Saturday 3 March 2012

Asking for enough

In the last few months, we've seen a number of developments in cycle campaigning in the UK.

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.

Shopping centre in Assen. World
class infrastructure = world class
modal share
To create the "world class infrastructure" that many talk about is simply not possible for such a low figure. It also won't happen for the "£10-20 per person per year" as commonly called for by cycling campaigners who are unaware of the true level of Dutch cycling investment. Actually, the Netherlands spends about £25 per year per person (actually €30, roughly equivalent to $38). For the UK this would amount to a total of not £100M, but nearly £2B per year, every year, to be spent on cycling infrastructure. The USA would have to spend over $11B on cycling each year to match this.

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.

More on this subject
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.


Group51 said...

When I voted in the LCC poll for "Go Dutch" I voted on the manifesto of this blog. I am puzzled how vehicular cyclists have inserted killer ASLs into LCC' s designs. Don't they realize they lost the vote? Doesn't LCC management realize that vehicular cycling was REJECTED in that vote? What can we do?

Steve said...

A warm welcome back, I always enjoy reading your blog and I hope it continues for the foreseeable future

Sara Dorman said...

nice to see the blog back, but can we compare like with like? i'd find it helpful to go back 30 years and see how much the dutch govt spent then per person per year, and a graph of how that has changed. asking to simply jump 30 years and then match dutch spending strikes me as more than a little utopian.

amoeba said...

I'm so glad you're back. When I realised your wonderful blog had gone, I was deeply dismayed.

David Hembrow said...

SRD: I don't have figures, but you can see how it looked here 20 and 30 years ago. Expenditure was already far higher than in the UK. At some point a proper start has to be made.

christhebull said...

Well, first point is that £25 per person per year, as far as I'm concerned, actually isn't very much, considering my Xbox Live subscription is more then that and I spend that sort of money on a typical night out. The problem is that the government wants another metaphorical night out (but rather then buying a bottle of Grey Goose in a nightclub, it buys an aircraft carrier) and then has to skimp on its food budget.

However, I should point out it's not just about the amount of money, but where it goes. This image sums up the Stupidhighways well: 'We promised you £400 million of "cycle superhighways" and all you got is this lousy paint'. £400 is a rather large sum of money, but all I can see are parking bays with blue surfaces and some stuff on traffic light poles stolen from some fairground hall of mirrors.

Likewise, I seem to recall several cases where cycling budgets were raided for general road resurfacing, consultancy fees, and other stuff that isn't actually cycling related. And that's ignoring the £30 million wasted on Exhibition Road when you could have spent a hundredth of that on some road closures that would be better for pedestrians. So basically, having bought the bottles in the nightclub, rather then buying some instant noodles until the next instalment of student loan, the government spends its loose change on a pack of chewing gum and a copy of whatever newspaper hasn't had a cycle safety campaign yet. And now it's going to ask for another increase in its overdraft.

Vocus Dwabe said...

Delighted to see that you have repented your decision. Your accumulated wisdom disappearing from public view just as people over here are getting seriously interested in mass cycling would have been most unfortunate.

Just out of curiosity, is there/are there any Dutch consultancy firms specialising in traffic planning for bicycles? If our local highways departments are being forced to take cycling seriously at last and worthwhile funding is made available by central government, then it would be tragic to see the money disappearing into the pockets of the clueless charlatans who will soon no doubt
be offering their services as "cycling infrastructure consultants". It would be nice to see some of it going to people who do actually know what they're talking about and could produce competent solutions. We now have a single European market for services; so why not?

David Hembrow said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words.

Vocus: There are several companies. One which sprints to mind is Ligtermoet and Partners, who sometimes run full page ads for their services in the Fietsersbond newsletter. They don't run any ads on this blog, but they're one of a very short list of companies who I'd be happy to carry ads for.

David Hembrow said...

Further to that, though, I have to caution against expecting that Dutch experts will have any more of a clear idea about the UK than British experts have of the Netherlands.

You only have to read discussions which appear online between Dutch experts to see that they are easily persuaded that what is going on overseas is as good as, or even better than, what they have in the Netherlands.

I feel it's very easy to end up with a Dutch "rubber stamp" on things which would never actually be approved within the Netherlands.

