Jul 04, 2013

Car culture is grown by the Department for Motorised Road Transport




The UK’s Department for Transport has a good minister for cycling, albeit one shackled by having little real power, and a small number of committed civil servants with cycling’s best interests at heart. However, it’s inescapable that - aside from the officials involved with the vanity project that is HS2 - the Department for Transport is, in fact, the Department for Motorised Road Transport.

In his 1981 book, Transport Planning Vision and practice John Adams said roughly the same:

“Some of the organizations that like [pro-motoring MPs'] policy implications are fairly obvious: those who make cars, those who build roads, those who sell petrol, and so on. But the most important of the organ­izations that can be presumed to like both the forecasts and their policy implications is the Department of Transport. It is primarily a department of road transport and contains within its ranks large numbers of people whose working lives have been devoted to planning the expansion of the country’s road network. Despite the fact that civil servants are supposed to be the servants of their political masters it would clearly be unreasonable to expect of them an overnight conversion to policies that called a halt to this expansion or, even worse, that implied that it had been mis­guided.”

We’re waiting on tenterhooks for the announcement of which cities get to share £42m to spend on cycling (the announcement is late, postponed because of the Woolwich murder). In the meantime, the Office of Active Travel has been quietly killed off and last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review gave billions to road building and did not mention walking or cycling, even in passing.

A PDF poster featuring of all the main MPs and officials at the Department for Transport has the strap line:

“Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but one that is also greener, safer and improves quality of life in our communities.”

Greener? With road building at its core, the DfT can never be truly green. Car culture is deeply embedded in Britain and the Department for Motorised Road Transport has zero desire to change this culture. That’s what we’re up against.




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Feb 17, 2011

Which is greenest? England’s forest estate or an electric estate car?


Autumn Ellie

If you can afford to spend £28,000 on an electric car, our Government will give you a big fat cheque for £5000 as part of a £400m package to subsidise the nascent electric car market.

Selling off 15 percent of England’s forest estate will raise a paltry £100m.


Electric cars - which are, in fact, coal-powered - shift emissions away from source but don’t solve congestion. Millions of electric cars will take up the same space as millions of cars powered by petrol. Millions more cars on the road will only have freedom of movement if more roads are built. The Department for Transport predicts congestion to increase by at least 54 percent within 23 years.

Roads destroy countyside. You know, like woodlands.

Best to get woods out of public ownership, then. And this is what the Government is trying to do, although the bigger-than-expected protests against the sell-off have caused Cameron and chums to have second thoughts.

Last week the Government temporarily suspended its plans to take 15 percent of the public forest estate out of state control which would have generated up to £100m. And a consultation paper from the “greenest Government ever” that was seeking “a range of ownership and management options for the remaining 85 percent of the estate” will be scrapped, believes the BBC.

Do you think the Government might have had its priorities wrong over all this? Yes? How about signing 38 Degrees’ petition to ’save our forests’. Despite Cameron’s climb-down, our forests are not saved yet.

ecar ebike spot the difference




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Nov 14, 2010

Does Hoverboard Hammond live in fear of Monty Python?


philip hammond ministry of silly walks

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will be appearing on Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ next week. If you live in Surrey and want to put a petrolhead minister on the spot now could be your chance.

The event will be on 19th November at Wallington High School for Girls, Woodcote Road, Wallington, Surrey SM6 0PH.

Free tickets for Friday’s event are available from tel: 020 8254 9324, or jandrews1@suttonlea.org

Hammond is the transport secretary who, as part of his first public statement, said he had “ended the war on the motorist”. He also choked off the cash for Cycling England, replacing it with…nothing. He’s pouring billions of pounds into motorway widening and has an open cheque-book policy on electric car infrastructure, but this is where his interest in transport ends.

He’s happier spending time in other Government departments, advising them on where and how to cut, rather than be briefed on topics in his own department. He didn’t want the transport role, he wanted to be bean counter number two. And doesn’t it show? Time spent in departments other than his own means he hardly sees his own team: road safety minister Mike Penning has seen his boss so few times he now jokes about it in private.

