Ambassador you're spoiling us…

by Carlton Reid   February 13, 2011  

Cycle lane

As recently reported on road.cc, a new organisation, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, has been created to push for a number of aims, including getting segregated bike paths. Here Carlton Reid argues that it risks splitting cycling.

I applaud the idealism and the gumption and the energy of those who want the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to work.

But when many of the aims of the nascent organisation are already embraced by other, long-established organisations I fail to see how creating yet another cycling body is going to influence anything. Cycling has enough organisations as it is.

In fact, from a national and local Government perspective, the existing breadth of bodies is head-scratchingly bizarre.

Creating a new one helps cycling not one iota. Duplication is folly. The only different policy of the Embassy is 'segregation first', the rest are espoused by existing bodies. If members of the Embassy believe that such a policy could take years and years of hard campaigning and would, in fact, have to be part of a whole raft of pro-cycling measures, their position really isn't that different to existing organisations.

Years and years of hard campaigning takes time, effort and money. The organisation will need a full-time secretariat, and this isn't cheap. Paying for a website and filling it with the guidance documents that are easily found elsewhere online will have little or no impact.

Getting this organisation off the ground will be a time suck for a few committed individuals. 45 people may have turned up for the first meeting but the real work of any such org is always done by 2-3 people. I can see schisms-to-be in the manifesto. It will all end in tears.

I am basing this on my intimate knowledge of similar start-ups and my research into cycling organisations down the ages. When cycling is united (or at least as united as it can be) results are easier to achieve. The millions of pounds given to Sustrans and the millions of pounds given to other cycling projects after the creation of the (long since shelved) National Cycling Strategy came about because cycling groups suppressed their differences and the Government could have relative assurance that cycling wasn't riven with splits. The steering group for the strategy - and later Cycling England - was made up of chiefs from all the major bike orgs.

Government likes 'one voice', not many. Creating a new group, in reality very very similar to existing bodies (apart from the 'segregation first' bit), will damage cycling. Read your cycling history.

The "old" campaign groups have not failed. They have been around a long long time and will be around long after the Embassy has split into schisms and been torn apart when those doing all the work realise the membership, in fact, wants lots of different things but isn't willing to either pay for it or do the legwork.

However, if the Embassy found a sugar daddy willing to spend, say, £100,000 to kick start a secretariat - and the Embassy could generate a great deal of money every year - maybe it could last a few years. No org in cycling will be that sugar daddy. The grants that are available won't go to a body that has aims so similar to existing bodies.

I'm sorry to be so frank here, sorry to pop bubbles, but the future for cycling in this country is too important to be risked by bodies that seem so fluffy and benign but which can do an awful lot of unseen damage. We need to stand together, work together, stick with the organisations that have clout, resources, manpower and history on their side. Lobby locally for segregation, by all means, but don't create a new organisation, and especially don't create a new organisation that criticises the "old" organisations of being somehow lacking in the idealism department.

Channel your energy into helping the existing organisations. United we stand, divided we fall.

Carlton Reid has been a bike journalist for 25 years. He's the executive editor of BikeBiz.com and editor of bike trade levy fund website BikeHub.co.uk. Further opinions about the foundation of the CEoGB can be found on Quickrelease.tv

30 user comments

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The cycling community certainly need to stand together, yes. As a campaigner - who has only recently climbed onto the cycling stage - I do not currently see this happening. We are fractured. Broken our backs? Too heavy a burden to bear?

The main question is this: for cycling to take off in Britain, we need to attract more people into cycling... and "how" is the question here.

Maybe some new momentum is needed.

Maybe change is good.

Katja Leyendecker
kleyendecker.co.uk
newcycling.org.uk

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posted by Katsdekker [12 posts]
14th February 2011 - 10:05

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Is this new momentum though if it the CE of GB is essentially pushing in the same direction as existing cycling bodies but with the added aim of achieving segregated cycling infrastructure itself something that's likely to divide the cycling community?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
14th February 2011 - 10:27

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Don't get me wrong though… not saying they shouldn't be pushing for the vision of change they want

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
14th February 2011 - 10:45

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Carlton, your criticism seems to stem from a problem with CE of GB pushing for separated cycling provision. Two questions.

