn’t matter which.  But the rubbish stories he put out do matter, for he has constantly poisoned minds.

It’s all David Cameron’s fault, for agreeing  - simply to appease the populist call - to the referendum  in the first place,  on matters few of us were equipped to deal with and for this may he never be forgiven.

For he  has set us on a path which, via the ballot box, has presented us with a result which could yet undo the very parliamentary system he is supposed to hold dear. The Leave vote has given oxygen to closet racists and xenophobes.

The Leaver vote has split political parties down the middle.  It has revealed democracy’s Achilles heel as a host of far-right dangerous individuals seek to gain from it.

Sir Paul acknowledged my letter, but declined to comment further.

I imagine the xenophobes must presume they are of pure race when a check of their ancestry may surprise them.  For instance, I am 60 per cent English; the rest is a mix of Irish, Swedish and European, west and eastern.

The current crisis has made me concerned for the rights of foreign nationals living and working here in the UK and British people who live and work on the Continent.

As for Michael Gove MP, is he confused?  As fellow MPs quit the Cabinet over May’s Brexit plans he said, that while he, too, disagreed with May he would not leave the Cabinet because once outside it he would no longer have any influence to argue his point of view. Better to remain to persuade her to change tack.

Pity he cannot apply that logic to European matters, and advocate we remain within the Union.

For once outside we will have no voice over decisions they take which may still impact this side of the water.

Since then, Gove has been quoted as saying he will back May.

And so here we are.  But exactly where are we? 

Who knows what will happen after March 29?

We should delay it three days, to April 1.  And then, just before midday, call out “APRIL FOOL”.

And not leave afterall.

That would be my option. Apparently, that’s no longer an option.

In which case the lack of Pak Choi and of cycle components could be the least of our problems. 

And all for no rhyme or reason.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Engers - the stylish King of the road



By Paul Jones

Published by Mousehold Press,

Victoria Cottage,

Constitution Opening,

Norwich NR3 4BD.


ISBN: 978-1-874739-81-4

“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers,  winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s.

This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere.  Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!

There were allegations of “white lining” - riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic - of having following cars.

Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!

Notwithstanding such problems, Engers   would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.

But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam.   Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories  that reveal his lighter side,  with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.

Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. 

His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!

This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul.

I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today.

For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.

This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym?  Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailler!

It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix.  “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.

The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him,  

riders loved this colourful character.  So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake!

So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Here we go again

HERE we go again, as if in a recurring nightmare.  The government has published plans to build a national cycle route which, like all grand cycling schemes put before them,  they have no intention of funding.

This grand cycle way is to run beside the High Speed Railway (HS2) up the spine of England, as reported by Helen Pidd in The Guardian (Friday, October 19).

And it’s all hot air.  Because apparently – and never mind the  lack of money for the moment - the builders of the railway have even failed to make safe provision for cyclists crossing the route, never mind the new bridges and tunnels supposed to leave room to take the route itself beside the 250-mph trains!

Exciting that, cycling alongside 250mph trains.  Well, it would be…

As ever, Roger Geffen, of Cycling UK, their ever optimistic policy director, thinks it is not too late for HS2 to follow the design for the cycle route.  

Olympic  gold medallist Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, is disappointed, just as he was at the failure of government to fund the Get Britain Cycling Report a year or two ago.  HS2 is the latest in a long line of cycling initiatives to get the thumbs down when it comes to paying for them.
The government is prepared to sink £billions into the controversial railway linking London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, but they have no intention of funding the cycle route.

As usual, it will be left to Local Authorities to find money they haven’t got - because government has cut their funding.

So the seven million people estimated to be living within a 10-minute bike ride of the “proposed” cycle route should be prepared to be disappointed. 

The most frustrated man of all is surely John Grimshaw, the engineer who helped write the study into HS2 national cycleway.  For Grimshaw is the daddy of them all when it comes to planning cycleways in the UK. He gave us the Sustrans National Cycle Route completed in 2005, comprising 14,000 miles of traffic-free and mostly lightly trafficked roads throughout the UK.

It is the jewel in the cycling crown, albeit the only one, and was Lottery funded to the tune of £42.5m through the Millennium Commission.

Back in 1996, cycling’s friend Steven Norris, then Minister for Local Transport and Road Safety at the Department of Transport, launched an excellent “Cycle-friendly Infrastructure Guidelines for planning and Design”.

But there was never any serious money made available to enable local authorities to implement it, even if their own highway engineers were of a mind to and they never were anyway.

