Thursday 21 October 2010

After the demise of Cycling England, what now in the UK ?

A few days ago I wrote about my experiences on a short visit to England. The vast majority of the British population do not use cycling as a means of transport. Many people simply don't understand it. They don't see cycling as having anything to do with them. Most British people never, ever cycle at all, not even once a year. 79% of women are in that category. The main reason why is that they are simply scared of the conditions which await them. I know I've mentioned it all before, but it's really the reason why cycling in Britain continues to flatline.

My country of birth has for a very long time done nothing of any real substance to encourage cycling.

And then, suddenly everything got worse...

"Cycling England," the organisation which was supposed to promote cycling in England, has been scrapped as part of measures to help Britain's struggling economy. So, "Cycling England" is soon to join the ranks of other abandoned initiatives. While the Dutch see cycling as partly a fiscal measure due to its many financial benefits, Britain still sees everything to do with cycling as being "too expensive."

I'm hoping for the best, but at the moment it's all rather sad to see. I'm not the only one to think so. Here are links to a few blog posts from the UK written by people who are trying to make sense of it. If you want to know what's going on there, please read these links:

What the government’s spending review means for transport and cycling
Goodbye ‘Cycling England’ – and the CfIT

Department for Transport – Spending Review 2010 Press Release
Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hammond?

The dog that barks the loudest gets the bone; is it time for a cycling lobby?

The photos are from Weston-super-Mare - a very nice seaside town, but British. It's not been picked out because it's particularly bad, but because I was there a couple of weeks back and could take photos, and because what I saw is quite normal for Britain: The town is unfriendly to cyclists. The pedestrianized shopping streets exclude cyclists and force them to take less direct, less pleasant detours. As a result, it doesn't really matter that there is little cycle parking, because there is little demand for what is there. I could also have taken photos of inadequate cycle lanes on busy roads, and unconvincing off-road shared use paths. Compare with the centre of Assen (before and after stills).


WillCycle said...

David, I'm a great fan of your blog and I've learnt a lot about cycling advocacy from you.
However, I don't believe the demise of Cycling England is necessarily the worst thing.
I've posted on my blog what my thoughts are in more detail, but the short version is that there are FAR too many cycling-related groups in the UK, resulting in their collective power being fragmented and watered down.
Perhaps losing several of them might just do for cycling in the UK what unification did for Italy.

Taliesin said...

Shrug. While the UK government is, in practice, commited to promoting the use of motor vehicles, Cycling England was a Quango that was going to achieve little or nothing. I can see no reason why it should have been saved from the fate it shares with so many other Quangos.

Unknown said...

Although most of the time cycling seems quite bleak here in Canada, it sure doesn't seem like it is going the way of the UK.

From what I saw of Beauty and the Bike, it sort of touched on this issue with younger women in England, why do they stop cycling at a certain age?

David Hembrow said...

William: Your post makes some good points. I agree that the fragmentation of cyclists is a very big problem.

Taliesin: Yes, it was a Quango... But it was the only thing that cycling had. That of course is part of the problem. Cycling never has proper support from the British government.

Ryan: Be careful of wishful thinking. People in Britain also tend to think things are going better than they are.

I like the Beauty and the Bike project, but I think they inadvertently give a misleading idea of how much young women cycle.

Actually, the problem is not so much that girls give up, but that they never really cycle in the first place. The bikes they're "giving up" from are toy bikes. Bikes with stabilizers and tricycles ridden by very small children, which virtually every child in Britain rides at some point. However, these are merely toys. They are bought as such by non-cycling parents as presents at Christmas or birthdays and are discarded as the child grows. Very few children in the UK, male or female, progress from these toys to using cycling as a means of transport.

Anonymous said...


Nice post as always and thanks for thinking of me! In an earlier post, I also wrote arguing that the demise of Cycling England could be a good thing. Being a Quango was always going to put it on shaky foundations. However, I wrote it on the supposition that cycling could be brought 'in-house' and actually regarded as transport as opposed to a novelty that could be held at arms length.

Now, cycling in Britain has nothing at National Government level as the Department for Transport has cast cycling out to the car-centric provinces. Pushing for Dutch design standards with infrastructure procurement and implementation was never going to happen under [the vehicular] Cycling England but now a lot of dreams of a proper modal shift seem even further away.

For the moment, it's now time for the major cycling players to stand up and be counted. Issuing quiet and verbose press statements in the vain hope that Government will sit up and listen is not enough.

Whatever happens from here on in will be fascinating, and give cycling blog writers plenty of material for a good while yet!

Yours in cycling


Anonymous said...

Just another interesting blog post about it:

I would call it British humour...

Unknown said...

That's a good point David, although we have a growing female cycling population (ages 16 & up), many are still dumping their bikes around the same time they get rid of the training wheels.

