Has cycling become a part of British life?

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Has cycling become a part of British life?

This article from The Guardian’s cycling blog explores the question of whether or not cycling has become a part of British life, and, if so, just what sort of cycling culture the UK might be said to have. The author describes British institutions like Brompton and Rapha, and holds them up alongside our comical cycle infrastructure (examples herehere, and here), the numerous ghost bikes that line our streets, and the lack of legal protection that British cyclists have compared to our continental cousins.

strict liability map
At present, the UK is out of step with Europe as one of only five EU countries (along with Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland) that does not operate a system of strict liability to protect vulnerable road users.


This article was published just over a week after myself and a few members of Edinburgh’s Critical Mass ‘Pedalled on Parliament’ in what has now become an annual tradition. Attracting thousands of participants from up and down the country, the ride is intended to highlight the need for greater investment if Scotland is to meet its cycling and emissions targets by 2020. At the end of the day it was a fun ride, and our sound-system proved to be a great success, but sometimes I think that it would be nice to live in a country where such rides were simply unnecessary.

party on parliament


Critical Mass Models

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Critical Mass is an important international movement that strengthens the ties between people on bikes. Although individual bike riders can be intimidated by other road-users, the spirit of the mass is that there is strength in numbers. Cycling should be fun and freeing, and Critical Mass cultivates this atmosphere and reminds us that bikes are legitimate forms of transport that deserve space on the roads. That said, the formula for mass rides isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, and so it is worth acknowledging that different strategies work in different places.

Edinburgh Critical Mass

Although there is something of an unofficial ‘formula’ for rides, it seems that in reality Critical Mass models tend to vary around the world.

Instead of meeting on the last Friday of the month, for instance, the Budapest contingent meets only twice a year. However, by concentrating their energies into just two rides, the cyclists of Hungary commit wholeheartedly to making these rides count: although the table below is a bit out of date, the statistics from 2013’s ride indicate that they had more than 80,000 riders at their Spring event – by the time the last cyclist had crossed the ‘start’ line, the rider at the front of the pack was already 13km away!

Staggering statistics Staggering statistics from Budapest (N.B. unrelated protests ruled out the possibility of a ride in Fall ’06)

The Prague ride has also become hugely popular over the last decade, primarily though appealing to families, but also…

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FAQs about Critical Mass

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A lot of people hesitate over Critical Mass because they don’t really understand what it is. Although it defies definition, we’ve compiled a list of ‘frequently asked questions‘ to shed some light on the issues and hopefully attract some new riders.

Edinburgh doesn't have a shortage of cyclists!
Edinburgh doesn’t have a shortage of cyclists, and Critical Mass offers a superb opportunity for them to come together and celebrate their shared interests. (Photograph borrowed from Edinburgh’s Pedal on Parliament ride – probably the greatest mass bike ride in Scotland)

Has Christmas come early? Cycling infrastructure planned for Edinburgh?!

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Has Christmas come early? Cycling infrastructure planned for Edinburgh?!

A good friend linked me to this (disappointingly brief but) incredibly promising article on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-24729900

According to the article, George Street is to undergo a radical transformation in order to make it more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. The massively wide Georgian street has been described by Edinburgh Evening News as “Edinburgh’s most prestigious shopping district”, and it currently uses its space to accommodate four lanes of traffic as well as curb-side parking and parking along the length of its central reservation. The fact that it doesn’t even have a cycle lane makes this new bicycle-friendly proposal all the more astonishing!

Not even a cycle lane! This new proposal comes totally out of left-field
Not even a cycle lane! This new proposal comes totally out of left-field.

Pedestrianising George Street will undoubtedly increase footfall and therefore increase spending in its notoriously overpriced shops. In spite of the fact that this program of pedestrianisation was thus likely to have been motivated more by economic ends than environmental ones, I am hopeful that the benefits of having a space like this will initiate significant knock-on effects. Even though this is just a modest first step in the grand scheme of things, the fact that it is being implemented so centrally means that city planners are at least beginning to question the antediluvian rationale that prioritises the motor vehicle over everyone else. That said, they haven’t actually implemented anything yet, and so I’ll withhold my praise until I’ve seen it with my own eyes and ridden it with my own wheels.

On the Dutch 'fietsstraat', cars are guests. This means that they can still drive here, but they must respect and prioritise people on bicycles
Cars are considered to be guests on the Dutch ‘fietsstraat’. This means that although they can still drive here, they must drive slowly and treat people on bicycles with due respect.

This news comes just days after a number of articles were published on the topic of cycle safety regarding the ‘lethal’ tram tracks on Princes Street : http://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/cyclists-condemn-dangerous-edinburgh-tram-lines-1-3147144. Perhaps the idea is to get cyclists to avoid tram-routes altogether by providing good infrastructure elsewhere…