1996 saw a double whammy, for also in that year, the Conservatives gave us the National Cycling Strategy - with no money.

Labour gave it a few peanuts a decade later and Cycling England was formed to spend it – with the likes of Grimshaw and transport and cycling expert Christian Wolmar on the board. They did an excellent job, helping to promote the creation of over 20 cycling demonstration towns all featuring small but successful cycling schemes.

It was too good to last and Cycling England was closed down by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

Then a couple of years ago the government announced the Get Britain Cycling report to great fanfare.  But hopes were dashed when they refused to give it cabinet backing, once again leaving it to cash-strapped Local Authorities who have done nothing worth speaking of.

Where are they now, these reports?

My bet is they were all confiscated by the Roads Lobby – who see any grand cycling development as a threat to King Car – and all of these cycling reports are gathering dust in the Warehouse of Lost Dreams.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Dutch to ban use of mobile phones when cycling

The Netherlands are ban to the use of mobile phones while cycling, reported a recent edition of The Guardian.

The ban is due to come into effect next July.  The law banning the use of handheld devices while driving was introduced in 2002.

The move comes following an increase in cycling accidents involving riders absorbed in “social media” activities on their smart phones.

The death of a young rider so engrossed with his smart phone led to a campaign for legislation.  

To me, it beggars belief that people do so. Clearly they don’t appear to understand the risks associated with the use of these smart devices to which we have become slaves.

We know, don’t we, that, many people using mobile phones appear to have switched off from their immediate surroundings. It’s what I might call a “disassociated state of mind”, distracting them from what’s going on around them.  

A “disassociated state of mind” was the state a novelist said he desired in order

to conjure up the twists and turns of his story lines.

Clearly, it’s best not to operate in this mode out on the streets.

Research in to the use of this technology when driving was found to reduce the driver’s reaction time to worse than if he or she were drunk.  

This is why they were banned in the first place, not because you would be driving with one arm, but because you would be driving with only half a brain. Or no brain at all, judging by the glazed expressions on faces.

The scientists had wanted hands-free phones banned, too.

Because unbeknown to the user, whether using a hand-held or hands-free, his or her mind is no longer on the job of driving although they think it is.

The essential factor here is in the subconscious connection with a remote voice, said the research.  It’s as if you’ve gone down the line to their place.

Talking with fellow companions in the vehicle is not the same thing at all.  They will be aware of the driving conditions and conversation tends to wax and wane accordingly, unlike the voice at the other end of the line.

Despite this the authorities decided they would allow use of hands-free for drivers.

They were persuaded when the police said they wouldn’t be able to detect if a driver was using hands free or not.  The upshot of this is that hands-free became accepted as safer to use. It reinforced the belief that the danger came from driving one handed, when this is a secondary issue.

Would we have known all this but for scientific research?  Maybe not.  I found out for myself when catching a flight from Heathrow. I needed gate 15 and was talking to someone on my phone, keeping an eye open for gate 15, or so I thought.  And I missed it until gate 20 came into focus and I thought bloody hell.   Pay attention.

Bloody device.  Marvellous things, of course.  We’ve become slaves to this magic. Well, not me. You, perhaps.

Such things were out of this world to me when I was a lad. Talking of which, dare we ponder what has driven this massive development in micro-wave and computer whizkiddery these past 50 years? Some say its harvested technology retrieved from crashed discs!

 (That’s enough of that, Ed).

Sorry. Wrong hat.

Meanwhile, back to the other-worldly Netherlands where the utopian cycling culture has been shaken by the use of the ubiquitous smartphone now implicated in one in five bike accidents in people aged 12 to 25.

Last year, 206 cyclists died in traffic accidents, 17 more than in 2016, according to official statistics.

This figure, however, is still low considering the huge number of people who cycle every day in the Netherlands which has a “population” of 22.5 million bikes and 17 million people.

About four million people cycle every day, and cycle use has increased by some 12 per cent in the last 13 years. The country’s 22,000 miles of cycle paths are becoming more crowded.

On average the Dutch cyclist rides over 600 miles and makes up to 300 journeys a year.

There is now another factor, the popularity of the electric bike which is encouraging inappropriate speed.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Councillor says charge the Pru Ride London to use Surrey's roads!

NOW that the threat of a cycling war with the Highways Agency over their stupid proposal to ban cyclists from the A63 at Hull has been averted, there comes a daft suggestion that the Prudential Ride London should be charged for using Surrey’s roads!

