Sunday, 27 September 2009

Green Bristol Blog on BBC Radio 4

This Monday morning at 11 am Radio 4 are broadcasting a 30 minute programme looking at Bristol’s Cycling City project, based on interviews with local cyclists, including this blogger. The BBC site actually refers to interviews with “a couple of cycling visionaries who sense that a better world is within our grasp” – I wonder if I’m one of them? The presenter and interviewer Miles Warde is a regular cyclist and asked some very pertinent questions so it should be informed and interesting.

I expect there will be positive and negative opinions expressed and, judging by this nicely written piece by producer Christine Hall, one of the more positive ones will relate to the subsidised cycle training being provided by LifeCycle.

This training is receiving hefty Cycling City subsidies, £25 for each first one hour session, leaving the trainee to pay just £5 for a session supposedly worth £30. However the existing subsidy budget (£25,000) allows for just 1,000 people (see * below) to receive the subsidised first training session. Not many in relation to the numbers who appear to need some educating about their cycling-in-traffic technique if my experience is anything to go by.

As is often the way with state subsidies this one tends to redistribute wealth in favour of the wealthy since the training sessions are disproportionately taken up by the relatively affluent middle classes. It’s also inefficient as most of the middle class beneficiaries are quite capable of getting much the same guidance on cycling techniques from books, magazines or the internet without the need for public subsidies. And as we see again and again with Cycling City the funds are channeled into schemes that just happen to create jobs for the boys and girls.

Later edits.

Radio 4 - Bristol: Cycling City - iplayer here and MP3 recording available here

Also this provocative blog post by Mike A, a former Bristol cycling campaigner, in response to the programme. He makes his points quite independently  of me in case anyone suspects collusion. 

And another blogger comments here.

* A comment made below corrects my figures. In fact £10,000 of Cycling City money provides £25 subsidies for the first training sessions of 400 people.


HeathMan said...

Dear Chris,
Just caught this great piece on radio 4 and it lead me to your site. They don't seem to have put it on iplayer though. Do you have any contact or influence with the producers to get it put up? Or is it available elsewhere?
Many thanks.

Chris Hutt said...

I thought the programme was really well done. I've emailed the following to the producer, Christine Hall ( ).

"hi Christine,

Great programme! I thought you all did a fantastic job of getting a good range of views and giving it a strong narrative. Please pass my congratulations on to Miles and the others."

I was interviewed for over an hour so one obviously thinks of all the wit and incision which was discarded, but that's always the way with these things.

I'll look into adding an iplayer link aas suggested by Heathman.

Chris Hutt said...

Prog doesn't appear to be available on iplayer yet -

Mike Armstrong said...

Heard the programme whilst decorating. Nearly spilt my paint when I heard some of Veronica's comments!

Not a bad programme at all, nice to hear BBC Bristol doing a good job :)

The programme is now on iPlayer The systems doing this are rather convoluted and take some time.

Chris Hutt said...

Link to MP3 recording now added to blog post. Thanks to Martin M for setting that up on the Bristol Cycling Campaign site.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Mike,

I've put the iplayer link up too.

So what did you think of Veronica's points about training? Patronising perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I thought the programme was generally very negative about cycling - too many people were interviewed who'd had accidents, too much mention of hills and cycle paths that stop mid-route. Considering the number of journeys made by bike in Bristol on a daily basis - this is by no means an accurate representation of the journeys made or the people cycling.
Secondly, I would like to take issue with Chris' blog - it's factually incorrect! Life Cycle has only been comissioned to deliver 400 cycle training sessions to the public (not 1000 as suggested). The contract began in May 2009 and we have already delivered almost 200 sessions -so there is clearly demand amongst the public for training. To suggest that people should be learning from a book is frankly laughable - should people now learn to swim or drive cars from a book? I sincerly hope not. Why should learning to cycle safely and competently on the road be any different from learning to drive a car? I wouldn't let my kids out on the road in a car without driving lessons - not only do they need to learn how to control the vehicle, they also need to learn how the road system works, and how to judge the behaviour of other motorists. It is no different for cyclists. Training enables those new to cycling to learn how to control the bike and then how to cycle safely in urban traffic. Finally, Life Cycle has been training adults to cycle for ten years and train people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Mike Armstrong said...

The moment when I nearly came a cropper with the paint.

Miles: "So the fault, your suggesting almost lies more with the cyclist more than the motorist. It's the cyclist who can be retrained."

Veronica: "Yes, I think both can be retrained, but it's easier to retrain a cyclist because they're the ones whose behavior can change."

