Bikeability is described by the British government as being "cycling proficiency' for the 21st Century!". They say that this training "gives you the skills and confidence to cycle in modern road conditions".
|British children preparing for battle - photo courtesy of Bikeability website.|
However, once again the British public are again being sold short. Sadly, the truth is that "modern road conditions" in the UK still look remarkably similar to 40 year old road conditions in the Netherlands.
|Dutch street in the 21st century.|
Not much like Britain now.
|1960s Dutch street scene.|
Very like Britain now.
While conditions remain as they are on Britain's roads, cycling for most people will not progress further than the very first achievement in Bikeability level 1, which reads: "Get on your bike, start cycling, then stop and get off".
Where did the training emphasis come from ?
According to the CTC, they proposed "cycling proficiency" in 1936. However, not until 1948 did the government "endorse RoSPA to roll out CP".
The decline of cycling in Britain
It is often not appreciated just how popular cycling once was in the UK. In 1949, no less than a third of the total distance travelled on the roads in the UK was by bike: 23.6 billion vehicle km vs. 46.5 billion km for all motor vehicles combined. Just 20.3 billion vehicles km were by private car and taxi. i.e. more distance was covered each year by bike than by car. This is a remarkable level of cycle usage, and something that no nation, including the Netherlands, can claim today.
|An enthusiast: Ten years ago,|
with my eldest daughter, "ready
for battle" on Britain's roads.
What we are left with in the UK now is an almost total lack of cycling a few people due to economic reasons and a keen group of enthusiasts. These are the people who have stopped cycling from declining to zero. In Britain I was one of them and of course I trained my children to cycle as safely as possible under the circumstances.
What caused the decline ?
I am, of course, not saying that cycle-training caused a decline in cycling. That's not the case at all. Rather, as cars became more affordable they displaced bikes from Britain's roads. Due to a lack of good subjectively safe conditions for cycling, driving became the least bad option for most people. It costs a lot to drive in the UK. It is often reported that a high percentage of the income of people on low salaries goes into the petrol tanks of their cars. However, people continue to drive despite of this cost. It's not a positive choice, but a reaction from people who don't see that they have a choice. Driving in the rush-hour is a source of stress, not pleasure. However, other alternatives including cycling are worse.
If not only training, then what ?
After 62 years of the same approach producing the same results in Britain, it is time for a change in policy. The only sensible approach is to copy the Netherlands as this is the country where cycling has most successfully resisted the rise of motoring, and even risen once again after the reasons for the decline were noted and action was taken.
Infrastructural change is needed to make cycling desirable. Obviously starting sooner rather than later would be best, and therefore it would be best if recent calls for change were listened to, rather than waiting for another thirty years to pass.
Once the infrastructure is in place, training can then come into its own. The efforts of people who train cyclists will no longer be wasted.
In my view, cycle training, especially of children, is valuable. However, it is only a small part of what is required. It can't result in a higher cycling rate unless conditions are changed such that cycling becomes a desirable activity. Governments which want to increase cycling cannot rely merely on training. They have to invest in cycling infrastructure. The evidence shows that on its own, attempting to train cyclists to cope with ever degrading road conditions simply does not increase cycling rates.
Of course, some people will question the cost of providing proper cycling infrastructure. The best infrastructure in the world costs about €30 per person per year. This is not a large amount out of the nation's budget. If Britain could achieve just ten percent of journeys by bike, far fewer than in recent history, the payback would be much larger than the cost. The extent of the infrastructure required is no more overwhelming than in the Netherlands. Britain isn't nearly so huge and spread out as some people think. In fact, the population density of England is comparable with that of the Netherlands and the population density even of relatively sparsely populated Wales is comparable with that of the Dutch province of Drenthe, where we live.
Britain's transport budget next year is 22.4 billion pounds or around 420 euros per person per year from central government (this is not the total spent). Building decent infrastructure for people to cycle in the UK is easily affordable, but Britain seemingly prefers to spend money on such things as ever larger ships for the navy, trying to rejuvenate the same rather antique military aircraft not just once, but twice. Britain's defence budget is one of the largest in the world. For next year is over 47 billion pounds, is approximately €880 euros per person per year. That's substantially more than the total amount of money than leaves the country each year.
Wasteful projects such as these, and an over-reliance on imported fuel for motorized transport, are the means by which Britain has achieved a cumulative deficit three times as large as that of Greece. Cycling is part of the solution to the country's financial problems.
I was initially prompted to write this after reading the response by a cycle trainer, Londonneur to a post by David Arditti on the Movement for Liveable London. Cycle trainers in the UK work very hard at what they do. However, one should never confuse "working hard" with "achieving results". Cycle training can help a few nervous but keen individuals to cycle in a hostile environment. However, it's not something which scales to support the entire population in cycling for a significant proportion of all journeys. To achieve this requires cycling to be an efficient and safe means of transport. Changing the streets to increase subjective safety and give cyclists more direct routes is the way to achieve this.
All figures were published by the DfT.