Not just this huge charity ride – billed as the biggest in the world and which donates £thousands to local causes  - but Britain’s biggest pro road race on the same day, which has UCI World Tour status;  plus every other cycling event, the smaller challenge rides, road races and time trials.

Councillor Claire Malcolmson has put forward this idea to the Mole Valley Local Committee, which was the lead story in my local paper recently.

 Mole Valley and Dorking figure on the route of the Prudential Ride London, and the pro races passes through the town four times – a grand sight.

In her view this will help introduce stricter regulation of races and rides in the county, and generate funds which would “contribute to dealing with local congestion and road infrastructure”!

Crackpot idea, of course.

Whatever the local committee may say, Surrey County Council won’t wear it. They are partners with London in hosting this event, introduced as part of the 2012 Olympic legacy.

A spokesman for Surrey said charging had been considered but “has not been taken forward”.

She told the local newspaper that since the Olympic road races came through Surrey, the area has “witnessed a huge influx of cyclists” which brought “more chances of mishaps on the roads to pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.”

Aha. If truth be known the councillor is probably a driver irritated by the road closures for the Pru events. She may also have been held up behind lines of cyclists and wants to get her own back. Here’s some advice: drop into third gear and just potter along until the riders turn off.

As regards solving congestion on the roads, the Pru already contributes to that by closing over 100s of miles of them for their events!

The councillor might like to consider that the obvious way to reduce congestion is for people not to drive as often as they do.

This has become a vital health issue if the pollution from diesel engines is to be reduced.

Britain is among one of the worst polluted lands in the world, it has been reported. Thousands of people are dying from illnesses caused by traffic pollution.

Instead of charging pollution-free cycling events from using the roads, charge the polluters.

Here’s an idea that for tech wizards to develop. Every time a driver switches on the ignition, it activates an app linked straight to his bank account which haemorrhages money direct to a fund to pay for the funeral services of all those dying from illnesses caused by the shit spewing from her/his exhaust.  

Friday, 14 September 2018


AFTER several months in a cycling utopia of endless car free roads somewhere on the planet,  I stir into blog action again with good news. The preposterous plan to ban cyclists from the A63 at Hull has been dropped by the dictatorship, Highways England.
We must thank Cycling UK for their energetic campaign to oppose this ban, raising almost 10,000 signatures in protest.
The highways authority stipulated protests should be by the neglected art of ink on paper and placing said sheet of paper in a sealed envelope affixed with a postage stamp.  Clearly, in this world of electronic data they thought this might deter protest.
It failed. Cycling UK acted as a collection point for letters and a cargo-bike laden with mail was pedalled into Highways England’s Leeds offices last February.
The A63 road forms one of the fastest time trial courses in the country, and although the highway authority didn’t say as such in so many words it was felt that the ban was targeted at time trial events there.
The V718 time trial course on this 15-mile stretch of the A63 is the fastest course in the land.
It is the very course Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins recorded a 17-58 “10” in May 2015.
However, according to Cycling Weekly time trialling on this road now faces an uncertain future.
The last event to be organised there was on August 26 and there are no future events listed.
Highways England says it will examine requests for future events on this section, together with Humberside Police and the East Riding Safety Forum.

Nevertheless, whatever time trialling’s future here, Highways England’s decision to withdraw their proposed ban (announced at the beginning the year) l is a victory for common sense.
It was feared such a ban would be the thin end of the wedge and spark bans on roads deemed by so-called experts as “unsafe” elsewhere in the country.  And if we’re honest many roads have become unsafe because cyclists have been designed out of the equation!
So, design them back in! That’s the problem which is not being addressed because at the root of the problem is this weird idea that roads are “motor roads” when they are not and never have been, they are for all of us to use.
This is the wider battle for Cycling UK.
They said they have been fighting for 140 years for the rights of cyclists, and were not prepared to let Highways England impose a ban when there was no real basis or justification.
Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns, added:
 “One of the arguments put forward was that cyclists couldn’t keep up with traffic, but on that basis they would have been banning cyclists on every A-road and many sections of B-road across the country.
“I’m delighted that common sense has prevailed and pleased that Highways England listened to our arguments.
“I’d like to thank all our supporters who took time to take part in the campaign and respond during the consultation period.”
Highways England
In a statement, Highways England said: “We want people using our roads to be safe and alongside Humberside Police were particularly concerned about how safe cyclists would be with increasing volumes of fast moving traffic on the A63 between North Cave and Hull.
“We’re really grateful to everyone who commented on our proposed ban, especially from cyclists themselves.
“We are already developing more cycling and safety improvements for the A63 and in the meantime we urge all road users to use this route safely.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Why the government continues to ignore Cycing UK on road safety

ESTABLISHED wisdom has it that we need to study our history if we are to make any sense of the present to plan successfully for the future.