And whenever Norman ‘once-a-lion-now-a-poodle’ Baker gets a face to face with Hammond it consists of a one way conversation, and is invariably about which part of the sustainable transport budget will be chopped next.

Transport ministers of all creeds have one big fear. If they start talking about walking or cycling - or anything that’s not deemed MSM-sexy such as aviation or electric sportscars or high speed rail – they worry the redtops will picture them as being in charge of the Ministry of Silly Walks. Monty Python has done more damage to our nation’s health than you might think.

Torched speed camera

So, it’s against this background that it might be a good idea to get in the audience for ‘Any Questions’. Hammond is incredibly weak on transport topics that don’t involve asphalt and Jaguars, and a few questions lobbed his way could expose this weakness.

Does he really think electric cars will cure congestion? How will 8000 electric cars (the estimate for numbers sold by 2013) curb either carbon or congestion? Why is the British Government giving rich car owners cash to buy even more cars: why do well-heeled folks need £5000 subsidies to buy electric cars? And how come this slush fund starts in January but the pitifully small Local Sustainable Transport Fund doesn’t start paying out until October? If electric cars can get a state handout, why not electric bikes? What is his definition of “war” (are speed cameras used in Iraq and Afganistan?) How can he justify abolishing Cycling England which costs £200,000 a year to run, which is about the cost of five metres of motorway? With UK car ownership now at 31 million and rising, at what level of ownership will gridlock kick in? If he doesn’t know, why not?

There are so many questions that can be asked of Hoverboard Hammond. I wish I lived in Surrey. If you do, get in that audience…





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Nov 12, 2010

Do Transport Ministers dream of electric sheep?


From January onwards, thanks to a £43m gift from UK taxpayers, UK consumers will be eligible for £5000 grants to go get themselves electric cars. By definition these early adopters will be well-heeled. On the whole, electric cars will be sold as urban runabouts to rich folks who already own petrol-engine cars and who, because of e-car ‘range anxiety’, will keep their gas guzzlers for longer journeys.

Hoverboard Hammond - the Transport Secretary who, earlier this year, and at great risk to himself, single-handedly ended the war on the motorist – believes £28,000 e-cars will curb both emissions and congestion. Neither positions are true: emissions will just be shunted someplace else* and it’s patently obvious that e-cars, being the same size as standard cars, will not make a jot of difference to congestion.

So, why is the UK Government - in this supposed age of austerity - happy to subsidise motoring yet radically reduce the cash and support for cycling?

Last month the Government said it was going to scrap Cycling England. Per year, Cycling England cost £200,000 to run. As the M6 road widening project is weighing in at £1000 an inch, the running of Cycling England can be estimated to have cost about five metres of motorway per year. Not five miles, five metres.

But it’s politically easy to take cash away from cycling: cyclists don’t tend to blockade motorways.

ecar ebike spot the difference

While cyclists whistle in the wind for bicycle infrastructure, £400m worth of recharging infrastructure has been “mandated” for electric cars (yet more public subsidy for cars and not very many cars at that, perhaps just 8600 sold next year, believes the DfT), and billions are being spent on widening motorways.

The UK Government is stumping up just £560m over four years for its new Local Sustainable Transport Fund. So, all cycling, bus and pedestrian projects will be fighting it out over a pot that’s not a great deal more than been given to 8000 or so rich motorists. And this is the age of austerity? We all have to suffer together? Not if you want an electric runabout for town from January onwards.

The first annual payment of £140m from the £560m fund for buses, bikes and pedestrians won’t be released until October 2011.

Why is the UK Government - which bills itself as the ‘greenest Government ever’ - so incredibly short-sighted and mean when it comes to cycling?

By all means “invest” in electric cars but why spend so little on cycling? It was the last Government which created the £400m Plugged In Places scheme and the £5000 Plug-In Car Grant, but at least Labour spent cash on cycling, too.

If coal-powered electric cars can get big fat grants, why can’t coal-powered electric bicycles plug into the same slush fund?

Of course, better still, shouldn’t those who ride standard bicycles get paid for reducing the amount of cars on the road and emitting nothing more noxious than hot-air? Does anybody have a link for the application form for the £5000 grant for riding my bike every day?

