Thursday, 17 July 2008

PC alert - now it's cycling's turn!

According to councillor Terry Cook, Bristol's so-called "cycling champion" (who famously scuppered a Council motion to protect the Railway Path just a few weeks ago), Bristol needs to address inequalities in cycling. In an article on Cycling City in the Local government Association's online mag he's quoted as saying-

"Cycling rates are lower in some deprived and ethnic minority communities, and women certainly cycle less than men. So we’re doing some serious thinking on why that is and what we can do to increase participation."

I don't want to deprive them of serious thinking time, especially all the coffee and hobnobs involved, but could it just be that we're not all the same? Men are more inclined to take risks than women, higher achieving people are just more dynamic, ethnic groups have different cultural values, that sort of thing?

Oh for the days when the Council ignored cycling and we could just get on with it, using our initiative and entreprise to find solutions to problems. That's how cycling has survived and even prospered against the odds since the 1970s. Now it seems we are to be clobbered with misguided notions of equality, starting no doubt with clumsy attempts to stamp out such individual (male, white, middle class) initiatives as discretionary use of traffic lights.

(Terry Cook has been game enough to respond to this piece in the comments below.)


The Bristol Blogger said...

As usual the city council and the Labour Party have got it all backwards.

Surely if they invest in and build infrastructure we're all equally able to access it if we choose and it has a lasting long term value.

Whereas if the council spends money on doomed schemes marketing cycling to the usual suspects then that's of no use to the rest of the population and will have very little long term value when it inevitably fails.

Anonymous said...

Chris - hate to cry foul but I do feel slightly misrepresented. Our aim is to increase cycling in the city. Cycling is currently dominated by white middle class men. Making cycling accessable to groups outside of this is surely a good thing!

Or is your argument that you want to keep cycling safe within your restricted club?

PS I hate that photograph!!

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Terry, very sporting of you to contribute to the debate.

(If you don't like the picture you'd better speak to someone at the City Council since it's from their web site. Does anyone like their own picture?)

What's wrong with white middle class men being over represented amongst cyclists? Why does the City Council regard that as something that has to be "corrected"?

Cycling's not for everyone so you shouldn't expect every section of the population to be equally represented. Why not let people decide for themselves if they want to cycle or not?

Quite frankly I don't think the City Council have the necessary understanding of cycling and the way it interacts with motor traffic to start meddling in it. Just focus on maintaining and managing the roads in a way that's safe for all road users and leave "modal choice" to individual choice.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Terry neatly sums up how ridiculous New Labour have become.

Now entirely signed up to the Thatcherite consensus on the all the big issues like the economy, governance, taxation, crime, public services etc. we find the party - that's supposed to believe in the role of the state - has actually lost the belief that they should deliver large-scale infrastructural projects that might genuinely improve all our lives.

Hence rather than using the last ten years and spending the vast sums they had at their disposal to deliver a cheap, clean efficient public transport system that would benefit us all - the dreaded white middle class men as well as the various minority groups they obsess over - they have instead resorted to endless small-scale marginal schemes that attempt to pointlessly and ineffectively micro-manage people's lives.

The modus operandi is virtually always the same. Invent/identify some 'problem' - stuff like smoking, obesity, anti-social behaviour, teenage pregnancy - and then employ a load of white middle class people with the problem clearly named in their job title to do something about it. So now we have armies of Anti-Social Behaviour Officers, Teenage Pregnancy Reduction Co-ordinators, Healthy Living Advisors, Recycling Doctors blah, blah, blah telling us how to live our lives.

Now Terry - to the sound of a barrel scraping accompaniment - has found a new problem: not enough black people riding bikes. How long until we have a team of well-paid Cycling Diversity Workers then?

Anonymous said...

"Cycling is currently dominated by white middle class men"

Is that really true ?

Based on which statistics ?
Where were they collected ?

Chris Hutt said...

Our Cycling Champion says it's true so it must be, mustn't it? Mind you, Terry does say he's Cycling Champion "just for fun" so maybe he's not taking it too seriously after all.

Elizabeth said...

How much diversity is there on the allotments, in adopting, and in voluntary work? And what about organic food, swimming, and walking in the hills? There is no end to the "individual life style choices" the council could be monitoring and then engineering.

In the meantime would they please do something to make it safe for women and children and old people of all nationalities to bicycle on our roads?

Anonymous said...

Firstly let me see that there is nothing wrong with white middle class men - I am one!

Our aim is to increase cycling in the city. That will mean money spent on infrastructure making cycling more attractive and safe. It will also mean educating / influencing those who do not currently cycle and letting them in on the secret that cycling is safe and fun. That will include children, women, BME and those in our poorer communities.

Finally Chris I take my fun very seriously!!

Chris Hutt said...

So Terry you think the City Council should be "educating / influencing" the People of Bristol.

Wasn't it just a few months ago that the City Council was convinced that building a guided busway along the Railway Path was a good idea and wasn't it the People who had to "educate / influence" you lot to stop it happening? Perhaps a little humility is in order after that shameful episode.

As for spending money on infrastructure to make cycling safe, what is wrong with the existing infrastructure - i.e. the highway network?

I and most cyclists I know are perfectly capable of using the existing infrastructure safely, but unfortunately many motorists are not.

That is the problem which you refuse to recognise because the Council hasn't got the guts to confront real problems, preferring instead to address side issues of marginal importance.

Glenn Vowles said...

Terry - Where is the evidence that cycling is dominated by white middle-class men? Someone asked this question and there has been no reply. It may well be true of course but I'd still like to see the evidence. Can you oblige us with a link/reference?

bristol dirt bag said...

Terry thinks that it's his job to educate and influence us... funny, what he's describing is the opposite of democracy.

Is this a frank admission of the anti-democratic ideals that drive our council?

Anonymous said...

Let me respond to the two questions / issues raised.

Firstly this rather bizarre notion that influencing and educating people is somehow anti democratic. We have had universal suffrage in the UK since the 1920s and state education since the 1900s without universal education you cannot have universal democracy. If it wasn't for people like Chris influencing change in the transport arena we would have an even worse transport system than we already have. So I reject the notion that it is influence and education are not democratic. However if I dictate and coerce that's a different matter.

As for Glenn's point (and others) on evidence. Firstly it's observation if you cycle you see white faces and expensive equipment - not very scientific I agree. Secondly we have statistics that show cycling rates differ within various parts of the city. These show that we are underrepresented in non white middle class areas. I will get the stats and share them on the site if I can.

It is clear, Chris, that we are not going to agree on all aspects. But I for one want to understand and learn from differing views because that’s the way that I think democracy (and free speech) works. Long live active debate.

Chris Hutt said...

I'm glad to hear that you recognise the value of participating in open debate Terry. If only the same could be said for others with vested interests in cycling who remain conspicuously absent from the debate here.

As you know the City Council have pretty much ignored cycling as a serious transport option for the last 30 years or more. Suddenly, following the outburst of massive public opposition to your proposal to convert the Railway Path to a guided busway, the Council seem to have woken up to the potential of cycling.

Better late than never I suppose, but before you start presuming to "educate / persuade" the rest of us, perhaps you should take some time to get up to speed on cycling issues. You're still decades behind.

Vested interests like Sustrans don't necessarily represent the best interests of cyclists generally (they are certainly not democratically constituted to do so). Sustrans naturally want to focus the debate on the need for new infrastructure, but others like myself would argue that it's the management of the existing road network that matters.