Can you point to one country in the world where vehicular cycling has achieved a modal share of 5% or more?

Should riding a bicycle as a means of transport be for everyone or is it just for the brave few?

posted by Kim [127 posts]
14th February 2011 - 11:36

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"Vehicular cycling" and "brave few". Ugg!

An awful lot of the debate from those in favour of CEoGB is based on denigration of the "old" campaigns as though CTC and LCC etc are the ones in power and have not created segregated bike routes.

It's successive UK Governments which have failed cycling, not the hard-working cycle organisations.

Read my points on the 'partition is not a panacea' posting on Quickrelease.tv if you want my rounded opinions.

As somebody who has been embedded in promoting cycling for 25 years of course I want cycling to be for everybody, but what I don't want is for muddle-headed politicians to give us crappy infrastructure and for cyclists to be forced to use these routes.

Many cycle paths in the Netherlands are obligatory. That's almost OK when cycle provision is good, but if that happened here we all know what we'd get.

Yes, we should push for better infrastructure but we should do that via the orgs that want the same things we all want. CTC and LCC are not the enemy; it's car-centric society that's the enemy.

By creating yet another organisation (with roughly the same aims as the existing one, except in order of where segregation should be lobbied for) we risk dilution.

Stand together, don't split off into lots of directions. And don't denigrate those folks who ride on roads. Again, roadies are not the enemy.

Sometimes I'm a roadie, most of the time I'm a cargo bike riding commuter cyclist in civvies. I want road space taken from cars, I want permeability for bikes in towns via closed-off roads and cut-throughs.

I was recently taken to task on my blog for appearing to ride with my kids to school so I must be fearful of traffic when my kids are riding so really ought to be pushing for segregation on my local roads.

In fact, my kids (11, 13 and 11) often cycle to school by themselves. If I waited for segregation to happen - even if pushed for it like crazy - my kids wouldn't ever cycle.

The 'segregation first' position risks inertia here and now. We should be pushing the pro-cycling agenda at all times (something that CTC and LCC etc do), not pining for infrastructure that would take years to happen even if there was money available.

CEoGB members then say "but we're not even asking for such infrastructure." That's not true. Campaign groups have been asking for it for years. Asking is not the same as getting.

In a land where Clarkson is a demi-god, getting folks out of cars is going to take an awful long time. In reality, it won't happen until the oil runs out.

In the Netherlands and in Denmark, motorised congestion is also awful but at least those countries treat cyclists with consideration, esp in their traffic laws.

If we get separated lanes (which simply can't go everywhere, they don't in DK or NL either) but no changes in law to give cyclists right of way over cars, we'll be no further forward.

CTC and the other "old" cycling campaigns push for such changes in the law. I urge those thinking of splitting away from this position to think again.

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posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
14th February 2011 - 12:28

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I think that this "CE of GB" is a symptom of the frustration that a lot of people who have experienced cycling campaigning feel. They put in an awful lot of effort to win local victories, which, whilst valuable, are actually pitifully small in scale when compared to what is spent on the rest of our transport infrastructure.

I thought that Cycling England was OK (before it was culled), but to get more people on bikes as part of everyday life a substantial proportion of the DfT's budget needs to be spent on cycling. Imagine what could happen if they spent 5% on cycling.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1332 posts]
14th February 2011 - 12:38

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I hadn't realised that it was either or, and not both. So we can either campaign for cycle friendly laws or improved infrastructure, but not both? What is wrong with another campaign group? The biggest factor in stopping people from using bicycle as a means of every day transport, is fear of motor traffic. Offering training, then suggesting that they should wear a helmet and hi viz, just doesn't work. There has to be a better way.

posted by Kim [127 posts]
14th February 2011 - 12:50

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Spot on!

We need more cash spent on cycling. To get that cash we need to be united, not riven with splits.

