Friday 6 September 2013

How much time do you have ? Who are we doing this for ?

Our car has a faded sticker in the back
window left over from a previous
attempt to call for "space for cycling"
in Britain. It makes no sense to repeat
the same tried and failed campaigns..
Update: scrapped five years later
News from Britain
After much campaigning effort on behalf of cyclists in the UK, there was a debate on Monday about cycling. This has been much reported, and of course it is good news in itself that the debate happened. However, nothing has been promised as a result. All that has happened is that a motion was carried by those MPs who attended this meeting and this motion suggests setting a target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2025 and 20% by 2050. This has not been adopted by government, it is only to be the subject of more discussion.

Things like this have happened before. In 1996 the British government went further than it has yet this time around. Then, the National Cycling Strategy was adopted, an organisation was set up to oversee it which had some funds allocated and promises were made including "to double the number of cycle trips in Britain by 2002, and to double them again by 2012." i.e. by last year, 8% of journeys in the UK should have been by bike. This didn't happen. What happened in reality was that the strategy was dropped quietly a few years later and the modal share for cycling in the UK stayed more or less the same. Several other initiatives have come and gone between 1996 and now, none of them leaving a significant impact.

How much time do you have ?
The long time-scales involved with the new motion are a concern. By 2050, many of the people who debated that motion will either be retired or have deceased. That at least lets them off the hook should the policy fail as they won't be able to be held accountable for failure. Many of the people who turned up for the mass protest ride which also took place on Monday will also be retired or deceased by 2050. Even the children of the people who went on the demo won't benefit much from a policy the result of which will only be known 37 years in the future as even they are likely to be be middle aged by the time 2050 rolls along.

Timescales are important. Rapid progress is important. The UK is already forty and a half years behind, how much longer do people have to wait for decent conditions on the streets ? How much longer do campaigners who have already lived through the last forty years of indecisiveness have to wait until things start to move forwards in the UK ? Do we really have to wait another 37 years for significant progress ? Add those 37 years to the 40 years which the UK is already behind and you get a total of 77 years. i.e. very nearly the average life-expectancy for a British male.

If the motion is adopted, will the UK even then be on path to "catch up" with The Netherlands ? Unfortunately, not. If the UK was to match Dutch expenditure starting now then we could perhaps expect the quality of cycling infrastructure to approach Dutch standards asymptotically, so that it might be quite close after a decade, closer again after two decades. For more rapid progress than this considerably greater expenditure than Dutch levels would be required. Unfortunately, the most prominent campaigns in the UK set their sights at a much lower level. They have worked towards a target of just £10 per person per year, or little more than a third of the Dutch level of expenditure on cycling, or even lower figure of £100M per year, which works out at less than a tenth of the Dutch level of expenditure. A lower level of expenditure can never result in "catching up". It can only result in falling behind at a lower rate than at present, but calling for a lower level of expenditure costs just as much campaigning effort as calling for enough.

How efficiently is the money spent ?
What's more, we must also consider the relative efficiency of how the money is spent. In Cambridge this week we learnt that what is frankly a terrible transformation of a traffic light junction cost £450K from the cycling budget. In Assen, a much higher quality traffic light junction transformed just a few years ago cost just €32K from the cycling budget. If Britain is to achieve as much as The Netherlands does then the country not only needs to provide the same level of funding, but it also needs to spend those funds just as efficiently. Spending a third of the funds at a tenth of the efficiency certainly won't cut it.

Dutch children go to and from
school like this today . How long do
British children have to wait ?
Who is it for ?
Who are we doing this for ? It can't be for today's adult cyclists because any potential result is so far off into the future that it won't help us. The children of today's generation of cycle campaigners also won't benefit much because they'll be middle aged and parents themselves by the time 2050 comes along. Perhaps the grandchildren of today's cycling campaigners might benefit while they are still children. We should be campaigning for children, but we shouldn't be doing that simply because progress is so slow that we can never expect to see results within our lifetimes.

The Dutch made rapid progress in the 1970s and 80s by focusing on what was important to them and allocating the required funds. There s no reason why the UK could not do the same thing if a real commitment is made, good plans are in place, and real funding is made available. However, all these things need to come together.

A different campaign
Our campaigning has always been a little different because of our emphasis on children. We emigrated because not only would this improve our own lives but it also seemed like the only way we could achieve a better standard of living for our own children, but of course that's not an easy thing to do and it isn't something that everyone can or should do.

