Thursday 14 February 2013

Balance and Vision

I've got a few blogs in my head that I will be publishing over the coming week related to my trip to Amstardam and the footage and the debate that followed. This is the first that came out of my head. there will also be a blog on my own thoughts about my visit to Amsterdam, some blogs about the discussion that took place on the Newsnight item (or here if not available) with specific regard to Alan Douglas' comments. I may even have a challenge for him....

Anyone who knows me in the real world (and not just from my YouTube videos) knows I'm not an angry person. In fact I'm quite a content happy, jokey kind of guy. Yes my jokes aren't always the best, but I like a good laugh.

Yet at the moment I am angry. In fact angrier than I have been in a long time. Not the punch a wall type anger, but the 'absolutely frustrated that politicians really JUST DON'T GET IT!!!!' type anger.

As I've mentioned previously I went on a trip to Amsterdam recently with the BBC, and as a result David Miller has produced some articles discussing cycle infrastructure in The Netherlands and what we can learn here.

I'm certainly not angry with David. In fact, quite the opposite, at last we have had some major media coverage that gets to the heart of the issues, without all the unnecessary side arguments. Brilliant.

No, I'm angry with the politicians. In this particular case, Keith Brown. Before you read on, have a listen to this item on Newsnight (from 7m19 seconds onwards). Just now I'll focus on Keith's comments, I'll focus on others later.

I'm  going to cut to the chase here. Keith suggests that there is no target for 10% of journeys by bike until 2020, it's a 'shared vision'. A WHAT? Yes a shared vision. I've been around long enough to know what that means.

Translation: Shared Vision - It'd be nice, if it happens, but we are going to do bu%%er all to get there.Good luck with that....

Yes effectively Keith has let us all know that the current Scottish Government couldn't give a monkeys if we do indeed end up with 10% by 2020. If it happens, sure they would bask in the glory. Well done Keith! If it doesn't happen they will shrug, point back at us, and claim its our fault. Bloody cyclists. Then, more than likely, they will set a new shared vision for 2030 and voilĂ , it will be someone else's problem. Sorted.

Also in the interview Keith suggested that us cyclists need to realise that 'balance' is required. We aren't the only ones needing money. We have to realise that we have our place in the balance of things, and that what we really need is modernisation.

So what does balance actually look like? Interestingly the BBC did a picture feature on that very subject recently. We don't live in a landscape any more, we live in a carscape. Where ever you are, stop what you are doing. If your inside, look outside, if you are already outside, just stop and look around. What do you see?

Look really hard.....

You see an environment that has been shaped by one overpowering force: an unstoppable, insatiable need to travel from one place to another in a fully enclosed, temperature controlled radio 4 filled, 4 wheeled, inefficient machine. The car. Everything you see is there to serve the needs of people who drive cars. Everything else has to work around that. Everything.

I use a car, I sometimes even enjoy it, but I baulk at the environment we have created. We hear about how we are ruining the environment by driving our cars, but the fact is, the car has already ruined our environment, it has shaped it and contorted it to fit it's needs.

So Keith has asked for balance. I completely agree, the time has most definitely come for balance. However, I suspect that the balance that Mr Brown is talking about is that we should spend enough to keep the cycle lobby quiet, and spend as much as we can 'modernising' Scotland's infrastructure by building more roads, so more people can get to more places car.


So what is modernisation? Is it building more roads that encourage more journeys by car? Is that what I witnessed in Amsterdam? They are most certainly modernising, and yes, when they build a new area of land, as I witnessed when there, they do put a road in. People will need cars for some journeys. However, modernising Dutch style is making sure that the infrastructure is in place, and even prioritied to ensure that people can travel by foot and by bike. They are given the option, and most importantly the option is made as easy and as safe as possible.

So Mr Brown, you keep on with your way of modernisation, but I can assure you I will not be voting for you and I certainly will not be supporting independance if this is an indication of the 'modernising' priorities of an independent Scotland.

It would appear that our current government needs to visit the doctor, as both it's vision and balance seem to be failing fast.


  1. I wouldn't let the politicians cosy up to you at Pedal on Parliament for a mugshot and soundbite for the papers. At least not those who haven't yet demonstrated they truly care through action.

  2. Unfortunately I couldn't/can't see the tv items since I live in the Netherlands and BBC i-player doesn't work outside of the UK (could a kind soul put a recorded version on You Tube or something?) But I could and did hear the radio programme, and I heard the same comments there. And I wanted to scream. Because, as I've been following the whole cycling infrastructure debat from afar for a couple of years now (simply as an interested Dutchie), I found that these kind of comments illustrate the most imbedded problem British (Scottish?) cyclists face in their battle for better infrastructure: they are an 'outgroup' and considered as such by 'non-cyclists' and politicians (among others, which include 'vehicular cyclists') simply do not understand that good cycling infrastructure is not something you do 'on the side' as a gift for a small bunch of weird people who ride bikes for a hobby, good cycling infrastructure benefits EVERYBODY and will assure that people will use their cars less, it will make the cities and countryside a more pleasant (and safer) place to live in and it will COST LESS than to build motorway after motorway.

    (okay, this is officially the longest sentence I've ever written. Sorry about that. I will stop now)


  3. Dear Keith Brown,

    1. Motorway building won't help me get from my village to the nearest town without being flattened.

    2. Scotland should take advice from the Dutch in how to build a proper motorway network as well. Coming back to Scotland on the A68 was terrifying after spending a fortnight driving in the Netherlands. Scottish roads are truly MEDIEVAL in comparison.

  4. Marion again, here:

    Thanks for posting the tv bit on You Tube... Got rather annoyed with it, though... and not just because of the stupid politicians. Let me explain..

    *takes deep breath*

    Okay, whose bright idea was it to focus on the Nescio bridge? Was it the Fietsenbond's idea?
    Now, don't take me wrong, I love the Fietsersbond. I would love to get a job working for him/them (you reading this, Gerrit? Nederlandse doctorandus Geschiedenis zou graag voor je willen werken!) but when I read a couple of days ago that a BBC tv team would visit the Fietsersbond, I was afraid that certain things would happen, and they did.
    What, you might ask?

    Well, for us Dutch the benefits for cycling infrastructure is so embedded in our psyche, we don't even actively thing about it. So we tend to mention things that seem important to us. Like a gleaming new project, that has just finished. "Look!", we say, "That's the Nescio bridge. Isn't it nice and sparkly?" And of course it IS nice and sparkly, but to a country that doesn't even have the concept of safe cycling infrastructure to the shops, for whom the *idea* of cycling with your kids on bicycle seats to visit grandma is totally alien and close to child abuse and Child Endangerment, such a bridge doesn't MEAN anything.

    So why film the friggin' Nescio bridge?!!

    Film everyday people loading up their bike bags with groceries and riding away with them! Y'know, normal people doing normal things. Things the viewers can relate to. (okay, they filmed a tiny bit of the school run, but still)
    It's the little, normal things that viewers can relate to, which they can envision wanting for themselves. Why should viewers who don't ride a bike for their daily commute or for their weekly shop be interested in cycling infrastructure if all they hear about it is that it costs apparantly six million and for that you can... ride a long distance to nowhere?

    You saw how easily even the notion of investing in infrastructure was deflected by a 'we have to balance costs', which meant 'barely two percent of the population cycles, why should I invest in six million pound sky-bridges for such a minority when ninety percent of my constituancy (sp?) needs motorways more?'

    Politicians are simple creatures. They bend with the winds that benefit them. If the majority wants cycle paths, and investing in cycling infrastructure would get them re-elected, they would build those things so quickly your head would spin. But you don't get people who don't cycle interested in cycling infrastructure by showing them pretty sky bridges that don't mean anything to them, you get them interested if you show them things they can envision themselves wanting and doing!

    Okay, those were my two cents.

    (I'm just grumpy because the few bits they actually *showed* were three seconds of the school run, tow seconds of David saying that he liked how safe it felt and then they asked two locals what they thought of the cycle paths! Argh!!! Might as well ask fish wether they think water is safe and don't they know that there is a danger of drowning in water! ARgh!!)

  5. It's the infrastructure as a whole, stupid. You need a cycle-friendly network to make cycling a viable mode of transport. Not a puny lane here and there, or a bridge for that matter. The bridge may show that people are willing to spend on cycling, but the comprehensive network that actually allows you to reach places easily and safely is what it's all about. How to show them convincingly, I don't know, but it really deserves more emphasis.

    Other than that there were some good points, which were of course ignored...

    Side note: If you really want 10% usage, devote 10% of your budget. It's only fair and sensible. Oh, did I mention cycling is actually relatively cheap to support?

  6. Ever read this, by David Hembrow?
    The aim is for livable towns and cities, by keeping motor vehicles away from places where people shop and live. in the netherlands we have done both: large roads never go straight through villages, AND within towns and cities cycling is promoted. The last of these two is the cheapest, even better: cheaper to build than not building it (

  7. @Koen Langholm is a perfect example of what Keith Brown rearguards as "progress"! After all he is the Minister in the Scottish Government who is blocking the lowing of the speed limit to 20 mph, on the grounds that it would unacceptably slow the traffic.

  8. I think the SNP underestimate the size of the "Cycling Vote". Its getting bigger and will become significant.

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  10. Well spotted Chris, I'll go back to a TRL review of the profile of cyclists, and similar results from comparing CTC and British Cycling membership surveys.

    The percentages and figures are telling, but ultimately to their downfall, ignored by the less canny politicians and administrators. You showed this eloquently with POP28 one of the biggest mass demonstrations to 'march' on Holyrood, yet described by the Police as the most enjoyable demonstrations they had ever policed.

    The TRL study showed that compared to the general population a higher percentage of cyclists held a driving licence (although of those drivers many did not own cars), In socio-economic terms cyclists showed a greater tendency to be high earners owning their own homes, but the real clincher came with the 'access to the internet' a measure of how connected the cycling community is. Back then cyclists were twice as likely to be online than the general UK population probably second only to hard bitten computer geeks in to serious software manipulation.

    It is clearly evidenced by the comments on your blog, and the fact that Keith Browns facile ramblings about not yet having Scotland's Cities connected by motorways are being commented on around the world

    Not connected by motorways ? Pardon? I have a near constant buzz from the convergence of the M8, M74 , M77 and at a distance of a couple of miles the M80 dumping noise and pollution in to the centre of Glasgow less that half a kilometre from my door, and it is only anywhere near quiet between 3 and 4 am, and can drive without seeing a traffic signal or roundabout, or touching my brakes between Charing Cross - in Glasgow and Brent Cross in London, often on a near deserted road, surely that's enough Motorways for our needs?

    I say to those sitting in Buchanan House and Holyrood tak tent as you are failing to get the measure of the community at large who are riding bikes now and want to do so more often and more safely. It is no accident that polls for best invention consistently return the bicycle in a prominent position, and issues such as the insurer tried to reduce compensation for a young cyclist, or the seriously flawed prosecutions, the rapid reaction, and where relevant boycotts and protests show both the commitment and numbers out here pressing for change.

    To further demonstrate the failure of central government funding to deliver, and pick up on Alan Douglas's 'Bridges' comment, I reflect both on work 25 years ago with Sustrans and Spokes building those first cycle routes, some still incomplete as coherent and truly safe, with the need to win resources and funding outside the small amounts extracted, mostly from local authorities and agencies such as the Countryside Commission rather than core central government commitment. Now even in later years we have seen a Clyde Crossing at Finnieston eventually restored for pedestrian and cycle traffic (over 30 years after the Kingston bridge delivered it for motor traffic) but sponsored by a Whisky Company, and over 40 years since the historic route from Dumbarton to Glasgow was severed by the M8 the Bridge to Nowhere is making a slightly compromised reconnection - with substantial funding raised from the National Lottery.

    We could have had a riverside with parallel and continuous public 'corridors' to sit-out on and walk or cycle along matching many in other European cities. Up to the middle of the last century the historic lien to maintain a 15 foot strip of land over which the public had rights of access kept that facility working - and then (conveniently) it has been blocked, and built over. I invite David Miller to do a documentary on the disappearance of this fine facility, and all that blocks it today.

  11. Post thoughts

    Living in an area both pre and post the introduction of parking restrictions, I'd reflect on the users of the cars which used to fill over 60% of the road space in our area (road space which the council has no statutory obligation to provide or maintain for parking cars, nor any legal rights to make money from the sale of parking either). Drivers would roll up to secure their parking spaces between 7.30 and 8 am, having risen at an early hour to get in from places like Dunblane and Stirling. Eating breakfast in the car and reading the paper, they left cartons, cans, cups and cigarette waste and went off to reach their offices for 9 am. All a bit of an effort when they could have rested at least an hour longer and caught the train for the same result. The jams to get off or on to the motorway or other radial routes out of town are substantial, but short lived in overall use of the roads. Outside those times the streets are deserted, costly over provision for just two short periods of peak demand, which is grossly inefficient - you only need to watch the 10 minute bike rides from Canniesburn to the Clyde Tunnel that Dave has filmed passing cars at the rate of over 3000 per hour.

    Yet the city does not learn - we have now so much car parking in the centre of Glasgow that the roads network cannot fill or empty it and some car parks are not filling up, offering discounted rates to build up business.

    The sin is being replicated with the new arena going up alongside the SECC connected by a dedicated footbridge to a car park for around 500 cars - which if they leave all together at the end of an event could take around 2 hours to get out and on to the roads network, at an optimistic 10-12 seconds per car to get through the barrier and on to get a gap in traffic to get on to the street. The arena building is practically alongside Finniestion (Exhibition Centre) Station and yet there is no proper connection- the shortest route is to follow the road (with no footways) and head up against the traffic flow on the slip road from the A814 (also with no footways) It took 40 years to get a crossing point for the hundreds of call centre and administrative workers to safely get across Finnieston Street to Skypark from the same station, and at Charing Cross, the pedestrian route - added as an urgent afterthought because pedestrians refused to be sent on a time consuming and tedious diversion, had to wait 40 years before a safe, light enforced priority was provided across the M8 slip road, we are still however walking down the central median of the A82 because no proper route was provided for the Great Western Road - Cowcaddens traffic.

    One nominally pro-cycling politician summed it up well, - paraphrased - "It is expensive and difficult to fit in the curves and gradients demanded to connect the roads up for cars, but we can cheaply shove pedestrians and cyclists through the new roads structures with far less need to consider things like that"

  12. When publishing the original CAPS document the Scottish Government never accepted any target for modal share. Stewart Stevenson picked the number out of the air, decided it was an aspirational vision and his successor is merely continuing in this vein.

    The whole CAPS stunt is nothing more than a cheap bit of PR which allows the Government to say it is facilitating 'choice'.

    From its inception the Scottish Government actively worked to restrict CAPS to a vague set of aspirations, most of which would be the responsibility of third parties (either Local Government or third sector). this was carried out quite deliberately with the cycling organisations forced to go along with it because of their financial dependence on the Scottish Government

    I'm also told that there were several chapters of a much more substantial 'route map' toward Scotland as a nation of cyclists that the Scottish Government ordered work stopped on and torn up.

    I've also been made aware that this was made all the more straightforward because rather than presenting a united front the various cycling organisations were more interested in point scoring and getting a bigger share of the funding pie than representing the wider interest.

  13. I would have thought that if the choice is between cycling and nurses-schools-hospitals then big road projects stand absolutely no chance of any funding! Incidentally, the body-shape of the two studio presenters suggested they might not be regular cyclists - anyone got any stats on BMI vs chance of being a regular cyclist? Eg 75% of RC's have a BMI of less than X, or those with a BMI of more Y have a 80% chance of not being a RC user...

  14. I have to agree with what Marion wrote above. It's not terribly helpful to focus on the large and impressive infrastructure projects because these exceptional pieces of infrastructure are not what are used by the majority of people on the majority of their journeys.

    What makes mass cycling possible is the tight grid of high quality infrastructure which goes everywhere.

    It's also interesting to read the anonymous comment about motorways in the Netherlands. Yes, they're excellent too. In fact, driving in the Netherlands is really not difficult at all. We shouldn't let people give the impression that drivers have been punished in order to turn them into cyclists, because this has not happened. Rather, there is a network of wonderfully well planned and maintained roads (we have no potholes in Assen) which make driving very easy if you wish to drive. What's more, due to the unravelling of cycling routes from driving routes, you hardly ever see a cyclist when you drive let alone have to constantly look out for them.