Cyclenation’s response to The Times’ Campaign

The Times Cities fit for cycling

Last week, Cyclenation published a response to The Times’ Cities fit for Cyclists initiative. It was a bit disappointing to see that their response was on the defensive side, Cyclenation seeming to be more concerned with preventing the situation for cyclists degrading even further, rather than seizing the opportunity to engage with an extremely unlikely ally and improve the situation on the roads for both existing and potential cyclists. The impression was that Cyclenation would prefer if The Times’ campaign was concerned with cycle promotion rather than cyclists’ safety.

For example, where the response mentions infrastructure for cyclists, it is more concerned with highlighting the limitations and problems of the infrastructure we have, rather than specifying what should be done instead. The implication is that cycling infrastructure is something best avoided. When touching on the provision for cyclists seen in Copehagen and the LCC’s Go Dutch campaign, the response seems a bit too eager to explain how and why these things will never happen in the UK.

Instead, the report focusses on ‘safety in numbers.’ Safety in numbers is a factoid based on the correlation between cycling numbers and the safety of cyclists; where there are lots of cyclists they are generally safer. Many attribute this correlation to the increase in numbers providing a ‘safety in numbers’ effect. This has since become a factoid through repetition, which seems odd. There are fewer pedestrian deaths where speed limits are lower. Most people would assume that the lower speed limits result in the reduction in pedestrian deaths, rather than the reduction in pedestrian deaths leading to speed limits being lowered. It is the same with cycling, if conditions are less hazardous (and feels so) more people cycle – numbers from safety rather than safety in numbers.

I can understand why Cyclenation wishes to ensure cycling is not seen as excessively dangerous (which might discourage potential new cyclists) but I feel that the fact that cycling is relatively safe (statistically speaking) is mostly attributable to the fact that almost everyone other than small cycling elite consisting of assertive, fit and mostly male cycling enthusiasts would never dream of riding a bike whilst the roads remain as they are. The risk is that this leads to a culture of danger denialism where any discussion of the dangers cyclists are exposed to, and the best way to address them, is stifled for fear of putting off potential new cyclists.

Cyclecraft features too. At present, the techniques taught by Cyclecraft are probably the best way for cyclists to mitigate the atrocious conditions they face on the roads. However, I strongly disagree with Cyclecraft (and the sort of training for cyclists which is based on it) being presented as a viable, long-term strategy for cycling in the UK. It is mitigation of a bad situation and that is all, it should not be treated as a permanent solution to the problems cycling faces.

One area where I do find myself in agreement with the Cyclenation response is on the issue of helmets, which Cyclenation opposes (both compulsion and promotion) in its response. However, considering that helmets do not feature at all in The Times’ eight-point manifesto, and have only been mentioned prominently in peripheral articles (such as this one by helmet-manufacturer Alpina’s spokesperson, James Cracknell) the amount of space given over to helmets in the response seems excessive.

The response from Cyclenation to The Times’ campaign suggests a desire to maintain the status quo out of a fear that any change risks making things even worse for cyclists. It seems a wasted opportunity to take this stance rather than engaging more with the campaign and work with it to make things better on the ground for cyclists. Whilst I do not agree completely with The Times’ cycling manifesto, there is a lot to support. By engaging with it, we can ensure that the rough edges of an otherwise generally good campaign can be smoothed out. Cyclenation’s response to The Times’ suggests that this is not something they wish to do.

7 thoughts on “Cyclenation’s response to The Times’ Campaign

  1. I completely agree with you. The Cyclenation response strongly mirrors the CTC’s stance on infrastructure as explained here, which is all just concerned with worrying about getting more or the crap UK cycle infrastructure of the past, instead of campaigning for what we actually need. Very unconstructive.

    One wonders about the purpose and accountability of Cyclenation. Do the local campaigns that subscribe to this organisation know about or approve of the lines they take? The largest of them is LCC, but Cyclenation’s response seems light-years away in spirit from LCC’s “Going Dutch” campaign.

    • That CTC page seems remarkably out of touch by modern standards, I sense the influence of Franklin there. It is rather shocking to ignore all the problems which come with vehicular cycling whilst framing all the problems which come with crap cycle infrastructure as if they are an inherent part of all separate infrastructure for cyclists.

      I’ve gained a lot of respect for the LCC from their recent change of heart on the issue of cycle infrastructure, hopefully the CTC and Cyclenation will get on-board eventually too, otherwise they risk their influence declining even further.

      • I agree with the comments regarding the CTC. I have been a member for nearly 20 years, but I am now considering writing to them to ask them to consider changing their stance, or I will cancel my membership. I think they are jumping the gun a bit to call themselves the ‘UK’s National Cyclists’ organisation’, despite all the good work they do generally.

        • I agree completely. The CTC is a members organisation and generally it looks after the interests of its members well. Where it is lacking is looking after the interests of many cyclists who are not members, the sort of people who would never be interested in joining because they are not bike enthusiasts, they just want to have another option for getting about their daily lives. The CTC struggles to be the voice of these people as well as its members because sometimes they want different things. For example, some CTC members might be very enthusiastic about cycle sport, but not see cycling as a mode of transport at all. To them talk of infrastructure provision for cyclists is something they don’t think of as beneficial to them at all, just something which they fear might restrict their freedom to go on Sunday club rides on country lanes (even though it wouldn’t) and restrict their freedom to drive during the week. As a members organisation, the CTC has to respect this type of view even if it holds back the cause of everyday cycling for “normals.”

          I had hoped that the charity bid would force the CTC to operate mor ein the greater public interest, but that doesn’t look to be going very well for them at the moment either.

  2. Hi, as the Secretary of Cyclenation, just to let you know firstly that we do support the Times campaign – the note that you’ve referred to was intended as guidance rather than any criticism of the campaign. Equally we support the LCC’s ‘Going Dutch’ campaign – the CEO of LCC is on our Board – and the principle of high quality infrastructure. Lastly, we listen carefully to our members views via our annual conference and through the forum we run for members of our groups as well as via Facebook, Twitter etc and any member of a cyclenation group can always contact us directly.

    • Hi Simon, thanks for commenting.

      I am glad to hear that Cyclenation supports The Times’ campaign and the LCC’s Go Dutch campign, in addition to the principle (and presumably the implementation) of high quality infrastructure. However, reading through the response, this support seemed more lukewarm than I had hoped for. After all, this is a national newspaper (and a right-leaning Murdoch paper at that) which is finally giving everyday transport cycling, and the safety issue a major public airing. They are not experts on cycling, and will need groups such as Cyclenation to really engage with them to turn the momentum they are generating into the right kind of outcomes. The risk is that keeping them at arms-length somewhat will discourage them from engaging in the future.

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