Read the CEoGB's manifesto. There are overwhelming overlaps with the so-called "old" organisations.

So why split? Why risk pulling apart cycling when all that energy could be channeled into helping the existing orgs get even better?

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posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
14th February 2011 - 12:56

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CTC etc lobby for both.

CTC don't lobby for helmets or hi-viz, quite the opposite.

We need to push for a whole load of pro cycling measures, not just segregation.

CEoGB would counter by saying they're not just lobbying for segregation but for lots of other measures too. Like the other orgs, then.

So why split?

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posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
14th February 2011 - 13:01

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We'll be posting a guest blog from Jim Davis of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain in response to Carlton soon.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
14th February 2011 - 14:18

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We at cyclenation (the federation of cycle campaign groups) have been wrestling with how to reconcile these two "factions" (the "Vehicular cyclists" and the "segregationists") We have a new policy document in Draft, and would be interested in any comments. http://bit.ly/erecqA

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posted by wildnorthlands [24 posts]
14th February 2011 - 15:40

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I wonder if Jim will repeat his denigration of road cyclists?

"Yup! Or looking like an explosion in a firework factory. Otherwise cycling will be viewed as a circus freak show. Like now Smile "

http://twitter.com/#!/GBCycleEmbassy/status/37125825593606145

Or:

"It is an express aim of the Embassy to stop riding a bike on an errand to necessitate looking like a mardi gras carnival float."

I've had all sorts of abuse thrown at me today, being accused of broom broom 'vehicular cycling' and being in league with motorists. (Oh, the irony)

So much of the Cycling Embassy of GB stuff seems to against "old" campaigns and roadies.

I'm all for cycling in civvies - that's what I do most of the time - but why is this campaign group starting life by attacking cyclists?

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posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
14th February 2011 - 15:41

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Carlton

Please stop stating humorous comments I make as 'attacks' and please stop playing the victim mentality card.

Road.cc have very kindly offered to publish my response tomorrow (as i'm looking after my wife who is recovering from a back operation) so you'll just gave to wait Smile

All the best

Jim Davis

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club
http://lofidelitybicycleclub.wordpress.com/

posted by TheJollyJimLad [13 posts]
14th February 2011 - 16:14

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As you've placed segregated routes last, your position is opposite to that of CE of GB.

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posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
14th February 2011 - 19:48

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Carlton,
Here in Plymouth we get sub-standard "cycle facilities" passed off AFTER consultation with Sustrans & CTC.

The council flatly refuses to acknowledge that anything could possibly be wrong, as both CTC & Sustrans have "signed off" on what was delivered.

No, I don't believe either organisation actually prefers to have sub-standard rubbish put in place, but down here neither are putting up much of a visible fight, either.

In fact, a local CTC official advised me to NOT challenge poor facilities so much!

I'm not anti-roadie, except for those few roadie snobs that sneer down their noses at a Person on a Bicycle like me.
I'm not even anti-lycra and I believe our right to ride on roads must be jealously guarded.

I cycle in (for Plymouth) heavy traffic, on roads the council seems determined to make as hostile to cyclists as they can.

But d'you know what? I'd MUCH rather cycle on segregated and decent cycle paths. Only the existing organisations aren't doing much about fighting for those!

Actually I was a tad unfair there: Sustrans has done an amazing job with the Plym Valley cycle path & Drake's Trail (both NCN 27).

And while I love cycling those routes, they don't exactly help me commuting to work.

And THAT is where the difference lies:
The "old" cycling organisations SEEM content to settle for "reduction of traffic" 1st, etc. and have cycle lanes last.

By the way, will you be asking the "old" organisations what they will do with the cars they take of the road, too? After all, that is their stated top priority!

The "old" cycle organisations have very little to offer a cyclist like me: just a guy cycling on a bike, no special brands, no £2000 carbon frame, no stupidly-priced accessories (displayed as visibly as possible).

CTC may have started as a touring club, but they strike me as a club that caters to the roadies, not to people like me.