Veronica is in a *very* difficult position. She is being funded by the council to provide a useful service to a small number of cyclists, so she ends up on the defensive about the council's approach.

She cannot turn round and say that money is being wasted, even with the best will in the world she could not have attacked the council's use of the Cycling City money.

Training can work. Anything which stops people cycling up the left hand side of lorries and buses at junctions can save lives, but training cannot make the road conditions any better for cyclists.

Mike Armstrong said...

Life says "Finally, Life Cycle has been training adults to cycle for ten years and train people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities."

I would like to know how many people have been trained by Life Cycle, and what percentage of people who cycle in Bristol this represents.

David Hembrow said...

Chris, you came across very well. A good "radio voice."

As for training... Actually, you can learn a lot from books.

And 200 people trained so far ? That's about 1 in 2000 of Bristol's population. i.e. at the current rate it would take rather longer than the average human life-time to get through the whole population.

It may make a small difference, but this isn't the direction in which mass cycling lies.

Adam said...

I have had Level 3 Urban Skills training with Veronica. It was great and has had a marked effect on my cycling around Bristol.

I wasn't expecting to get anything from it before the training bu it helped me to fine tune a few of my survival techniques (bad wording I know) and helped reinforce the bits I was getting right already so increased my confidence too.

I would recommend it to everyone even if you think you don;t need it. Take advantage of the £5 lowered cost while you can. Before the training I wouldn't have paid £30 for it, but I would now knowing how it helps.

Charlie Bolton said...

I may be crossing the line of what I can and cannot say (as a councillor and someone who works for Life Cycle), but surely there have to be a whole host of different ways to get more people cycling.

Training will encourage some people either to cycle in the first place, or cycle with more confidence. It won't work for everyone, nor would it be their choice. But it can make a huge difference to others.

Veronica is a huge supporter of cycling in general, and also of cycle training. That's why she does it.

In my experience, she is in no way reticent to give her views, and I find the idea she has been 'bought' in some way as ludicrous.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi David,

I was pleasantly surprised at how mellifluous I sounded. No doubt some clever special effect was applied to my normal nasal whine.

Your point about the numbers who can realisitically be trained is well made. A £25 per hour subsidy cannot be applied to more than a token number (like the current 400 = £10,000) and then you're back to asking people to spend £30 per hour which I can't see many people taking up unless they're forced to.

Therein lies another danger. Once a 'cycle training' vested interest is established how long before they start lobbying for compulsory cycle training along with say a cycling licence? That could become a major deterrent to people taking up cycling in the same way as current training requirements act as a barrier to people taking up motor cycling.

I'm wary of everything that gives the state the pretext for increasing its influence over our lives. State subsidised cycle training could be the thin end of a very large wedge.

Mike Armstrong said...


To be fair, Veronica did have a wonderful rant in the programme about the state of the cycle lanes in Bristol and how useless they are and how roads are the city's cycle network. That was Veronica at her best, passionate, direct and to the point! It was rather a contrast with the answers she gave to the questioning about the effectiveness of the Cycling City project.

The development of the current training methods based on the techniques outlined in John Franklin's Cyclecraft has been a great improvement, but they cannot make a big difference to the numbers of people cycling.

If you want to massively increase the level of cycling in Bristol, then London proves how quickly it can be done and how. Do what Ken did and introduce a congestion charge or some other drastic measure for making driving more difficult or expensive.

SteveL said...

The sprog did a 3 mornings course with Veronica on cycling; now on the school run he signals on the tagalong and is starting to ask questions about the legality of contraflowing one-way streets.

The missus did a 1:1 session, and has signed up for a full £30 session. If it gets people like her -bike owner, not confident in the city- out and about, then its good.

The big issue is safety and yes, awareness and positioning helps a lot. Doesn't stop redland mums on the school run cutting you up, doesn't stop taxi-drivers-of-death, doesn't stop oncoming cars in montpelier trying to squeeze you into a parked car. You still need to be a ruthless bastard and not be afraid to provide feedback to passing cars. But veronica can't come out and say that because it would set back the program.

Chris Hutt said...

@ Adam and SteveL,

I've nothing against people choosing formal training courses if they want and can afford to. I dare say many people find them beneficial.

My objection is to the interference of the state in this. Initially we have this token subsidy, which may look innocuous, but it doesn't stop there. Once the state starts to think that it's part of its role to induce us to undertake cycle training then how long before it becomes compulsory?

Remember that cycling survived and even prospered over the last 50 years because of the exercise of freedom by individuals and absolutely no thanks to the state.