* Most of the electricity produced in the UK is generated from burning coal. Nuclear energy is in the mix too, and that has its obvious downsides. Even if all our electricity was generated by green means (hydro, wind, wave, and solar) that still doesn’t get round the fact it’s daft to transport a ten stone human in a one-ton car for short distances.

Yes, an electric car produces less CO2 emissions than an ICE car. And we definitely want less spewing of carbon monoxide, benzene, particulates and NO2. But bicycles don’t produce any of those either.

But electric cars - and to a much lesser degree, electric bicycles - are no angels. Millions of e-cars will consume waaaay too much lithium. This is mostly mined in Latin America, in countries with sometimes unstable and suspect regimes.

Instead of focussing on a petrol car substitute, Governments around the world should be evaluating alternatives to the car.




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Oct 04, 2010

Does ‘Hoverboard Hammond’ really believe e-cars will cure congestion?


Watch the video for my critical comments on this morning’s party conference speech by Philip ‘end the war on motorists’ Hammond.



It’s well known Hammond is a petrol-head but he now seems to think electric cars will solve almost all ills.

Here’s some snippets from a speech he gave last month to a ‘low carbon vehicles’ crowd.

I believe we are on the brink of a critical transformation of road transport.

The next 30 years will see a shift from high carbon to low carbon based road travel, as significant as the shift a century ago from the horse to the combustion engine.

Once that shift is underway, and clearly irreversible, policy makers will be able to plan for a future that includes the car - safe in the knowledge the benefits of individual travel will be available to future generations without compromising our carbon reduction goals.

Personal mobility, the ability to travel point-to-point on an individually-tailored timetable has been a huge boon and people are not going to give up the liberty provided by the car lightly.

Fortunately, thanks to the technological revolution we are about to embark on, they won’t have to.

Yes we must tackle congestion on our roads and in our cities. And so we want to ensure that people can use alternatives for vehicle journeys such as high speed rail and public transport.

But we need to recognise that, for many journeys, the car will remain the only practical and convenient choice. Which means we must make the car sustainable by decarbonising transport over the coming years.




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Feb 08, 2010

In opposition to segregation


“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?

Self Propelled Traffic Association

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.

Who Pays For Britain's Roads?

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.

Edmund King, the AA’s current president is a cyclist: he often tweets about rides on his Whyte MTB.

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.




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Jan 18, 2010

‘Road tax’ video to turn petrolheads


getyourroadtax

No bicycles. No mention that cyclists have every right to be on roads (not) paid for by motorists. Just footage of a rather famous pre-1973 motorcar, as used in a movie and a TV advert.

[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.”








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Jan 02, 2010

DRIVERS: slow down to save £440 a year (and kill fewer cyclists & pedestrians)




If only VizTopTips would do a section on spoof tips for motorists.

PETROLHEADS: Drive like your grandmother, not a hooligan. Over the year you’ll save enough money to buy an even louder and more annoying sound-system.

In all probability, the ’save dosh’ tack would likely have more societal impact than the ’slow down’ tack.

A 2008 poll on Moneysavingexpert.com reported that, because of the credit crunch and petrol price hikes, 21 percent of the 6055 who completed the online poll were driving “less aggressively/more efficiently.” 12 percent were driving less.

Petrol to soar Daily Express

Drivers who rev away from traffic lights and try to make tiny gains are not just rude and dumb, they’re also wasting lots of money. If it was pointed out to them that driving less aggressively could actually save them hundreds of pounds a year this might have a more dramatic effect on car speeds than any amount of ’speed kills’ promotions.

The average motoring citizen in the UK doesn’t give a stuff about the safety of pedestrians or cyclists. The trend towards more and more aggressive driving is not from just ‘Boy Racers’ but yummy mummies in their SUVs and nurses rushing to work.

Of course, motorists will continue to drive unthinkingly fast on city streets and the Government won’t create a publicity campaign explaining how efficient driving is a big money saver could be a real winner.

Cheaperior

Moneysavingexpert.com is a HUGE website. It has 7 million unique visitors a month. Site owner Martin Lewis gets his many staff to send out a weekly email to 3+ million signed-up recipients. Most of the readers are Daily Mail types (just 1 percent read the Financial Times). Some already admit to being slow and careful “grand-dad drivers” but with such a massive readership, Lewis’ advice on driving more efficiently could be making more motorists slow down, improving safety for vulnerable roads users.