Now think about that: I'm a cyclist, and that's how they make me feel, so imagine how alienating they can seem to wannabe-cyclists.

You are right - too much fragmentation simply dilutes our efforts. And you are right, we simply won't get the infrastructure all of a sudden.

But you are wrong in defending the conduct of organisations that have strayed so far from normal people that they may as well almost not exist.

As so many have pointed out, we need to convince non-cyclists to start cycling, and I don't see CTC having a greater chance of making an impact that CEoGB.

In fact, I put it to you that the CEoGB is far more likely to get normal, non-cycling people to try out cycling, even if for no reason other than the fact that so many members of CEoGB are simply PoB's (and proud of it).

So perhaps YOU may wish to not be so divisive in your attacks on anything to do with cycling that falls outside of what has come to be expected in the UK to be the norm for cyclists.

posted by WilliamNB [19 posts]
14th February 2011 - 23:56

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Carlton Reid wrote:
I wonder if Jim will repeat his denigration of road cyclists?

"Yup! Or looking like an explosion in a firework factory. Otherwise cycling will be viewed as a circus freak show. Like now Smile "

http://twitter.com/#!/GBCycleEmbassy/status/37125825593606145

Or:

"It is an express aim of the Embassy to stop riding a bike on an errand to necessitate looking like a mardi gras carnival float."

I've had all sorts of abuse thrown at me today, being accused of broom broom 'vehicular cycling' and being in league with motorists. (Oh, the irony)

So much of the Cycling Embassy of GB stuff seems to against "old" campaigns and roadies.

I'm all for cycling in civvies - that's what I do most of the time - but why is this campaign group starting life by attacking cyclists?

Carlton, I think those tweets were in reply to mine, so perhaps I can offer some context (http://twitter.com/#!/lucullus/status/37122032130854912) : I was drawing attention to the random demands that cyclists should always wear high-viz, have umpteen lights, protect themselves against drivers, etc. I think I may have mentioned Eric Pickles' rubber shorts, too.

This wasn't denigration of road cyclists, but 140 character exchanges of views. If you're going to pick at those, you're no better than the internecine fighting you're complaining of. I don't believe that's the case, and neither I would suspect does Jim.

Needless to say, there's nothing wrong with moaning about how some cyclists choose to dress, just as I might moan about how some of the slobs at my office dress.

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posted by timlennon [226 posts]
14th February 2011 - 23:59

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Carlton, I've made this comment on your blog, but I think you're being a little hypersensitive about "denigration."

Take this comment, for instance -

"It is an express aim of the Embassy to stop riding a bike on an errand to necessitate looking like a mardi gras carnival float."

You think this is "denigration of road cyclists".

Well, it isn't. Frankly I'm baffled as to how you could think it is. It's a comment about making it easier to ride to the shops without using high-viz clothing. That is - quite obviously - not an attack on people who choose to wear brightly coloured clothing.

I think you need to calm down a bit.

posted by stabiliser [7 posts]
15th February 2011 - 0:22

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WilliamNB the CTC does have 70,000 members doubt they are all roadies (have to say in my dealings with them over the years, met more tourers/ commuters/leisure riders and mountain bikers than anything else - surely British Cycling would be the most suitable organisation for roadies? Mind you they are in the midst of a big membership push to draw in leisure and beginner cyclists which is going to ramp up a lot post 2012 - they're aiming for 70,000 minimum too, and Sustrans has another 30,000 or so (and then there's the LCC). And what about CycleNation? They seem to have a similar set of well thought out objectives (see above), and a network of local activists on the ground.

Looking at it objectively how is the CE of GB going to command the attention of government and policy makers when much larger organisations representing tens of thousands of existing cyclists already seem to struggle to?

I'm not saying it can't be done I'm just genuinely interested to know how it can be achieved.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
15th February 2011 - 0:34

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"We, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain represent the everyday cyclist"

Ohh no you don't.

Who voted for these guys then?