The state is only getting involved now because they have lost the battle to stamp out cycling directly. Their new tactic is to smother us in bureaucracy and subsidy until we are weakened to the point of being unable to resist such things as compulsory helmet wearing which will ultimately be used to marginalise cycling.

We need to maintain our freedom and independence against this threat.

Adam said...

I see your point. I did cycling proficiency at school in the early 80's which is a form of training. No compulsary training has been brought in since then, so if the gov is trying to bring it in via enticing people with non-compulsary training then they're being very slow and ineffective about it.

Also getting people accustomed to compulsary training through offering a few hundred lessons when there are a few million cyclists? I think you're assuming that more people are aware about the chance to choose to get training then have actually ever even heard about it.

I only found out by chance. Not sure how anyone else would know other than word of mouth?

No one I have ever mentioned it to knew about it or knew how to access it.

Since doing my training I have noticed a small (10cm x 8 cm) flyer in a bike shop with info about it and know that there are events that have had people offering training at, but both those situations are really going to maybe get info to people who are already cycling or are already motivated. Not really the target audience that are needed to boost the figures for Cycling City's push to get double the amount of cyclists on bikes in Bristol.

Tim Beadle said...

From David Hembrow's blog:

"Traffic education is part of the curriculum here (it doesn't come out of cycle funding) and covers all sorts of things about walking, cycling and driving. There is quite a bit of emphasis on cycling because of course that is how most children get to school each day."

The state very much intervenes in Holland, but then it also very much provides segregated infrastructure, which (as David intimated above) is *the only thing* (not lower speed limits, not more training) that will bring mass cycling about.

Adam said...

The state very much intervenes in the UK too. My partner is a teacher and does trips out with the children to Post Offices etc to learn about them and while they're doing it they learn about road crossings etc. Last trip out she had to wait at a zebra crossing with all the children, all in hi-viz while cars continued to drive over the zebra crossing and not let them cross, most likely because they didn't want to wait for a group of school children who might take more than a few seconds to cross. This was a zebra crossing near the school too. Pretty much sums up the selfish attitude ingrained in people. So what did the children learn about crossing the road that day?

Schools are also finding that older children are needing educating about road safety and crossing roads as they're often so used to being driven to school and other places that they are lacking enough awareness around roads. A vicious circle.

Chris Hutt said...

Good point by Tim about state intervention in the Netherlands, but we aren't really party to the debates they have about that since we don't get to see much in the way of English language versions of such debates. I'd be surprised if there wasn't an intense debate about such things.

My impression is that state intervention is greater in the Netherlands but that this is based on a more homogenous, cohesive national character and so is less likely to be resented. That may be complete bollocks but if not might go some way to explaining why greater state intervention might be accepted.

David Hembrow said...

Chris, there is precious little debate here about any of it. In general the population is actually very happy with what has been done. Moans about taxes are also rare.

I don't think this is down to a "cohesive national character", but to people being able to see that they get value for money from their taxes. Compared with the UK there is very little obvious wastefulness and even large projects seem to get finished very quickly and efficiently.

Even politicians seem quite honest. Remarkably, it seems they do what they say they're going to do. What's more, they don't seem to have their noses in the trough. In response to "The Telegraph" looking closely at British MP's expenses this year (reported with much hilarity over here), the Dutch paper "De Telegraaf" did the same. As I recall, the worst thing they found was that someone had claimed on expenses for a pair of sunglasses.

There's a different attitude. An honesty. Real open-ness, and a tendency to accept blame.

Anyway, it's not like any government doesn't intervene with the way things are done on the roads. The UK government is doing plenty of intervention in the field of transport - and always on the side of drivers.

Keith Edwards said...

I think that driving tests should be taken on a regular basis e.g. every ten years to keep the standards high. My wife runs a driving school in Edinburgh and agrees with my idea. Her company is called Lpass -

What do you think?
Many thanks Keith.

Pedals Cycling said...

Why don't such news about cycling get more propagated, I just knew about this after nearly 10 months of the event. So strange really!!
Cycling Crazy

Anonymous said...

Certainly. And I have faced it. Let's discuss this question. Here or in PM.

driving lessonss Stevenage said...

Veronica: "Yes, I think both can be retrained, but it's easier to retrain a cyclist because they're the ones whose behavior can change."

I've been a bicycle courier in London for last three years and all the accidents I got and most my mates got was caused by reckless car driving - u-turns where forbidden, changing lanes or turning without indicators. 7 (seven) of my friends had an accident caused by idiots who are not looking in the mirrors before opening the doors... Changing only that kind of stupid behavior would change a lot...