The Times newspaper achieved a huge amount of publicity for their "Cities safe for Cycling" campaign. This came about as a result of one of their reporters being seriously injured. However, while their campaign is no doubt genuine, it is unfortunately also the result of rather too little research. The result of this is that they set the bar for quality extremely low.
The London Cycling Campaign also launched a huge publicity drive with their "Go Dutch" theme. However, they did not understand what has actually been achieved in the Netherlands, and they also have set the bar too low, trying to "Go Dutch" by calling for infrastructure designs which fall well below the standards of the Netherlands.
Two high profile campaigns running simultaneously, both ignorant of what is required. They provide a considerable challenge to cycling campaigners who want to see real change occur in the UK.
However, all is not lost. Last September, was the date of the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. This is the group to join and support if you are interested in real change in the environment for cyclists in Britain, and in cycling growing to have a modal share similar to that of the Netherlands. In the CEoGB, a relatively small number of people, with a relatively small budget, are working for what really works without being dragged down by the baggage of vehicular cycling orthodoxy. Because it is important to support the CEoGB we have added a link to the right hand side of this blog which leads to their website.
How much is too little ?
When organisations ask for inadequate action, they are not really helping cyclists, no matter how much publicity results. The Times' asked for a total of £100 million to be spent on cycling each year in England. This sounds impressive but has actually set back campaigning for several years. They are asking for just £1.94 per person per year. While this is a higher rate of funding for cycling than in present day England, it's not really an advance but a return to the same level of funding that we were complaining about in 2005 !
In 2006, I wrote an introduction for an article which included my calculation that expenditure in Cambridgeshire in 2005 was at a rate of approximately £1.45 per person per year. Add 7 years of inflation at just over 4% and you get exactly the figure that The Times is asking for now as an aspiration.
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class infrastructure = world class
This is not an insignificant sum and many campaigners shy away from mentioning this amount of money. However, it must be born in mind that this is not the price of gold-plating and doing more than is necessary, it's merely the price of the "world class infrastructure" needed to achieve the world class modal share and world class levels of safety which the Netherlands has now. Every country which spends less on cycling achieves less cycling (that includes the noisy self promoters North from here). What's more, it's not an upper limit. In future, to achieve a higher modal share and better safety, this figure will have to increase.
This should be kept in mind by all campaigners when negotiating. Compromises may sometimes have to be made, but don't make them before negotiation starts. You should not be asking for the least progress possible but the greatest progress possible.
Starting out by calling for a 20th of what you want is not a strategy for success. As I explained a few posts back, this is akin to Rosa Parks having asked merely for the signs on the bus to be in a fixed position.
Of course, many people will say that you can't ask for this amount of money as the country can't afford it. However, this is not true. Britain is not really poor, it just prioritizes its expenditure a little differently from some other places.
For instance, the Royal Navy recently ordered two new aircraft carriers. These "supercarriers", ordered in a time supposedly of peace, will be by far the largest and most expensive ships that the Royal Navy has ever had at its disposal.
The reasons why the UK "needs" these carriers are quite bizarre. The First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, said "I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. For example, in Afghanistan last year they had to call on the French to bail them out with their carrier. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that." Yes, Britain is actually ordering these ships because the Americans want them to.
And what will this vanity project cost ? Originally the price was set at £3.5 billion apiece, but that increased to 6.2 billion and is now expected to reach £12 billion per ship before they are finished. What's more, because the country has completely lost control of this project and won't have any aircraft to put on the carriers when they are launched, it is now expected that the first ship will be mothballed immediately after launch in 2016.
This is just one example out of a long series of failed military projects. Another example memorable to me was of spending billions on failing to make a warmed over version of the same 1950s airliner, not just once but twice.
Such wasted money easily dwarfs the cost of the world's best cycling infrastructure.
Can't we have both ?
Actually the military doesn't really have to stop wasting money in order that Britain can afford to invest in cycling. The Dutch have repeatedly shown that even relatively sparsely used rural long distance cycle-paths are cheaper to build than not to build. What's more, cycling has been shown again and again to have many positive effects both in society and even for business.
If Britain could achieve the same cycling to work rate as the Netherlands, this would save British businesses more money than it costs to outspend the Dutch on cycling.
Update May 2014
Quite apart from all the wasted lives, resources and political good-will, we now know that the monetary cost of the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was enough to fund cycling at Dutch levels for at least 25 years. Well managed, that could have been enough to catch up with the Netherlands.
There are now several more posts about the confusion which arises when people attempt to "Go Dutch" without really understanding what has been achieved in the Netherlands.
The calculation for Cambridgeshire in 2005 was for cycling and walking combined, based on figures provided by the same Julian Huppert as now supports The Times' campaign. To be fair, he has called this time fora bit more to be spent than The Times asked for, though it's still less than is required to match the Netherlands.