In this poll Lewis asked: “Have high fuel costs changed the way you drive?”

The price of petrol is at a record high. There are three main ways to cut the cost of fuel; you can drive more efficiently, up your car/van/bike’s efficiency via decluttering and other tricks, and use comparison sites to find cheaper fuel. Which of the following best describes changes you’ve made in the last two years?

The answers were: (emphasis my own)

I use the car less. 13%
I drive less aggressively/more efficiently: 21%
I’ve decluttered the car/made it more efficient. 1%
I use the car less AND drive less aggressively. 12% (this is an interesting stat!)
I drive less aggressively AND have decluttered the car. 6%
I use the car less AND have decluttered it. 3%
All the methods above. 13%
I don’t drive. 5%
I got rid of my car. 3%
I made all these changes more than two years ago. 6%
I’ve not changed at all. 17% (dimwits)

Sadly there was no answer ‘I now use my bicycle as well as my car.’

Lewis has written earlier stories on more efficient driving.

It’s possible to drive the same distance in the same time, yet use considerably less fuel. It’s simply about driving more smoothly to boost your fuel efficiency.

Accelerate gradually without over-revving. Speed up smoothly; when you press harder on the pedal more fuel flows, but you could get to the same speed using much less power – a good rule is to stay under 3,000 revs.

Think about road position. To do all this takes road awareness, so the more alert you are, the better you can plan ahead and move gradually.

In many ways this all comes down to one little rule of thumb…

Every time you put your foot on the accelerator, remember the harder you press the more fuel you spend.”




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Dec 13, 2009

With cycling mainstreaming, bad press will get worse


Bloody cyclists. Don't pay road tax blah de blah

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.

ASB

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.

HGV and woman cyclist

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.”

IPayRoadTaxGreen

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.

Peter Lensink, Ned Railways

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.”

The mass media diatribes against cycling won’t abate, they’ll get worse. Anti-cycling articles by car reviewing chefs and columnists who want us garroted, broadcast the fact that cycling is becoming way too normal for some people.

I started with a famous quote and I’ll end with another. In a speech from 1914, US trade unionist Nicholas Klein said:

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”

We’re at the end of stage two. Get ready for the attacks: the media ones we can live with, it’s the motorised, road-rage ones we could do without.




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Sep 09, 2009

AA president rides bikes (in town and for play)


Edmund King, AA president

Edmund King, 50, is President of the Automobile Association. He was formerly the executive director of the RAC Foundation. Earlier in his career he worked in the Californian motor industry and was a campaigns coordinator for the British Road Federation. He’s a regular in the media, wheeled out to put the motorists’ case on such topics as the proposal to reduce the national speed limit on single carriageway rural roads from 60mph to 50mph. To some cycle campaigners - who only know him from his TV interviews or his motoring columns in The Guardian - he’s the devil in a car, mate.

In fact, King is an urban cyclist and a weekend warrior. He rides a Brompton (”I never drive in London”) and a £2800 full-suspension Whyte E-120XT trail bike (”cycling is my main hobby.)” King is more in tune with CTC president and Channel 4 anchor Jon Snow (”we see each other on our bikes from time to time”) than motormouth Jeremy Clarkson. There’s some serious sibling cycling going on, too: King’s brother is a cycle campaigner on Tyneside.

When he was at the RAC Foundation, King introduced RAC members to the concept of “mobility, not just motoring”, spearheading a ’smart travel’ campaign by selling RAC-branded bicycles. These were re-badged Moulton APBs, produced by Pashley. “We sold a few,” said King, ” but it was more to make a statement than make money.”

This AA President is no petrolhead? He told me: “The car isn’t always the best means of getting to your destination.” Next time you see him interviewed on the TV news, crane your neck. Can you see his Brompton?

Were you weaned on two wheels?
“My earliest bicycle memories are racing bikes down the garden as a child in Norwich, with four sisters and four brothers. We use to race our trikes.