Not that humankind ever seems to understand this lesson!

This applies to the world of cycle campaigning as much as anything else.

I write this in response to Cycling UK’s latest efforts to get the government off its arse to improve road conditions.

The cycling world needs to wise up and ask how is that successive governments continue to fail to make the roads safer.

If we pay close study to Britain’s haphazard transport development this past century we might begin to understand the current impasse.

But very few people know the facts.

In the recent issue of the national cycling organisation Cycling UK’s flagship magazine, Cycle, chief executive Paul Tuohy worries that bicycle use remains very low.
He says “I don’t want to come across all doom and gloom but the number of people in the UK using any kind of bicycle is still stubbornly low, despite the clear benefits to society on so many levels.”

He says “more has to be done, by government and not just us, if we are to succeed in our mission.”

Strange, isn’t?  Cycling is enjoying its greatest boom for decades, evidence the tens of thousands taking up leisure cycling while in many cities, thousands more people have turned to cycling.

The explanation, we were told a few years ago, was that while cycling use has risen in town and cities it has fallen in rural areas.

As Tuohy says in Cycle, he doesn’t do doom and gloom which is why, I suspect, campaigning news has all but disappeared from the pages of that title, under his watch, and is now generally confined to the website.

But surely it’s not doom and gloom to attempt to figure out what’s wrong and to publish such stories. That is being positive. Cycling needs to understand how we got here.

And in my view, Cycling UK should start the ball rolling by informing their membership.

And then we might figure a way to put it right.

So for Tuohy to admit that the government is doing nothing much to improve cycling conditions must have taken some doing.

I wish him and Cycling UK luck. They are the standard bearers for cycling, always have been. They have run faultless campaigns and published many reports of the benefits of cycling (when they went by the name of Cyclists’ Touring Club). They have won praise for this work from government - but that's all -  and  from those few politicians who badger ministers to have cycling conditions improved.

Through their work, ministers know the basics, that 70 per cent of all journeys are less than five miles and many of them are ideal for cycling. That many people would take up cycling if the roads were made safer for them; that if only 10 per cent of all journeys were made by bike congestion and pollution would ease. The health of the nation would improve, on and on. It’s a win, win situation, as transport journalist, author and cyclists Christian Wolmer would say.

But as we know, this faultless presentation of the facts which few will dispute, has led us up only badly designed cycle paths. Despite successive governments agreeing with Cycling UK’s case at every level, nothing much as ever come of any of it in the past half-a-century.

 I recall when serious campaigning kicked off, in the mid-1970s with Friends of the Earth’s Reclaim the Road rally in Trafalgar Square. That changed nothing and the pattern continues.  

In my view there is nothing Cycling UK can do unless there is a fundamental change in the way the establishment runs this country.

I think a great many people are unaware of the transport cock ups which are the hall mark of successive British governments these past 200 years, from the canal age to the present.  

Every major transport development has taken shape without government imposing a strategic plan to get the best out of it for both the country and the people.

Insofar as cycling development goes, the powerful influence of the motoring lobby has and still does hold back cycling development.

But another important factor is that British government has always maintained a policy of non-involvement – unless it suited them. 
I came across another example of this laissez faire  thinking recently, in Mike Royden’s excellent and  most recent book, entitled “Tracing your Liverpool  ancestors” in which he documents the fascinating the history  of every facet of Liverpool’s development.

In one chapter he refers to the late 18th and early 19th century when streets were allowed to be constructed without any attempt by the town council “to control the character or direction” so as to make the town “healthy or beautiful”.

This policy of non-involvement runs deep. And where they have got involved you might wish they hadn’t. Such as the two greatest cock-ups in the name of transport development surely ever perpetuated. 

The closure of 4000 miles of the national rail network – the infamous Dr. Beeching cuts in the 1960s –   widely acknowledged to encourage car use.

While it is true that the railway network needed to lose some fat, Beeching was overkill.  
For it paved the way for the next trick, plans to run motorways into the every town and city centre in the country.

