Back in May, The Surveyor magazine invited me to Birmingham for a roundtable discussion between a bunch of integrated transport experts. This was for an article in the magazine and all present were told their answers would be subject to the ‘Chatham House rule’.
This is the stipulation that "participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speakers, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed…" So, I won’t name names but I can say that there was a local authority transport expert, a travel planning consultancy expert and two road technology experts.
The gathered speakers knew their onions and were well aware of the potential for cycling in integrated transport schemes. None cycled, but were happy that others could be encouraged to do so. Not all were drivers but all had terrible tales about the use of public transport in the UK and how motoring was often the most convenient and sometimes the only method of getting from A to B.
The travel planning consultancy expert had brightened when I explained, to the group, who I was. Cycling, this expert said, was rising up the agenda and could deliver the kind of benefit to cost ratios that other forms of transport couldn’t. Cycling delivered health benefits, most other forms of transport delivered poor health. (These things are scored and health BCRs are prized).
It was a full 45 minutes into the meeting before walking was brought up, by yours truly. Trains, planes, buses, cars, bicycles: they’re transport, walking sort of isn’t. Pedestrians don’t have wheels and, to be considered a form of transport, you need wheels, it often seems.
Clearly, I’m a committed, life-long cyclist, and make my living from cycling, but I’m also a people person. Not as in gregarious, but as in cities designed for humans, not cars.
Such concepts were popularised by Jane Jacobs, an American–Canadian journalist, author, and activist. Her influential 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities poured scorn on the idea that cities should be designed primarily for people in private motorcars. 52 years later and her message clearly hasn’t caught on everywhere.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day (and nor was its bike sharing scheme). Cities such as Ferrera in Italy, Groningen in the Netherlands and Freiburg in Germany show that it is possible to have thriving, prosperous central districts without easy access for cars.
Does constricting cars throttle the economy? Hardly. Covent Garden offers poor access to cars yet is thriving economically. In London, motorists are in the minority yet take up an inordinate amount of space. [Midlands dealers, turn away now.] In 1993, in an article about roads for The Geographical, author Oliver Tickell wrote: “If access by road is the key to economic prosperity then Birmingham should be the wealthiest city in Britain. It is not.”
Reducing road space for cars, and increasing it for pedestrians and cyclists, could create more cyclists (and more pedestrians) yet bike shops are not shouting for this from the rooftops. And I don’t tend to hear about bike shops calling for a reduction in car parking spaces. I can imagine Rutland Cycling would not be in favour of reduced car parking but city centre bike shops don’t seem to be in favour of it either. Most (correct me if I’m wrong) want to have ample parking outside their shops because it’s believed customers, in the main, arrive by car.
But how many bike shops have conducted travel surveys to find out how customers actually get to their stores? Customers who arrive by car are noticeable, cars are big. Customers who arrive on foot or by bike are less visually arresting. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on store car parking and how vital it is to your business. I’d also like to hear from you if you’ve, say, partnered with your local authority to get rid of a parking space and replaced it with a bike parking stand.