Did they get this mandate in some farcical aquatic ceremony? Did some watery tart throw a sword at them?

posted by wee folding bike [3 posts]
15th February 2011 - 1:27

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@tony_farrelly See, here's the trouble: I don't think that Cyclenation has (as you put it) well thought out objectives.
Instead, I think that, much like the CTC, they aim to put better segregated paths pretty much at the back of their priorities.

The point I was clumsily trying to make is that many (most?) existing organisations don't even realise how their "well thought out objectives" can alienate so many people.

Nobody is striving for total and absolute segregation - it simply isn't possible. But don't you agree more DECENT segregated paths would be good?

I never claimed CTC and others don't have large membership. Instead, I stated outright that I have never seen any reason to join them as my perception, rightly or wrongly, is that they don't represent me, or cyclists like me.

That's where the CEoGB is different - they very obviously strive to represent cyclist like me, and that is one of their biggest attractions.

posted by WilliamNB [19 posts]
15th February 2011 - 8:52

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I could post either an emotional or a rational response to this screed, but let's get the emotional one out of the way:

Now you know how it feels.

Those of us who believe in cycle-specific infrastructure, rather than fitting in on existing infrastructure designed primarily for cars, have been "criticised" and "denigrated" by CTC and Cyclenation for years. John Franklin's "take the lane" has been elevated from one guy's opinion into a mantra. Local councils have appreciated the single voice, it's true, but largely because hierarchy of provision is an excuse not to spend very much. (Our own county council has only just woken up, with LTP3, to the fact that cycling is still flatlining in their area and 10 years of HoP hasn't actually worked.)

Only Sustrans has been brave enough to say "hey, maybe we need to do something different" - and not just say it, do it. And look at the mud that roadies have flung at Sustrans over the last 15 years.

Co-operation is good, but that doesn't mean pretending that there's only one way to do it. And that's what CTC/Cyclenation have been espousing. Those who'd like to see real infrastructure change are fed up of being told "shut up, you'll drive us off the road" - yes, you've done exactly that, Carlton, on your own blog. We're not prepared to be muzzled any more.

Does that necessarily mean attacking other organisations? No, of course not. It means that the other organisations - CTC, Cyclenation, magazines and prominent bloggers alike - need to recognise there's a plurality of voices, and that they don't have a monopoly on the right answers.

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posted by Doctor Fegg [131 posts]
15th February 2011 - 10:50

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Quote:
Channel your energy into helping the existing organisations. United we stand, divided we fall.

As someone who feels the existing organisations have their priorities totally confused when it comes to segregated cycling infrastructure I find this idea rather bizarre. Why would I support an organisation that doesn't really represent my views when there's a one (forming up) that does?

(Please don't get stuck with the following, but I couldn't help getting a feeling there's some parallels with two party politics - don't vote for a small party that best represents you, vote for the big one that's less bad than the other.)

- Tommi

posted by tko [5 posts]
15th February 2011 - 11:35

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tko wrote:
(Please don't get stuck with the following, but I couldn't help getting a feeling there's some parallels with two party politics - don't vote for a small party that best represents you, vote for the big one that's less bad than the other.)

It's also more than reminiscent of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) spread by Microsoft when Linux and other Open Source software started to threaten its incumbency. All very tiresome.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
15th February 2011 - 12:13

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wildnorthlands wrote:
We at cyclenation (the federation of cycle campaign groups) have been wrestling with how to reconcile these two "factions" (the "Vehicular cyclists" and the "segregationists") We have a new policy document in Draft, and would be interested in any comments. http://bit.ly/erecqA

None of CycleNation's listed provisions include Dutch-style cycle tracks. "Cycle tracks away from roads", rightly seen with suspicion due to the social safety aspects, aren't the same thing.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
15th February 2011 - 12:33

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@wildnorthlands: That's a great document for those who accept that "hierarchy of provision" is enough. I don't, and nor do many others.

HoP says: "We should try this, and if it fails, we should try this less good solution".

The alternative is to say: "Cyclists have differing perceptions of safety, and differing experience. Roadies' needs may be satisfied by traffic reduction and speed reduction. Others may require full segregation. We need to provide both."