When I first started cycling around 5 years ago the number of females riding would be around 5% (if that) of the *cycling population*
Today the number is closer to 40%, and more females here are taking up the "cycle chic" approach.

I believe on the follow up to Beauty and the Bike, they said very few continued to cycle after it was finished.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks, David, for the link and for thinking of me.

I agree that cycling's voice here in the UK is far too watered down and as a consequence doesn't have enough clout, however how you'd go about getting a single clear-voiced message from all the campaigns together is beyond me. Sadly, and as I allude to in my blog post about the creation of a cycle lobby, if all the cycling groups aren't careful they're going to end up fighting amongst themselves for scraps.

Cycling is certainly at an interesting point in the UK and, outside of London, is at very high risk of sliding much further in to the decline if we are not careful.

PS David; it's not all bad in Weston Super Mud you know, they've just re-built and re-opened the Grand Pier after it's sad demise in a fire a few years back; reasons to be cheerful! :o)

David Hembrow said...


I'm not sure the pier has actually re-opened yet. When I was there a couple of weeks back they had signs saying "Opening Summer 2010" but with smaller print saying they were actually now hoping to be open for the half term school holidays. The website currently shows tomorrow's date for opening.

Please don't get the impression that I dislike WSM. That would be quite wrong. I have always thought Burnham to be a bit nicer, but also like WSM a lot.

I wasted many hours as a teenager playing pinball on that pier (and other places nearby). If I were there now, I'd be attending the opening event of "The best pier in the world" tomorrow (even though their other slogan of "Retail fun for all the family" sounds a bit, well, suspect).

wee folding bike said...

England is not the same as UK or Britain.

Well not yet anyway but I have hopes.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: Yes, I know. I don't think I've confused them. The policies are the same through the UK.

Many British people don't realise that only two out of twelve provinces of the Netherlands are Holland. Referring to the entire country as "Holland" is just the same as referring to the whole of the UK as "England."

wee folding bike said...

Well then who are these guys?

It looks like England and the UK are confounded in the title and throughout the piece.

I know about the Netherlands =! Holland thing. Simon Koorn explained it to me once when I was foolish enough to ask.

David Hembrow said...

Oh, save me from militant Scots... OK, I see the mistake. The last word of the sentence '"Cycling England," the organisation which was supposed to promote cycling in Britain,' has been changed to 'England.' The rest of the post still makes sense, including the title. The attitude of the government(s) remains much the same: Cars first. It's really not any different in Scotland to the rest of the country.

Others have already written here about the fragmentation of campaigners in Britain. In a similar vein, I'm not sure that the separation of Cycling England from Cycling Scotland actually has helped cyclists anywhere in Britain. Was there ever an effective "Cycling Wales" or "Cycling Northern Ireland" ?

I've cycled in Scotland. I enjoyed it too. However, Scotland in some ways is actually worse than the rest of the country. There are often no alternatives to the major roads. For instance, when I cycled between Glasgow and (almost to) Inverness, the very busy (and dangerous) A82 was the only viable route, with no smaller roads in parallel, and it was not always a pleasant place to be.

I see no evidence that Cycling Scotland is achieving anything substantially better than Cycling England. There is the usual mix of "soft measures", promotion events, lots of studies and reports. However, the photo gallery pointed to by the engineering section of their website consists entirely of photos of (often not very good - it seems narrow on-road cycle lanes combined with bad junctions are still aspirational) infrastructure from elsewhere, including England, Wales and Ireland, but none from Scotland.

It's a blog, btw, not an encyclopaedia. Please don't take momentary lapses of concentration too seriously. No harm was intended from confusing your place of birth with mine...

Slow Factory said...

A pedestrian zone should be exactly that, just as bike infrastructure should not take space away from pedestrians.

Certainly, many pedestrian zones can accommodate cycling during morning commute hours, before most of the shops open. Ideally (in this model) a nearby route which might be used for deliveries in the morning would be free for the evening commute...

Non-Hollanders are fortunately not so nationalistic about any not-so-precise identification, but you can also get big bonus points if you make the distinction to someone from Friesland, Zeeland etc.

"Dutch" is the English word for the language "Nederlands" and of course while everyone who is a citizen may be Dutch (in English) they are also associated with their province. Am I getting this right? What does a NL citizen call themselves in Nederlands? And so on with the other provinces...?

David Hembrow said...

Green Idea Factory: I'm all for pedestrians having some space for themselves. However as "pedestrianisation" is done in Britain it very often means that direct routes for cyclists are taken away and replaced with a diversion on extremely busy roads around the city centre. i.e. on busy roads crammed with cars full of the "pedestrians" who later may walk a little in the city centre.

This sort of pedestrianization actually encourages driving.