I haven’t the foggiest idea how Cycling UK is to change attitudes when it is clear Ministerial minds are only ever exercised by huge projects such as these two whoppers.

Except to say that is my belief that if we at least understand the history and make people angry, we can then, perhaps, find away.

Instead of blindly thinking that by simply explaining the bleeding obvious benefits of cycling we are going to effect change.

 I first ran this topic in a review of Christian Wolmers fine book “Are Trams Socialist – why Britain has no transport policy.”

It’s all here, Wolmar’s explanation as to why cycling development has come off worst of all and has, in fact, never happened. But in that review I didn’t mention the chapter on the proposed motorway development of the 1960s, when plans were actually drawn up to run huge motorways smack into all our towns and cities!

So in this blog I’ll take this period as an example of the twisted thinking lying behind so-called transport policy back then which surely remains unsurpassed to this day.

The first thing to note about this is that when it came to private motoring,  government dropped their non-involvement policy by launching a massive “transport” plan; except it wasn’t a transport plan at all but a plan for cars.

Clearly they were currying favour with their voters.  

Nothing else got a look in.

It was a huge failure and it was abandoned, but not before it had done considerable damage.

And if this totally bonkers approach to solving transport issues doesn’t convince you that ministers and planners can't always be trusted to be sensible, nothing will.

Wolmar told me that when he first cast eyes on the archived  1960s plans for the wholesale destruction of town and city centres in the name of the car, he was shocked, flabbergasted.
At the centre of this was  Earnest Marples, Minister of Transport. When I researched this period recently, I discovered there were those in own conservative party who described as a “charmer” and a “rogue”.

However, he did face enormous challenges to solve the problems that came with the sudden and rapid growth in car ownership which was leading to gridlock in the age before motorways.

When Marples introduced parking controls and yellow lines as a means of trying to control road use,  it led to huge public outcry from drivers who have always had a tendency to blame everyone  but themselves for congestion.

There were the whitewashed signs “Marples must go” across road bridges.

His was a thankless task. Not that he did too badly out of it!

For he was the Marples in Marples and Ridgeway, and was a director of the construction company and although it is said they were not directly involved in the building of the M1, Britain’s first motorway, they certainly benefited.

The company built several major highway projects.

As Marples connection with the construction industry was a conflict of interest and in breach of House of Commons rules, he was required to cut his connections with the company. He did so, but it's reckoned he still kept a finger in.
It was Marples who commissioned the Beeching Report to review the railways, closing 4,000 miles of track and stations to make the railways “profitable”.

In France a different view held sway. There the railways contribution to the country’s economy was in facilitating the movement of people and goods, not to insist on every line turning a profit per say.  Of course they were to be accountable, but they would never lack the investment they needed.

But what goes on “over there” has never influenced thinking here.

The Beeching-Marples tandem (an unfortunate metaphor) was widely seen as a move to “injure” the rail system to the advantage of the private car.

Clearly, the country needed a big improvement in the highway infrastructure cross-country motorways fulfilled that need.

But Marples wanted to go much further.

And he followed his drastic rail surgery by commissioning the Buchanan report (1963), saying that the full motorisation of towns and cities was the way to go.  

Wolmar writes it was… “an attempt to adapt towns and cities to the ‘full motorisation’ that he (Buchanan) deemed inevitable...”

It called for a vast network of urban motorways, dual carriageways and feeder in every town and city.

The interesting thing about this is that Buchanan realised the immense damage the creation of such a network would do. Bu they (he and his supporters in Government) felt powerless to deter what was deemed to be the desire of everyone to own a car and to drive where and when they want.

This from Wikipedia:

They were appalled by idea, realising that they were feeding at huge cost a monster of great potential destructiveness, but because they were seduced by this very monster, they thought, we’d better accommodate it, that to refuse to do so would be an act of defeatism….

So, as crazy as it sounds, they felt they had no choice but to go the whole hog and attempt to build hell on earth.

Here’s what the fly on the wall heard (probably) at the Cabinet meeting.

Cabinet meeting: OK, gentlemen and ladies, here’s what we do. 
The car is king,  right? Yes, of course it is. And we need to make drivers happy if we are to stay in government.  Let them drive where they want when they want.

So let’s build motorways not just across the country from town to town, but run them through and around and into every town centre, too.

Cycling? No, no. Cycling is in decline. No money in cycling. Very last century. Everyone drives now.  Nothing needs to be done for cycling. Buggar cycling.

What about the pedestrians?

Buggar the pedestrians.