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posted by Doctor Fegg [131 posts]
15th February 2011 - 13:09

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OK so I was a "roadie" during the 60s, 70s and early 80s as opposed to a "tester" (time trialist) and a roadie as opposed to a mountain biker since then, and now I find that I am a roadie because I believe that I should be able to cycle in safety on the roads which go where I wish to go, as opposed to being provided with segregated routes. OK so I suppose I am a Roadie, despite having 3 mountain bikes alongside ? road bikes in my cellar and frequently using Sustrans and local authority segregated routes, when suitable, and that is where the problem is with segregated routes, as I have learned from 47yrs of commuting and using a bike as a means of transport as well as sport and leisure, non of the segregated routes are all weather (nor are many of the roads for that matter) So each to his/her own but I know of many roads where a bit of broken line white paint type cycle lane would make a world of difference at little cost.

onward ever onward

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posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
15th February 2011 - 23:51

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bikecellar wrote:
now I find that I am a roadie because I believe that I should be able to cycle in safety on the roads which go where I wish to go, as opposed to being provided with segregated routes

Why should the two be mutually exclusive?

What makes you sound like a roadie to me is you prefer to ride on the road amongst the cars. I've no problem with that.

What makes you sound like an arrogant ass is that you would refuse me the option to ride on segregated paths if I wanted to. But that's not what you really mean, right?

bikecellar wrote:
non of the segregated routes are all weather

When we say bicycle we don't mean just anything and everything with two wheels, right? Same thing with segregated routes, "usable" is implied. Somehow this country just have managed to pervert the meaning into a joke apparently. Could we talk about segregated paths as they were taken seriously?

- Tommi

posted by tko [5 posts]
16th February 2011 - 1:44

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tko wrote:

What makes you sound like an arrogant ass is that you would refuse me the option to ride on segregated paths if I wanted to. But that's not what you really mean, right?

TKO, dont be an idiot, where did he say that? refuse?

We all appreciate that segregated routes are nice when appropriate, especially if they run along the same route as a busy/dangerous road. But the point many of us are trying to make is they typically dont meet these requirements, they are typically sub-standard surfaces and not only considerably slower (if thats an issue for rider) but full of rubbish/glass/obstacles that make it easier to ride on the road.

We welcome the creation of segregated routes as they allow more people to cycle free from fear of the 'motoring menace' (can i just say i dont like that term but it seems appropriate to use in this context). However the problem with the creation of these routes is it suggests to other road users that we cyclists (all of us) should be on them.

Im sure you can appreciate that for those of us who want to make faster progress or even want to play at 'being a roadie' then when these poorly built/thought-out segregated routes are made we get a little worried we are going to recieve abuse for choosing to NOT use them.

The flip side of this is the reason many people are campaining for better provision ON THE ROAD and educating drivers to be safer around cyclists. You have to admit that if cycling on the road was safer then there would be no/less need for segregated cycle routes.

So it comes to this.

Option A. Get cyclists off the roads and provide a full network of segregated routes than meet the needs of ALL of the users.

Option B. Give up on segregated routes and make roads safer for cyclists.

and the winner... (and the one we should all be supporting as its the only on likely to actually happen!)

Option C. Provide Segregated routes where possible and of a good standard, if this is not possible (and painting a white line on a crappy footpath is not!) then support on road provisions for cyclists to make it safer (ie. signage to warn drivers, those forward access boxes etc.)

We shouldnt be campaining for 'segregated routes', we should be campaining for 'segregated routes where sensible' ie. Support individual cases not just the idea.

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posted by STATO [410 posts]
16th February 2011 - 10:02

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Did anyone else notice the launch date - 1st April?

posted by dubbleRB [1 posts]
16th February 2011 - 15:38

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wee folding bike wrote:
"We, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain represent the everyday cyclist"

Ohh no you don't.

+1.

This so-called 'ambassador' needs to brush up on his diplomatic skills before anything else. What a joke.

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posted by Simon E [1912 posts]
16th February 2011 - 17:37

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