Bicycling (and UK as a whole) missed a bullet there

Carlton Reid
Bicycling (and UK as a whole) missed a bullet there

Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics, but following the Brexit referendum developments have been coming along on an almost hourly news cycle. Today's announcement from Andrea Leadsom is no exception, and it'll date the mag article I wrote on how scary a Leadsom premiership would be. So, here it is – and I've now got to write another column. This is not a huge problem, and quite welcome really ...

 

Lurch to the right could be bad for cycling

David Cameron was a pedalling Prime Minister. Our next one could be an anti-cycling one, argues Carlton Reid.

My Twitter account is usually wall-to-wall cycling. During the referendum campaign it became less so, and I lost followers, one of whom said he was unfollowing me because he cycled to forget about politics. Of course, cycling will continue no matter what happens in the future but it’s inescapable that politics can and does impact on cycling, and on our industry. The decision to fund British Cycling’s hyper-successful Olympics programme prior to the 2012 Games was a political one, and led to an upsurge in interest in cycling. The decision to spend £15 billion on facilities for motorists, and with just crumbs for people on bikes, was a political one, and will, in time, lead to more driving, more congestion, more bad health, and less cycling. Politics matters, even if you would prefer for the “Westminster bubble” to float off over the horizon.

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Elsewhere in this issue I’ve talked about Brexit’s impact on cycling but in this column I’d like to expand on one outcome from the vote to Leave, and that’s the lurch to the right. Whether you’re a shire Tory or an urban Trot (or even a fence-sitting LibDem) it’s inescapable that what 150,000 Conservative party members decide in September could have a major and possibly detrimental impact on the cycle industry. It’s rather startling to think that the best case scenario would be a Theresa May premiership – she is the continuity candidate, and hasn’t expressed any negative opinions about cycling. Andrea Leadsom is the wildcard candidate, with little experience of high office, but has a known distaste for cycling. In 2011 she launched a bill to create the offence of Dangerous Cycling. You know, for all those deaths caused by cyclists.

She also thinks the right-wing libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs is a “respected think-tank”. She’s chummy with the IEA’s Dr. Richard Wellings, who is proudly pro-motoring and very much anti-cycling.

Dr. Wellings wants to "denationalise the entire road network”, selling off not just motorways but local streets, too.

"Local residents, individually where appropriate, but more typically in voluntary associations, should be given the ‘right to own’ the residential roads adjoining their properties," said a report Dr. Wellings wrote for the IEA (he’s the organisation’s head of transport). In theory this would mean streets could be bought by residents and closed off to cars but, in a car-centric society it's far more likely to mean local streets would become even more motorised than they are already.

"Denationalising the network would ensure British motorists had better roads to drive on,” wrote Dr. Wellings.

He also said "much of [the billions spent on roads is spent] on anti-car traffic calming schemes, priority measures for buses and cyclists and so on."

He, like many other motoring-fixated libertarians, is opposed to cycling infrastructure.

“Uneconomic cycling priority measures … impose major time losses on motorists,” wrote Dr. Wellings.

Despite having a PhD and being an expert on transport, Dr. Wellings doesn't seem to know that roads are paid by all tax payers, not just motorists for he opined:

"Maybe cyclists should pay to use cycle lanes – can’t see why taxpayers should be forced to subsidise them."

In an IEA report he suggested that “cycle lanes are barely used” and that “vast amounts of money and road space [is] wasted on a tiny minority of (often low-value) users.” Low value? Jeez.

In his opinion, British cities have not been greatly modified to accommodate motor traffic. Far from it. According to Dr. Wellings “strict planning regulations have prevented British cities from adapting to cars.”

Despite copious just-look-out-the-windscreen evidence to the contrary Dr. Wellings said that "motorists have tended to have little influence over transport policy in recent decades”.

In an Andrea Leadsom government it’s voices such as this that could hold sway. That should frighten even the most Thatcherite members of the cycling industry. In the near future cycling could be actively stamped upon, similar to what is currently happening in Australia where fines for not wearing helmets are equal to those for dangerous driving and where cycle lanes are being ripped out with gay abandon. We might come to fondly remember the days when cycling in the UK was merely ignored by the government.

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