Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Get What We Pay For

When it comes to cycling as a lifestyle component, Britain leads the way. We lead the way in the most creative use of band-aids to patch a woefully absent establishment attitude towards cycling infrastructure the developed world has ever seen.

Top marks for ingenious public announcements and public policy recommendations, Simon Cowell would bequeath a Hollywood smile and a thumbs up for Britain's performance in talking the talk.

Even when it comes to spending money, there is often a lot of noise made locally that “so and so council spent x amount on cycling” - which makes a great headline for the local paper. But when your rubber hits the tarmac a couple of years later, all that's noticeable is a handful of signs and some faded paint on the ground. - Most commonly an unhelpful “END” communicating in your cycle lane where the money ran out.

In Scotland for example, cycling campaign Spokes acknowledges the poultry scraps that are thrown towards developing the healthy biking lifestyle; around 1% of the transport budget. Pathetic.


OK so there is the National Cycle Network which links cities around the UK and this received a £42.5 million investment, but from whom? The government? No! They must have been too busy tending their moats and flipping their houses. Indeed the funding came from a National Lottery grant – a charity hand out.

Whilst the National Cycle Network is good for touring and holidays, the population centres of the UK are in urban areas. This is where most journeys are made, and where the least infrastructure is dedicated to traffic-free cycling.

“It's kind of cramped in the city” the Town Planners whinge over the dusty cube-farm partitions. “We can't do anything here” echo the mousey cries of obedience.


Have you BEEN to Europe?

If our representatives can plough billions in to new roads and motorway widening, amongst other major civil engineering projects, then can you IMAGINE the improvements that kind of money would see applied to urban infrastructure benefiting cyclists, pedestrians, home owners and local businesses.

There is a philosophy with road building which acknowledges that increasing infrastructure carrying capacity does not ease congestion, but actually encourages more people to exploit the available infrastructure.

Since the “build it and they will come” phenomenon is a time-proven reality in transport, why not employ this facet of social behaviour to exalt the growth of cycling?


The biggest issue which has retarded the progress of cycling as a desirable lifestyle choice in Broken Britain, is the absence of long term strategic planning which fails to put safe cycleways as a priority of transportation development.

There is a logical explanation for this too; the lobby groups for other modes of transport simply have more money to bribe, I mean donate, to politicians. Modes like road and rail also pull in more tax (extortion through the threat of violence) for the state through the jobs, trade, raw material consumption, industrial logistics, higher purchase costs and higher running costs, all of which generate economic capital for the politicians to control next year.

This is why the simple, honest, healthy mode of bike transportation loses out in funding and investment. But it tells us something profound:

The state doesn't give a toss about you.

They don't want you to be healthy. They don't want you to feel the invigorating cold air exhaled from your active lungs on a crisp autumn morning. They don't want you to have an economical bicycle that runs VAT-free for thousands of miles, requiring elemental maintenance that costs next to nothing.

They want you sat in a traffic jam, sucking in the other bloke's carcinogenic exhaust pipe, chugging down coffee and gobbling doughnuts whilst listening to the mainstream propaganda news broadcast every 15 minutes on the car radio. Sod that.

Hang on! What about those tax-funded adverts about living well, eating less salt and doing 30 minutes of exercise per day? Surely the government DOES care about you? In words, yes, they make a lot of nice sounding noises, and no doubt some Jewish PR company makes a tidy profit off such heath preaching ideals. But these are just words. Where are the actions? Money talks. Meaningful government investment in cycling infrastructure is silent.


So what is the solution? Let's assume the economic pressures continue as they are and nothing much improves for cycling. The government doesn't care about you. They take your taxes and spend it on fuelling morbid bombers for repeated genocidal depleted uranium runs to Iraq / Afghanistan / Libya and back.

However there already exists evidence of a solution that does work. As with the National Cycle Network, charity supersedes government when enough people buy-in to the cause. When we say buy-in, that does mean clear statements of financial action.

Who would chip-in a monthly donation to such a pro-cycling cause?
1) Regular commuters who want to benefit from improvements to their journey.
2) Parents who desire safe, traffic-free cycleways to teach their wobbly sprogs how to ride young.
3) Local businesses who having faced the destruction of out-of-town stores, lost out to pedestrian passing trade, welcome new bikers and their rolling trade.
4) Health organisations who see the rejuvenating aerobic exercise of cycling as a supremely effective and easy to promote solution towards reducing heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Could a national charity like SusTrans carry the torch for such an initiative? No. Not unless they could segregate the donations and spending in to local urban regions. Why? Because if I'm donating to a cause, I want to see the output first hand. If the money goes in to re-painting lines in the Outer Hebrides and I live in London, I'm not going to be too happy.

Observe the interested parties above, they all act in self-interest. Selflessness is an illusion, it doesn't exist. That is fine, perhaps rather than charity we should call it open-source funding.

What do you think?

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