“At age 9, a close neighbour was Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus sports cars. He sold my mum my first two wheeler. It was a pink Raleigh girls’ bike. I painted it black and called it a ‘Lotus’.

“We had so much freedom. We’d cycle four miles to a local mill, and go swimming.

“I next had a bike at university, in Newcastle on Tyne. It was a Univega MTB bought at Hardisty Cycles [now Edinburgh Bicycle in Byker]. In fact, I bought two. I bought one for my girlfriend at the time. I thought if I bought her a bike it would snare her into the things I liked. She’s now my wife.”

What bikes do you own?
“When I started living in London, I had a mountain bike but was using it for off-road cycling out in the countryside. When I started working on mobility issues for the RAC Foundation, I got a Brompton and started riding it from Islington to central London.

“I cycle when I can, and certainly every weekend. I rode a Marin Alpine Trail for about twelve years. I recently treated myself to a Whyte E-120XT. It’s truly awesome. I thought it was worth investing in because cycling is my main hobby.

“My three children [8, 6, and 5] are all now on two wheels and absolutely love it.”

Is it ‘them and us’ out there, cars v bikes?
“We have to get past the ‘them and us’ mentality. Cycle campaigners often do themselves no favours in this respect. And motorists can be just as bad. Let’s not forget, people aren’t welded to their cars 24 hours a day. Motorists have to get out and walk places too. It’s not two tribes at war. Out of their cars and off their bikes, these are the same kind of people. We need better behaviour all round. Motorists see cyclists running red lights. Cyclists see motorists cutting them up.

“We need to widen the social acceptance of bikes. We have to get away from this cultural thinking that says “I’ve made it, I need a car.” It’ not like that in the Netherlands. Look, I’m the president of the AA, I never use a car in London. Never. Some people are surprised by that, thinking I’d use a car all the time. No, I use the transport which is relevant for the journey. Sometimes it’s a bike; sometimes it’s a train; sometimes it’s a car; sometimes it’s walking.

“We should be getting people to think about common sense mobility, not one form of transport to the exclusion of all others.”

“We’re not yet like Holland, owning lots of cars but still getting everywhere in town by bike. We need to changes things culturally but I think this is happening, slowly.

“The majority of cyclists have cars. The majority of motorists have cycles at home, even if they don’t always use them.

“It’s all about changing attitudes at a young age, getting more people to cycle at a young age, but also improving the facilities for cycling. My local train station at St Albans has recently improved its cycle parking facilities substantially. There’s now CCTV, double the space for bikes, and they’re all under cover. Cycle spaces now fill up every day when, before, the cycle parking was under-used because it was so grotty.

“We also need better facilities in some of our towns and cities. And existing cycle routes could be better designed. Cycling needs to be incorporated at the planning stage of developments. Ridiculous cycle facilities, like 10 yards of route, are the result when cycling is added in an afterthought.

“Getting rid of cars isn’t the only answer: look at Oxford Street; cars aren’t allowed but it’s not a pleasant place to cycle. There are lots of buses and taxis, and pedestrians not looking where they’re going.

“A lot of people are put off cycling by actual or perceived danger. A lot of parents won’t let their children cycle, even teenagers. But fourteen, fifteen, sixteen is a critical age. By the age of 17 they’ve got a provisional licence and won’t ever cycle.”

With eco and health issues, will cars start taking a back seat to bikes?
“The renaissance of cycling is definitely happening. My local bike shop, Addiktion Cycles in St Albans, tells me their business is better than ever. In the first quarter of the year, their sales were up substantially. It’s not leisure cycles; it’s urban bikes, folding bikes.

“Over next 100 years I can’t see the car disappearing. But our car use will change. New technology and other pressures will change our travel habits. Journey planning could be much more important in the future. The AA journey planner is the biggest online journey planner in Europe. Perhaps information could be added to show when a journey is quicker by bike?

“As a society we will need to get much smarter about the way we travel. Some companies put people into cars for a meeting 100 miles away. That’s ridiculous. At the AA we’re very good at teleconferencing: we dial-in, we don’t always drive-in.

“I never drive in London. I’ve not once paid the congestion charge in London. I take the train, I ride my bike.”

This piece was first published in Cycling Plus magazine.




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