UNICEF rates the well-being of
Dutch children highly and other
cycling nations also score well.
It's a great disappointment to me that campaigning for Dutch infrastructure in the UK has been derailed so thoroughly by self interested groups. Gobsmackingly terrible cycling infrastructure continues to be proposed in the UK while Cycling campaigners (2), councils (2, 3, 4) and developers alike, all keen to push their own agendas, slap the words "Dutch" and "Holland" as branding on these proposals rather than using them as an indication that they are truly working for infrastructure of the quality and with the expected result seen in The Netherlands. "Go Dutch" is now so devalued in cycle campaigning in Britain that it is virtually meaningless. Having seen equally dubious proposals in other countries also described as "Dutch", this is clearly not only a British problem

For this reason, we've started campaigning very obviously in another direction. In reality it's a return to what we were always campaigning for, but hopefully this emphasis will prevent it from being so easily derailed. Walking and cycling infrastructure is but a means to an end. That end is that people can travel freely by foot and by bicycle.

A different campaigning emphasis is needed to achieve the same standard of living for children in other countries as Dutch children already have. Hence The Campaign for Childhood Freedom.

While walking infrastructure is common in most countries and usually already exists in a network which covers at least most of the places where distances are short and walking is a viable means of transport, cycling infrastructure is far less common. Cycling is particularly sensitive to subjective safety issues because cyclists are often expected to ride on busy roads. These concerns are doubled if parents are asked to consider what they will allow their children to do.

Children won't achieve freedom due to a small number of vanity projects or by minor improvements. It requires what "Go Dutch" should have implied. i.e. a dense network of very high quality infrastructure which goes everywhere, is convenient to use and is easy to understand so that it can be used safely by a five year old walking alone or riding his/her own bike. Nothing less than this is enough.

Judy and I can't be everywhere at once and in any case we don't want to travel long distances because that also would have an effect on all our children. Each country needs to own its own campaign. We want to help as much as we can by recommending ideas and we want to foster the formation of a network of people world-wide who are willing to organise campaigns in their own country which are focused on childhood freedom. For this purpose we have started a discussion forum to enable communication about how best to free children everywhere.

It is their sensitivity to the danger that their children are exposed to and wanting to look after their children which causes parents to drive more than non-parents. Parents put themselves out in order to try to keep their children safe, however children don't really benefit at all from being put into automobiles to make their journeys. Children need freedom and they especially need to cycle. The freedom which comes from being able to cycle is a good part of what results in UNICEF rating the well-being of Dutch children so highly. If we could redirect some parents' energy towards a greater goal than merely trying to make their own child so safe as possible right now then we would have an enormous movement.

If you want today's and tomorrow's children to be able to live as Dutch children already do, please get involved. If you're not sure what it takes, find out for yourself and ask questions on the forum. There are no "experts". Everyone's opinion is valuable.

We believe that parents world wide want the best for their children and they want to see progress while their children are still young enough to benefit from it, however you do not have to be a parent yourself in order to be concerned about these issues. We respect that some people have made a very rational decision to be child-free and others cannot have children. You are welcome to take part in the discussion. All adults have a responsibility for the next generation.

Let's work out together how we can achieve the same freedom for all the world's children as Dutch children already have.


Martin said...

Campaign for childhood freedom - excellent!!

Since long time, I wanted to start some sort of campaign in my local town to better conditions of our traffic logged streets. But I did not want to start another 'cycling' campaign. But this proposed campaign is worth of time and effort. Thank you, already registered.

Could we possibly create some leaflet, which I could hand out to whomever I see appropriate, and some banner which I could stick on my bike? (not active on social media, I am afraid)

Anonymous said...

Okay, this might just work. I can see it taking off from here. I'll get my local cycling group on to this asap. Thanks David for pushing and pushing.

Bob said...

Saddened, but not surprised to see Canada at number 12. A bit surprised to see the UK actually below the US.
So they're the "leaders of the free world," eh? *pfft*

Unknown said...

The campaign is great.

I was a child in the 80s-90s and my parents gave me freedom to walk/ride around the neighbourhood from an early age. My ride to primary school had a short 'shared use' shortcut, a (fun) dirt path and a few back streets, none of which had much traffic because they were not through routes. Of course riding on the road started my love affair with cars that wasn't really ended until a few years ago.

It saddens me that young children don't have the freedom to go and visit their friends on their own (and go and make dirt jumps like I did as a child...).

Nikephoros said...

I think this is a mistaken approach. It would be better to campaign against general transportation apartheid as kids are just one group out of several that suffer under the under domination of automobiles. Those too poor to afford a motor vehicle or the "car deprived" also number significantly. What is certain is that cycling advocacy is doomed to fail. In the English speaking world a cyclist is generally someone who bicycles for entertainment, to lose weight, to act like an Lance Armstrong wannabe, for sport, for exercise. That is, the nominal cyclists really use the motor vehicle for all their transportation needs. Thus cycling advocacy is what allows them to carry their bikes on car mounted racks to their group rides or local trailheads!