The first picture above shows a quite typical street in the UK after it was transformed into a pedestrian street. this link shows two photos from here in Assen, pre and post "pedestrianization." The first shows how a street here used to look before transformation (the street in Britain would have looked much the same) and the other photo is after transformation into a space for both pedestrians and cyclists. The same could be done in the UK, for at least some streets, to preserve pleasant and direct routes for cyclists, without adverse effects for pedestrians. The change from having two lanes of motorized traffic and narrow pavements to having a couple of lanes of cycle traffic and much wider pavements is also beneficial to pedestrians.

The Dutch don't seem to get at all upset about people referring to the whole country as "Holland". In fact, when speaking in English they often do the same thing. No offence taken or meant.

Oh, and I have to mention that a few weeks back, the Dutch branches of the German discount supermarket LIDL advertised an "English week" with all sorts of special "English" food, such as fish and chips, Cheddar cheese, fudge, pickle, and "Scottish biscuits."

wee folding bike said...

Glasgow did have the Velo City conference a few years ago so there are bits and bobs of green paint around the city. I use almost none of it.

My old friend Stewart posted some pictures of them:

Cycling in the highlands never bothered me but I know not everybody feels that way about it. Even for cars there is a bit of the A82 which is single track with traffic lights to control the flow. Before kids put a stop to it I'd happily batter around the west highlands on my Longstaff TWD.

Are Scottish biscuits shortbread or Abernathy? I'm on a quest for Dorset Knobs. I'll find them one these days.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: Velo City seems another of those "talking shop" type of events. It's often held in places which do little for cycling, and features presentations from other places which do little for cycling (but talk big).

On Stewart's web page, I especially like this cycle lane. Exceptional by any standards. The single lane A roads in the very North of Scotland are indeed fabulously empty of cars, once you get to them. I took a few photos.

I think the English/Scottish biscuits as sold by the Dutch/German supermarket were shortbread.

wee folding bike said...

Ahhh yes, Cambridge St. I can say that I have never, ever, used those lanes. My favourite cinema is a block away and I'm there every few weeks with a Brompton, possibly a Pashley next week.

kfg said...

Being from the Nieuw Nederlands I never say Holland when I mean Netherlands, but I will tell people my bike was made in Holland - because that's what it says on my bike.

The thing is I actually feel a bit strange about doing that, because I don't know if my bike was actually made in Holland, or whether it was made somewhere else in the Netherlands and it only says Holland for the general understanding of the ignorant Yanks it was being marketed to.

So, any idea where Magneets WERE made before the Batavus takeover? Can't seem to find any information about that on The Information Superhighway (tm).

Neil said...

> A pedestrian zone should be exactly that

I disagree. Pavement, yes exclusive, but large areas can accommodate cycles as well as pedestrians. See

Which is (was) a DfT leaflet that concluded there were - "no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas"

Unfortunately I do note it has been archived - so am now wondering what replaces it in this car-centric government...

henryinamsterdam said...

kfg, Magneet was originally founded in 1909 in Amsterdam and then moved to a new factory in Weesp (next to Amsterdam) after the original factory burned down in 1928. The history can be read here (in Dutch):

A few pics of a Workcycles employee with his pre-war Magneet can be found here:

Slow Factory said...

Neil, Thanks.... "car-centric"! Yes, you're right on the money. Car-centric means that the pedestrians and cyclists can be put together and they will adjust (like refugees in tight housing!). Oh just get on with it! Barclays Bank is funding the war, but here is a bike to use, etc.

Pedestrians should get some purely pedestrian spaces (this means they do not have to even think about anything going faster, they do not have to put blinkies on their sausage dogs at night (the new fear reaction in Berlin and I am sure other places)... that their baby can crawl on the street if it's not covered in trash, and so on.)

Cyclists should get the most direct routes possible, i.e. with minimal deviations from the route a bird on a mission would take (Forgive me, I forgot the normal metaphor). It takes a cyclist only a few seconds to go a couple hundred meters extra. The before-the-shops-open exemption works in Prague (and at this time there are delivery vehicles around so bikes are not the problem.) This design is perhaps not as appropriate where there are a lot of offices and shops, as there would be a lot of walking to workplaces going on.

In regards to collisions and threats of collisions, government agencies etc. need to start quantifying danger and annoyance, as they do light injuries, heavy ones and death. This will make more clear the abysmal hell of private urban automobilization, the all-too-common delivery vehicle free-for-all and also the vastly less threatening but still tangible conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.

kfg said...

Well, so it WAS actually made in Holland. Go figure. Also, it traveled 6000 kilometers to end up - next to Amsterdam. I'll have to ride it there at some point.

Thank you for the information and the link, Henry.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Cycling England staff are in some way relieved that it is all over, given the size of the budget and the scale of the task didn't in anyway match, and that was under the last Government sad to say.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK