Today we tend to think of the Automobile Association as a roadside rescue organisation with a penchant for pro-car PR. However, for much of its early history it was a radical campaigning organisation, a thorn in the side of the Government. It was founded with the express aim of defeating police speed traps and used cyclists as the ’scouts’.
A glimpse into the early history of the AA is shown in the wonderfully evocative video below from the AA’s archives. The video is fronted by Sir Stenson Cooke who was the AA’s Secretary from 1905 until his death in 1942. He was knighted in 1933 but by this time the AA was embedded into society – now a car-owning society – and the AA was nowhere near as radical as when it was founded.
Cycling shares some history with the AA. In effect, the organisation was helped into existence by cyclists. In March 1905 a motorist called Walter Gibbons wrote to Autocar magazine suggesting a Motorists’ Protection Association for the Prevention of Police Traps. Two other motorists replied saying arrangements had been made to patrol the Brighton road to warn motorists of said police traps. The first patrols went out in April 1905. Guess what they used as patrol vehicles? Yep, bicycles.
Within months, this informal arrangement of a “special staff of cyclists” was formalised into an organisation and it appointed a full-time secretary, Stenson Cooke. This organisation was called the Automobile Association.
The AA relied on cycle scouts for some years. According to the AA, the organisation’s famous badge was “introduced simply to help the scouts identify AA members.”
Early AA cycle scouts used their own bicycles, for which they were paid an allowance. Before the introduction of uniforms in 1909, the scouts had to provide their own clothing too.
By 1912 there were 950 AA cycle scouts across the UK. The motorcycle patrols, known as Road Service Outfits or ‘RSOs’, weren’t created until 1919. By 1923 there were 274 AA motorbike patrols but still 376 cyclists.
The video above shows how cyclists were paid to be speed-trap spotters. It also shows how, before motoring became mainstream, it was a loathed activity: rich motorists were guilty of raising dust and damaging roads. I’m currently researching the history of British road improvements, especially in the years 1910-1937. This was the span of the Road Fund, the pot of cash raised from motorists from when a ‘road tax’ existed. Only a small fraction of this fund helped pay for Britain’s roads, something I explore on my campaigning website iPayRoadTax.com.
It’s worth pointing out that Professor Edmund King, today’s president of the AA, is an active cyclist.
And the AA has a team of cycle-based breakdown patrols to tackle traffic chaos at big events such as Wimbledon or Glastonbury.
Read the rest of "AA founded as ’speed trap’ foiler; spotters were cyclists"...
When US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood promised “we are holding Toyota’s feet to the fire” over the recent accelerator-pedal car recall I’m pretty sure he didn’t know there was a back-story to this fiery phrase, and that – via the word chauffeur and some feet-toasting bad ‘uns – it relates to motoring, and can even be linked to cycling.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word chauffeur means stoker, from chauffer ‘to heat’, which in turn is from Old French, chaufer ‘to heat, rub with the hands to make warm’ whence we get a word familiar to cyclists: chafe. Its meaning “to make sore by rubbing” was current by the 1500s.
“The earliest automobiles, like their railroad and sea vessel counterparts, were steam-powered and required the driver to pre-heat the engine to produce energy, thus, the French term for stoker was adapted.”
But, as with many words, there can be other derivations and there’s perhaps a good case for an earlier definition to be used. The online archive of Popular Science magazine is a fascinating time-sink. And this morning I found the following definition of the word chauffeur, from the June 1918 issue of PopSci:
“It seems that the word chauffeur means ’scorcher’. Over a century ago, some particularly brigandish brigands lived on the borderland between France and Germany. To force ransoms from their captives, these desperadoes grilled the soles of their victims’ feet before a fierce fire. So the countryfolk referred to the band as scorchers or, in French, chauffeurs.
“Not so many years back, when these same imaginative French were in need of a descriptive name for motor-car drivers, they hit upon the word chauffeur. Just how much ’scorching’ of a more modern kind these up-to-date brigands of the road indulge in is best divulged by police records of fines for speeding.”
So, an early word for ‘motorist’ – before it morphed into its current servile meaning - was chauffeur, and this was linked to a word for speeding.
As with many things motoring, bicycle riders got there first. Scorching might have been used of speeding motorists by 1918 but it was used earlier than this for bicycle boom riders of the 1880s-1890s. Scorchers were riders who wanted to go fast, and bicycles were advertised by manufacturers as ’scorchers’.
In an American book on ‘how to bicycle’ from 1892, L. F. Korns wrote:
“As a means of pleasure, cycling stands in the foremost rank, but in common with all the great pleasures, it may easily stand in the foremost in abuse. The desire to ride at an unreasonably high speed may become morbid…The ever lasting scorcher, bent like a hoop, and with sunken cheeks, ought to be quite sufficient warning against this abuse.”
Naturally, ’scorching’ was not seen by cyclists as an abuse. It was a badge of pride, an athletic accomplishment.
19th-century author Louis Baudry de Saunier thought the speed-crazed bicyclist was a blend of man-and-machine: “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.”
But, as famously described by American women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony in 1896, cycling was also one of the key tools of female emancipation:
“I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”
Anthony, like her friend and fellow feminist Amelia Bloomer, advocated universal suffrage but also called for ‘rational dress’, the fashion for less restricting women’s garments. Bloomer didn’t invent the leggings named for her, but she popularised them. ‘Athletic bloomers’ allowed women to cycle more easily.
It’s interesting that in this sheet-music cover for a popular tune of 1897, the publisher has started off with the ’scorcher’ heroine in a dress…
…but she was later shown wearing bloomers, also known as ‘rationals’, relatively radical attire for the day:
But enough about bloomers, let’s get back to those Franco-German brigands. A quick tappity-tap into a popular search engine and out pops the name John the Scorcher; in German, Schinderhannes. He’s the German equivalent of Robin Hood, although, unlike Nottingham’s favourite son, he’s a genuine historical figure. The Robber of the Rhine was executed in 1803.
[The brigands] were often called Chauffeurs or Scorchers; because they were accustomed to hold the soles of their victims’ feet in front of a fierce fire, to extort a revelation of the place where their property was concealed…Each band had a camp or rendezvous, with lines of communication throughout a particular district. The posts on these lines were generally poor country taverns, the landlords of which were in league with the band. And not only was this the case, but from Holland to the Danube, the chauffeurs could always obtain friendly shelter at these houses, with means for exchanging intelligence with others of the fraternity.
Schinderhannes, or ‘John the Scorcher,’ was the most famous of all the leaders of these robbers. His real name was Johann Buckler; but his practice of chauffage, or scorching the feet of his victims, earned for him the appellation of Schinderhannes. Born in 1779, near the Rhine, he from early years loved the society of those who habitually braved all law and control.”
If PopSci is right, and Merriam Webster is incomplete, via the word chauffeur we can link together Ray LaHood, the Robber of the Rhine, speeding motorists, and ’scorcher’ cyclists.
Speeding motorists and cyclists have never mixed. Evylyn Thomas of New York could attest to that. On May 30th 1896 she became the first cyclist to be run over and injured by a motorist (or at least first to be so reported). The New-York Daily Tribune of the time recounted the incident thus:
“The wagon [automobile] operated by Henry Wells, of Springfield, Mass., wobbled furiously, going in a zig-zag fashion, until it seemed that the driver had lost control of it. Evylyn Thomas, of No. 459 West Ninetieth-st., was approaching on her bicycle, when suddenly the wheel and horseless carriage met, and there was a crash. A crowd gathered, and the woman was picked up unconscious, her leg fractured. An ambulance took her to the Manhattan Hospital, where last night it was reported that she would recover soon. Wells was taken to the West One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth-st. station, and held pending the result of the injuries to Miss Thomas. The wagon went on in charge of another operator.”
The newspaper didn’t state whether it was Miss Thomas or Mr Wells who was guilty of “scorching”.
Phew, all of this history and etymology came from research I’ve been doing for an 82-page iPhone/iPad/Android version of the Bike to Work Book. I posted this online yesterday. It’s the 95 percent finished proof only for the moment, a revised version will be placed on Issuu.com next week. For now, it’s clicky-flicky right here (hit full-screen to let the extra flavour flood out):
Read the rest of "Ray LaHood, John the Scorcher, some bloomers and a bunch of brigands"...
The Netherlands has exemplary cycling infrastructure but it’s so good, it’s oh-so-easy to fall into the trap that it’s peculiar to the Netherlands, and therefore not transferable.
It’s a step down, but Cambridge shows that a UK town can be made an awful lot more cycle friendly, given the political will. It’s a cycling town for many more reasons than it’s flat and has lots of students.
Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t aim for the stars but trying to recreate the Netherlands bike infrastructure in one fell swoop just ain’t going to happen. Rome might have been built in a day, but Amsterdam wasn’t.
In the Netherlands, there’s too much interlocking infrastructure, built over many years. UK towns and cities need to take baby steps.
If Cambridge can do it, we can do it. That’s the thinking. Attainability, not pipe-dreams.
Via Twitter, Marc van Woudenberg over on Amsterdamize.com said the excellent bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands was build through trial and error and that the UK’s “baby steps now could be bigger/wiser than [ours].”
If UK town planners want to get their teeth into some home-grown bike info, Cambridgeshire County Council and the Cambridge Cycle Campaign have some wonderful appetisers, such as the Cambridgeshire Design Guide and the superlative Cycle Parking Standards. Of course, Cambridge is also home to CycleStreets.net, the national cycle journey planner.
Cyclists may want to pop along to a whole bunch of normalising cycling events being organised by Cambridge Cycling Campaign, including Ride for Joy, a Cambridge Cycle Chic, non-Lycra fashion ride for women.
Read the rest of "Town planners: forget the Netherlands, visit Cambridge"...
“Once allow us to be put on separate roads and there will be an increasing outcry to keep us to those roads and to forbid us access to the ordinary roads of the country.”
Who said that? When did he say it and what was he referring to?
Opposition from a president of the CTC in 1878 to compulsory cycle paths, perhaps? Wrong.
A complaint from the Self Propelled Traffic Association of 1895? Nope.
Mind-blowingly, it’s by William Joynson-Hicks, writing in the Motor Union’s Journal in 1909. Joynson-Hicks, a Conservative MP petrolhead was Minister for Health, 1923-4 and Home Secretary, 1924-29.
It’s amazing to realise that motorists once had the same fears as cyclists today; that they’d be shunted off to a hinterland, segregated from other road users.
The Joynson-Hicks quote - and many other little nuggets of history - has come from my researches for iPayRoadTax.com. I’m working on a timeline of road funding, starting with the Roads Improvement Association, an organisation founded in 1886 by the Cyclists’ Touring Club and the National Cyclists’ Union.
The RIA wanted Britain’s dusty roads to be sealed with tarmac. The organisation pamphleted MPs and presented a strong case from “cads on casters” (the Lycra Lout equivalent of the late 19 Century, a reference to cyclists coined by uppercrust horse-riders) but the issue wasn’t taken seriously until adopted by the nascent ‘automobilism’ lobby.
Part of this lobby was the Self Propelled Traffic Association. It wasn’t self propelled in the sense we know today, it was in the sense of propelled by an engine, not a horse. A prominent cyclist sat on the SPTA’s council: E. R Shipton, secretary of the Cyclists’ Touring Club.
The SPTA was one of the organisations later to merge into the Automobile Association (AA), founded in 1905.
Cycling also shares some history with the AA. In effect, the organisation was helped into existence by cyclists. In March 1905 a fellow called Walter Gibbons wrote to Autocar magazine suggesting a Motorists’ Protection Association for the Prevention of Police Traps. Two other motorists replied saying arrangements had been made to patrol the Brighton road to warn motorists of said police traps. The first patrols went out in April 1905. Guess what they used as patrol vehicles? Yep, bicycles.
Within months, this informal arrangement of a “special staff of cyclists” was formalised into an organisation and it appointed a full-time secretary: it was called the Automobile Association.
Recently I’ve given a couple of presentations. One was to a friendly crowd; the other was to sea of morose faces, not exactly hostile, but there were a few in the audience who gave me a hard time in the Q&A session.
The friendly crowd was a cycle campaign group. 16 turned up on a wet, dreary Friday night to listen to my bikey bon mots. It was like talking to friends, a fireside chat rather than a formal presentation; real-life ‘social media’, a to-and-fro conversation. I had got the ball rolling by talking about how, to promote cycling, we need to stress the warm and fuzzy stuff, not dwell on safety stats, helmets, Lycra, city streets clogged with two ton vehicles out to kill.
I was gently chided for this by a couple members of the group. They argued my happy-clappy image wasn’t reality. I was able to counter – loud murmurs from everybody else in the room helped – with the point that the car industry has sold its wares for ever and a day with just such jiggery-pokery. Empty roads. Sunshine. Beautiful people. (‘Nicole?’ ‘Papa?’).
In effect, this is how the whole of marketing works. Sell the positives, ignore the negatives.
The second group I presented to was a bunch of travel planners. These folks are charged with getting people out of cars and on to buses, bikes and shanks’ ponies, but an awful lot of them, unwittingly, focus on the downsides of the alternatives to the car.
I stressed a similar, warm-and-fuzzy message about cycling to this audience. On travel planning literature, I suggested, don’t picture cyclists wearing fluoro jackets, helmets and Lycra. That’s stressing that cycling is a niche transport option; tribal, wacky, open to ridicule. [Disclaimer:I wear this stuff].
Don’t suggest companies spend a small fortune on installing showers for cyclists. Keenies, commuting in from miles and miles away in bike clothing, might benefit from work-place sprucing-up facilities, but the every-day, short-hop commuter cyclist needs no such facilities. Such amenities are not provided to workers in Amsterdam or Copenhagen: it’s simply not necessary.
Boy, did I get some stick. Partly for dissing on showers, mostly for daring to suggest cycling is not overtly dangerous and should be normalised. Some of the travel planners told me afterwards they’d enjoyed my talk, and they would modify how they promoted cycling; stressing the positives rather than the barriers. The majority, I fear, will continue to promote cycling as a hair-shirt option, something for the brave, something for fine weather.
Incidentally, none wanted to wear my motoring helmet. I wore it for the first part of my talk, not mentioning why I was making myself look even more twattish than normal. When I revealed it was a genuine product, produced in Australia in the 1980s for everyday driving not motorsport, there were giggles.
Best thing travel planners could do to get people out of their cars might actually be to promote car helmet use. And motoring mouth-guards. And just-popping-to-the-shops flame-proof clothing.
A version of this article was published in the February edition of BikeBiz.com:
Fietscompartiment is Dutch for a train bicycle carriage, for instance. And, fret not, should you shred your skin-shorts in Finland you merely have to ask for pyöräilyhousut.
The Bicycle Lexicon is a free download and has been placed on Issuu.com. Got an Android phone? Download the Issuu Mobile app and you could have the Bicycle Lexicon on your person for your next world tour. Issuu Mobile is also coming to an iPhone and iPad touch soon.
On January 15th, Transport for London invited members of the UK bike industry to what it billed as the first Cycling Revolution Forum. What, no London Cycling Campaign bods?
A couple of days after the event, Cait of the Moolies blog wrote on iBikeLondon.Blogspot.com that the event wasn’t a real meeting of minds, it was a chance to butter up the bike trade in order to flog them stuff.
“Politicians tend to do this. They’ll invite the manufacturers and (in classic US terms) the lobbyists with the money in order that they can massage their egos enough to tap them for a bit of sponsorship money later.
“If they were to invite the LCC, then unfortunately real solutions costing tax payer money would be voiced and on the table. Then they’d have to publicly and visibly ignore those proposals, which had been aired in a London Assembly sponsored event. Oh dear. Better to ignore them altogether.”
Cait was bang on the money. In an email to attendees sent earlier this evening, Chris Mather of Transport for London’s SmarterTravel team issued what he said were the findings from the meeting, but closed with a giveaway statement:
“Finally, there are immediate opportunities to partner with TfL to support programmes within the Mayor’s Cycling Revolution. We are in the process of sharing these opportunities with you so if you haven’t had a call and a presentation sent to you detailing these opportunities, then expect one in the next few days.”
So there you have it: being soft-soaped by biking Boris is just the warm-up to a sales pitch. Neat.
Of course, the meeting with the bike trade came up with some good ideas - listed below - but will they be actioned?
1 Enhanced enforcement of cycle & superhighway lanes (making sure they’re car free)
2 Encouraging respect between the different types of road user
3 Aggressive cyclist behaviour. New York parks were cited as an example of where signs have been used to clearly warn cyclists they will be penalised for cycling aggressively
4 New laws to give cyclists priority over motor vehicles in appropriate situations
5 Maintaining infrastructure, (including repairing pot holes and removing broken glass)
6 Assess drivers’ behaviour towards cyclists in the driving test
7 Create a cycling manual to help educate cyclists on how to ride safely and respectfully
8 Target 15-25 year olds with education and training to improve knowledge of next generation
9 Led rides and buddy schemes to increase confidence and competence on the road. Noted confidence can be a gradual process often requiring 3-4 assisted rides
10 Peer-to-peer advocacy within workplaces to encourage people to have a go at cycling and communicate safety messages
11 Retailers could play a role at the point of sale in encouraging new cyclists to take up products and services to help improve safety
12 Cycle training is key. More information on this should be made available to retailers to give to their customers. Web links were requested to direct customers to find out more
There was also a request for the provision of cycle training to be simplified so that the process for potential customers more straight forward. (There are a currently a number of service providers and provision varies across London).
13 Twenty mile per hour speed limits to help to change the culture for all road users in residential areas and reduce accidents
14 Regular cycle maintenance will reduce accidents
15 Redress the ‘danger everywhere’ perception among many non cyclists
16 One cohesive voice to represent the cycling industry, the Mayor and TfL.
1 A centralised database for recording bike serial numbers at point of sale, to improve recovery rates for stolen bikes, and make it more difficult for thieves to sell them on
(There are currently several privately owned competing databases and it would be beneficial to establish one standard central database)
2 Chipping or data tagging to deter thieves, currently it’s often too easy to remove the micro-chips from stolen bikes. One suggestion offered was printing barcodes on the frame of a bike (beneath the lacquer) so that they can’t be removed without damaging the paintwork
3 Online stores such as e-bay were a significant marketplace for stolen bikes. Brompton, in particular, were aware a large percentage of bikes stolen would be sold on via e-bay
It was suggested more could be done by these online market places to combat bike theft and pressure should be put on them to do so. For example, e-bay could be required to list the serial numbers of the bikes being sold on their site
4 GPS tracking systems – are they an affordable solution for the industry
5 Creating a pen or fence with additional lighting and CCTV would help reduce theft of cycles
Cycle Hire and Cycle Superhighways
1 Retailers display information from TfL within their stores and provide information to customers. Web links could also be set up on retailer websites to point people to further information on the TfL website
2 Improving the reach and effectiveness of home origin travel planning to influence peoples’ travel choices in residential areas in outer London
3 Pressure developers to consider the needs of cyclists and plan accordingly
4 Partner with supermarkets to encourage online shopping reducing the need to travel
5 Address the practicality of bringing bikes into central London with the rail providers
6 Outer London has relatively few cyclists compared to inner London. Educate outer London residents on the benefits of cycling
7 Public housing needs to be addressed to improve facilities for cyclists
Read the rest of "Soft-soaping Boris wants bike trade cash, not ideas"...
[iTunes link for getting Chitty road tax video on iPods and iPhones].
‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ is one of the world’s most loved movies and is a lead-in to the video below. There’s then a critique of the DVLA’s 2002 TV advert for ‘road tax’, which used the original GEN11-registered car from the movie. Earlier DVLA TV ads for ‘road tax’ (grrrrr!) said ‘pay your road tax’. However, pre-1973 cars merely have to display a tax disc, they don’t pay for it. Ditto, today, for low CO2 Band A cars. So, the 2002 advert said ‘get your road tax’, perhaps a nod to the fact that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang didn’t have to pay car tax.
The car was built in 1967 and modelled to look like a 1920s car.
Nowadays, the DVLA’s TV adverts call VED by its most descriptive name: car tax. Hopefully there will be no backsliding to the days when Parker from the Thunderbirds could have his strings cut for “not paying road tax.”
Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, winner of 2009 Nobel Prize for chemistry lives in Cambridge, doesn’t own a car and rides his bike everywhere.
Dr Venki - as he prefers to be called - was recently interviewed by members of Rideacycle and the Bangalore Bikers’ Club. This is an edited version of that interview.
Why do you prefer to cycle?
“I cycle for a variety of reasons, the first being that I enjoy cycling. It’s a much nicer mode of transport. It doesn’t pollute! Also, though I do run and lift weights, but I know that even if I don’t get any other exercise, I have had it in the form of cycling each day. By the time you get to work, you are wide awake, alert, and ready to start work. And at the end of the day, it works in reverse. It lessens the stress and relaxes you, and I think that makes for a great lifestyle.”
What do you say to those who say cycling is slow and a time-sink?
“That reason is bogus! The very same people who don’t want to cycle, do get the time for whatever other activities they really want to do. In Cambridge, when I go out to dinner with my friends, I am usually there before the other dinner guests at the restaurant! Up to 5 km or so…it’s actually faster by cycle.”
How important is to be a cycling parent?
“Adult role models are very important for children. A child who grows up watching his/her parents cycling, will want to emulate them; if they see only aspirations towards motorized transport, that’s what they will also aspire to.”
If you don’t have a car, how do you carry your shopping?
“We [Dr Venki's wife is Vera Rosenberry, an author and illustrator of children's books] have panniers fitting on either side of the cycles, where we can store our shopping. Actually, going cycling to the shops is very good for you financially. With a car, one would buy up lots of stuff and fill the car with it. With the cycle, one is forced to buy just what one needs; it limits your shopping.”
Famously, Oscar Wilde once said: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
For many years, cyclists in the UK and the US have not been talked about. We’ve been an invisble minority. Ignorable. The foregone conclusion was that once the last die-hard cyclists shuffled off this mortal coil, there would be no replacements, and cycling would go the way of the horse and cart, a footnote in transport history.
Driving everywhere has long been normal in the UK; cycling on city streets has been deviant since the 1960s, and, from the 1970s onwards, so contrarian as to be confrontational.
Cyclists were an out-group, of little consequence. But that was then. There’s more of us now; we’re a lot harder to ignore. And attacks on cycling from the mainstream media are on the increase.
Shock-jocks, tabloid journalists, letters to the editor writers and Jeremy Clarkson might all froth at the mouth when talking about cyclists, but complaints against ‘Lycra Louts’ don’t figure at all in the Government’s list of anti-social behaviour worries, as provided by members of the public.
In fact, as can be seen from the graph below, it’s pavement-parked cars and speeding traffic that most people hate, something mainstream journalists rarely discuss.
Such topics are certainly off-limits at the Daily Mail. Going by the regularity of the articles taking potshots at cycling, the writers on the Daily Mail seem to feel threatened by the rise and rise of cycling. Space that was once reserved for hating on immigrants or berating single mothers is now increasingly being given over to ‘bikes are batty’ articles.
Here’s just one recent example: on 11th December, the Daily Mail carried a long, pictorial article on the amount of paint wasted on a particular cycle path. A photographer blocking the way appeared to make a cyclist ride on the wrong side of the cycle path, leading the Daily Mail headline to decry the spatial awareness of the diverted cyclist.
Tellingly, the article ended with a fear statistic:
“Recent Department of Transport figures reveal that 820 cyclists lost their lives or were seriously injured in the three months to June - an increase of 19 per cent on the same time span last year.”
Why end on such a statistic? It’s to instill fear in would-be cyclists, an attempt to turn back the tide, reduce the desire for cycling. Deep down, could the use of scare tactics by the Daily Mail be because it itself is scared? Scared of a future that might just involve more cyclists? How things have changed.
Who could have imagined 20 years ago that, one day, the Prime Minister would be an urban bike commuter? If David Cameron’s Tories win the General Election, that’s what we’ll have. OK, he may ditch the bike for a ministerial car but at least he would know what it’s like to be an urban cyclist, and that’s a huge leap forward.
But not every prominent politician plumps for a ministerial car over a bike. Take the UK’s current transport secretary Lord Adonis. He rides to work.
He said recently: “Nothing we are doing is more important than promoting cycling at the local level.”
The US equivalent to Lord Adonis is Ray LaHood. In a blog posting on December 9th, he attacked a Senator who said spending stimulus cash on bike infrastructre was a “waste.”
LaHood wrote: “some [stimulus] projects include bike paths, a key ingredient in our livability initiative to allow people to live, work, and get around without a car. We don’t call that waste; we call it progress.”
Note, this isn’t a pedalling politician talking, a Kerry or a Blumenauer, it’s the US Secretary of Transport.
LaHood also leaps to the defence of cycling on his Twitter account and, in March, admitted on the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation that he’s been a “supporter of bicycling for many years.”
His piece was headlined ‘Cyclists are important users of transportation systems’ and LaHood wrote:
“I am committed to investing in programs that encourage bikes to coexist with other modes and to safely share our roads and bridges…Bicycles are a critical part of a cleaner, greener future in American transportation.”
Talk like this is becoming less rare. This must put the heebie-jeebies up petrolheads.
A few years back, Daily Mirror columnist Tony Parsons wrote:
“Bicycles are for children…[they are] like masturbation - something you should grow out of. There is something seriously sick and stunted about grown men who want to ride a bike.”
This disparaging is a sure sign that cycling is growing. Lots of perfectly sane and sensible adults are now riding around the cities of the UK and the US. In normal clothes. Cycling becoming ‘normal’ is something critics can’t stand. They kick out at cyclists who refuse to wear helmets, hate on cyclists who jump red lights, ride on pavements, and simply detest that cyclists don’t pay ‘road tax’ but, take heart, much of this anti-bike bleating is a reaction against the increasing visibility of cycling.
Sociologist Dave Horton believes such critics now view cycling as a threat to the infernal combustion engine:
For the last third of the twentieth century, the cyclist was relegated in favour of the motorist. But the cyclist is coming back. And…it is experienced by many people as as a threat…The push to bring cycling in from the margins suggests that car-centred lives will not continue forever. Forcing an encounter with the idea of oneself as a cyclist, it provokes fear of cycling…[and] fear of the cyclist is related to people’s anxieties that they, too, might end up taking to cycling, and becoming a ‘cyclist’.
As people feel increasing pressure to get on bikes themselves, and thus really start to engage with the realities of currently dominant cycling conditions, we may also hear more cries that cycling is too dangerous. People’s fears of cycling will become more real and powerful as the prospects of their cycling grow greater. And people will feel and fear the loss of a way of life as it has come to be lived, as automobilised.
When these anxieties become intense, and the calls that cycling is too dangerous become really vociferous, we should, I think, take them as a sign that – as a culture – we are getting really serious about once more getting on our bikes.
The Netherlands already has such a culture and while Dutch people may still laugh at our feeble attempts at replicating that culture, Dutch folks who live in the UK have noticed big changes in just a short period of time. Peter Lensink, a London-based executive of Ned Railways, the Dutch rail giant, said cycling in the capital is at a tipping point:
“There’s been a change in perception, not just people in Lycra. Biking is becoming part of mobility. I pedal on a Dutch roadster and cycle everywhere in my suit. There are now lots like me. Who would ever have imagined the junction between Tavistock Square and Tavistock Place would have cycle congestion in the mornings?”
A northern friend of mine was in London last week for one of his rare visits and told me he was surprised by the greatly increased number of cyclists he saw.
“At one traffic light there were five cyclists lined up behind each other. And this was at night, in the freezing cold. London is filling up with cyclists.”