For London the idea went like this.

If I recall rightly, Tottenham Court Road was to be transformed into a motorway, which would probably have meant widening it and knocking down property. 

The north and south circular road through the suburbs was another for development . In the West End the aim was to destroy Covent Garden to widen The Strand.
I recall the huge opposition to this when I first came to London.
Earlier they actually did take a  swathe of Hyde Park to widen Park Lane.  But by far the biggest idea was to run a inner-city motorway on stilts via Charing Cross smack in the centre.  These plans would require the demolition of 20,000 houses!

This was the general idea for every single town and city!

I discovered that where I live they had proposed knocking down the famous antiques quarter on narrow and beautiful 17th century West Street to widen the A25 which passes through the town.

Sanity prevailed when it was realised that building motorways into town centres would destroy so many homes it would cost then votes in the next general election.  
And then there was undisputed logic which struck home, that providing more roads in many cases simply generates more traffic.  Not always, but usually!

In Liverpool the M62 motorway carved a path through leafy suburbs aiming for the city centre, only to come up short at Broadgreen, by the Rocket, where it met the ring road.  By then the motorway circus suddenly realised the big problem,

They would need to to rip out the hearts of those places people have come to see. It was realised that  our city centres were never designed to accommodate motor traffic on anything like the scale they had envisaged.

So they quietly dropped the idea, but not before work had begun in several towns and cities, as roads were widened and ring roads begun.  They let it slide. Nothing was done for the cars on the scale envisaged.  

It was, it turns out, the only time a “national transport policy” – albeit for just one form of transport only – had ever been discussed in the history of transport planning in the UK.

And it was so it was they realised it wouldn’t work. It was back to piece meal development.  For they had no other ideas, no integrated strategy to get the best  out of all modes -  nothing for buses, nothing for cycling, nothing for pedestrians, although eventually we did see the beginnings of pedestrianised areas in the centres of many towns and cities.

As for Marples,  the bright boy of the conservative party, he fell out of favour and ended up doing a runner on the Night Ferry train to France to avoid prosecution for tax fraud.

How ironic that the Night Ferry was a rail service which Beeching had not closed down!

And he literally did do a runner.  There are stories saying he left his home in such a rush,  clothes and all sorts were left scattered about. His dash took him to Monaco.

Currently, the only change of direction in transport planning is that government is doing a lot more to promote and invest in rail travel, although the vastly expensive HS2 is coming under heavy criticism as being a waste of money.

It does, however, fit the picture of what former transport minister for London, a friend of cycling, Steve Norris, described as “Big Projectitus”…ministers are seduced by big projects.

Wolmar’s book 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. 
Wolmar’s book describes in detail the shambolic approach to transport issues by British governments. 

There’s a good chapter on cycling.  Wolmar, who was on the Cycling England board, which created small but effective town cycling development until it was disbanded by the Conservatives, says:  “Nowhere is the failure of coherent thinking on transport more apparent than in relation to cycling.” 

He 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, a 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.”

(Although it should be noted that the only Secretary of State for Transport to plan for an integrated transport policy which reduced the dependency on cars -  Labour’s John Prescott - was swiftly removed from the post.)

Once it is understand what cycling is up against, the Cycling UK will need to recalibrate and expose the great transport lie.

They really ought to inform their membership!  They will need to tackle the PM head on and then go public!

However, doing anger has never been Cycling UK’s style. Even less so, now I suspect, since becoming a charity eligible for government funding for their work promoting cycling.

In which case, it’s back to 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.

Here endeth “Doom and Gloom.”

Over to you, Paul.


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Footnote: Doom and Gloom continued….this last week Paul Tuohy emailed every Cycling UK member with this message:

Cycling UK has told the Government how to make cycling safer, and now they want to hear from you. The Department for Transport also wants to hear your ideas about what will make you feel safer while cycling, because that’s what’s needed to remove the deterrents which put many people off cycling. 

They’ve done this before, many times, asked  cycling what is required and nothing happens.

Remember the excellent Get Britain Cycling report in 2013, sponsored by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group?

Praised to the heavens by the prime minister of the time, David Cameron, he nevertheless declined to give it cabinet backing.

Nothing happened.

This what the government does, it pretends to be interested but bounces the ball back into our court to distract and when we respond, telling them again exactly what cycling needs, they will again do nothing.

But we’ve no choice. Support Cycling UK, back Tuohy.

And read Wolmar’s book. You will then realise what cycling is up against.