Freedom

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two rides, the cyclists of Hungary commit wholeheartedly to making these rides count: although the table below is a bit out of date, the statistics from 2013’s ride indicate that they had more than 80,000 riders at their Spring event – by the time the last cyclist had crossed the ‘start’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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Oh, to be a baby aboard a Dutch bike…

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This delightful music video really made my morning. #

To be a baby aboard a Dutch bike is truly to be king of the world.

The song is so good that we can even overlook the Sturmey Archer gear shifter on the handlebars…

Enjoy!

Hitler the Road Nazi

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Hitler rants about bicycles and reacts to Premier Ted Baillieu’s recent remarks that the registration of bicycles is not feasible.

Nikki Sinclaire (West Midlands European parliamentarian) has echoed Hitler’s sentiment in calling for compulsory cycle registration and helmet use.

Cycle registration is a contentious issue, but to me it seems absurd for anyone to seriously suggest erecting such significant barriers to cycling at a time when there are too many cars on the roads and the nation’s health is so poor.

Some politicians seem to be under the impression that cyclists are anarchists who disregard the rules and their own safety for no particular reason. Although I don’t condone red-light jumping and pavement cycling (two of the most controversial issues), there are strong arguments and hard data in support of the fact that such behaviours are sometimes justified in light of their being the safest options at certain junctions. This being the case, what is perceived as the ‘bad behaviour’ of cyclists is symptomatic of the poor conditions that British bike riders have to put up; not only do we lack the strict liability laws employed to protect vulnerable road users across Europe, but our cycling infrastructure amounts to little more than inconsistent and unenforced dabs of paint.

If politicians like Nikki Sinclaire want people on bikes to behave better then maybe they should spend more time learning about how successful cycling cultures work and less time proposing preposterous new rules that do nothing to protect cyclists whatsoever.

Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

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Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

For the many of you fortunate enough to not view the committee’s near two-hour session about cycle safety on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that there are scarcely enough words to describe how disheartening and shambolic it was. To give you a flavour of one journalist’s reaction, follow this link to see a collation of running tweets from the event.

The session followed the recent deaths of six cyclists in London and saw the 11-member committee first quiz a series of cycling representatives and police, then a trio of bigwigs from the road haulage world, along with Andrew Gilligan, cycle adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and an expert from the Transport Research Laboratory.

For the most-part, it seemed as if the MPs were concerned with minor issues. For instance, Sarah Champion (Labour MP) wondered whether helmet use could be made compulsory. How a bike helmet is supposed to help someone crushed by an HGV is something that we might wonder in response… The headphones issue was also raised.

Following this, Jason McCartney (Tory MP) asked if there was a war going on between cars and bikes. His party colleague, Martin Vickers, then asked – and he was being entirely serious – if the panel felt cyclists should “contribute” financially to the upkeep of roads. Yes, that’s right. The road tax question, the litmus test for someone who not only doesn’t understand the very basics about cycling policy but hasn’t the barest minimum of intellectual curiosity about it. Silly enough in a pub conversation. For an MP, let alone an MP on the transport select committee, let alone an MP on the transport select committee discussing cycling, it’s unforgivable.

An extract from a Guardian article on the subject encapsulates some real truths about how cycling issues are addressed by the people in power:

“…when it comes to cycling policy in Britain, we remain, for the most part, in the age of the dinosaur. The odd politician talks an occasional good game on bikes, but look at too many mainstream MPs and we’re right back in the 1960s, where bikes are a toy, or a faddish “pursuit”, perilous and mistrusted, while all must lie down in homage to “the economy”, a narrowly-defined set of interests with motorised pistons beating at their heart.”

Dinosaurs and bikes don't mix
Dinosaurs and bikes clearly don’t mix

Jim Dobbin (Labour MP) then proceeded to regale the committee with a series of anecdotes about misbehaving cyclists and scratched car paintwork before suggesting that currently cycle safety woes could be addressed by requiring cyclists to register themselves and their bikes, and to pass proficiency tests in order to gain a cycling licence.

Although many people may believe that Dobbin’s prescription is a good one, it is worth remembering that not a single country on this planet implements these things for the simple reason that they massively curtail bicycle use. Bicycles don’t have the capacity to be the killing machines that cars and lorries sometimes are, and cyclists don’t produce CO2 or damage the roads to the same degree as motor vehicles; requiring them to be registered and licensed (presumable at some cost) seems a preposterous and misguided contribution to a meeting about cycle safety. And while cycling proficiency is a reasonable issue, no one at the committee meeting seemed aware of the bikeability scheme.

Part two was possibly even more depressing still. The MPs, who had been quite interrogative towards the cycle groups (albeit mainly on irrelevancies) gave the haulage group representatives a far easier time. Jack Semple, policy head of the Road Haulage Association, was left utterly unchallenged when he repeatedly singled out cyclist behaviour as the reason for them being killed by lorries; an assertion for which there is, as far as I understand, no evidence.
What was missing from the committee meeting was an acknowledgement of the fact that cities are changing places. Whereas once they competed on things like skyscrapers and parking spaces, the most desirable cities in the world are now places where there is an emphasis on liveability – a more human-centred approach. People don’t want to live with urban motorways and the noise, congestion, and pollution that they bring with them. The nicest cities are more pedestrianised, with pavement cafes, and safe, communal spaces. They also prioritise (and even incentivise) walking and cycling in such a way as to make them more convenient than driving (just look at Groningen in The Netherlands for the perfect example).

To illustrate this point, it is worth noting that there are three big annual lists of the world’s most liveable cities. Not one of them features anywhere in the UK.
Things clearly need to change, and the mass extinction of political dinosaurs seems to be a necessary first step.

London, Cargo Bikes, Police, and Perception

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London, Cargo Bikes, Police, and Perception

A father was recently pulled over by the police while trying to take his kids to school in a perfectly roadworthy cargo bike.

traffic dad

Even though the family had been travelling this way for four years, London’s Transport Police didn’t quite know what to make of it.

traffic dad 2

Admittedly, the daughters’ helmets aren’t fitted very well, and the roads in London are polluted and dangerous at the best of times, but I still see this man as a pioneer of a more sustainable transport movement.

traffic dad 3
The father criticised the officer in question for not knowing the law, saying: ‘This policeman called me over and said “is that bike legal?” I thought “well you’re the policeman surely you should be telling me whether its legal or not”‘.

By referring to the Dutch cargo bike as a ‘rickety wheelbarrow bike’, the Daily Mail’s coverage of this incident is embarrassing because of its clear ignorance of Continental cycling culture.

The cargo bike is a brilliant and useful alternative to a car that is both cheap and environmentally friendly. Indeed, the cargo bike itself is not the problem in this situation, it is simply the poor cycling infrastructure and the speed + proximity of motor vehicles that make this man’s choice of transport questionable.

This story was also covered (more objectively) in the Evening Standard

Added benefits of segregated cycle lanes

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Another masterpiece from our friends at NL Cycling.

It’s not just people on bikes who benefit from good infrastructure. Check out the video and see for yourself.

Nothing but good stuff