Vocus Dwabe said...

"I have to caution against expecting that Dutch experts will have any more of a clear idea about the UK than British experts have of the Netherlands."

Well, perhaps you might suggest to them that they start reading up on it, because there might be money to be made.

As I often say, the world of nature has few sights more awe-inspiring than a Dutchman who has just heard two coins chinking together. If they can sell water engineering and marine salvage to the entire world, then why not their cycling expertise as well? At least we'd be sure of getting value for money.

Seán said...

Good to have you back David

Velorydr said...

Glad you are back David.We missed you over here.You are a valuable resource and person. Larry in Leduc, Alberta, Canada

Nico said...

Glad you're back David!

@Christopher: I have been posting in various places on the internet that when my LCC membership is due for renewal, unless they have embraced whole-heartedly the Dutch principles and campaigned for real amounts of money to be invested in cycling, I will cancel it. Words are cheap but money talks. I would rather donate an equivalent sum to the CEoGB, which at least seems to understand what it takes to make the changes necessary for me to cycle with my son safely.

I also find their glossy magazine perfectly useless, and would rather they used part of that budget to send some of their staff, UK/TFL road planners and even, why not, London mayoral candidates on a study tour of the type offered by David.

Ynte said...

I've been reading your blog for a long long time and I tought i'd leave a comment for the first time, seeing all the things that happened. I actually grew up in Assen and this blog has really opened my eyes about our own cycling culture and it has made me also a bit proud about it. It was fascinating to see you talk about places in Assen that I tought were very normal but you and foreigners were amazed about. I hope you will one day be able to capitalize on all the knowledge you have acquired in your years in the Netherlands.

Jack Thurston said...

Very good to have you back, David.

Reading your earlier post about your experiences with professional organisations seeking to have you work for them for free is in equal parts revealing, disquieting and shameful.

There's far too much of this kind of thing going on these days. And it takes courage to say No and stand up for your rights as a creator.

I congratulate you on your return to the blog and welcome your thoughtful and crystal clear statement of licensing conditions for the work you have created.

I have always wanted to come on one of your study tours but since producing The Bike Show every week is an activity earns me precisely zero money, I'm going to have to wait until I find a willing sponsor (I am looking!).

In the meantime, I look forward to reading your analysis and opinion.

David Hembrow said...

Thanks again for all the wishes.

Jack, I'd certainly consider sponsoring you if I could... but I can't. I can give you a link, which I've added at the right hand side -->

My blog list got lost recently, so I had to start again on it. I've been adding people slowly as I realize they are missing.

The list doesn't mean anything other than that these are blogs I've been reading. Anyone who finds that they've slipped off the list shouldn't take it personally.

Marion said...

Hurrah!! You're back!! *does happy dance*

ravydavygravy said...

Glad to see you back, I very much enjoy your blog but....

To say that the Times's Campaign has "set back campaigning for years" beggars belief. It has facilitated a paradigm shift in the debate about cycling in this country.

In England, there is no decent urban cycling infrastructure to speak of. There is strong anti-cycling sentiment and the English "barely recognise the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport". Despite this, the campaign has generated political momentum at the highest level.

I don't understand your negativity. Just because you ask for something doesn't mean anyone will give it to you. You have to build support for an idea - for sustainable safety.
You pick holes in the designs of the LCC Go Dutch campaign and dismiss them as ignorant. But I think they have produced a powerful campaigning tool that is helping Londoners to visualise cities built for people.

Your experience will be invaluable to inform UK cyclists as they try to get the wheels spinning on a mass movement for cycling unless you choose to put a stick in the spokes!

bikesaint said...

In Australia, Bicycle Network publishes the amount spent by local councils on cycling infrastructure ( The City of Sydney (where MUCH needs to be done) is spending $62.34 per person per year.

Donald said...

Yes, but Sydney Council has done very little for safe cycling for 150 fact cycling has gone backwards as cars took over the roads. So $64 ÷ 150 = a pitiful 43¢ per person. There is a massive catch up required throughout ALL Sydney municipalities. Some, like Sydney City Council & Willoughby, are playing catch-up with welcome big strides. Others like Lane Cove & North Sydney have hardly started to implement separate or shared pathway infrastructure.