Tuesday night saw Ride Velo pop up to one of its favourite destinations of the moment, the Design Museum, home of the Cycle Revolution exhibition, to hear some of the movers and shakers of the London cycling scene state their cases in a debate titled, Forget The Bikes – Do We Need a Cycle Revolution?
Topping the bill was the Managing Director of Brompton Bikes, Will Butler-Adams (think: very tall, very polite, charming Public School Head Boy that your Mum would be happy to meet), the strident and sometimes outspoken Donnacchadh McCarthy of Stop Killing Cyclists (think: angry revolutionary that your mum would not be happy to meet) and Jools Walker, sometimes known as Lady Velo for her popular cycling blog, work for Vulpine and ITV’s The Bike Show (lovely sophisticated black lady with a big smile that needless to say, your Mum would love). Chuck in Hackney councilor, Vincent Stops (think: exactly what a local councilor should look like, grey suit and all) and design specialist Jon Marshall (think: Antarctic explorer, hence his navigation device for cyclists) and you have a good cross section of, not only the bizarre members of your local Sunday club ride, but some of the more influential campaigners for making our roads safer for the driven-off-the-road man and woman that is the London cyclist.
While the key speakers all had a quick fire 10 minutes or so to say their piece, it wasn’t until the open question round from the audience that things really started to hot up, save the occasional shout of ‘hear hear’ and alternately; ‘bollocks!’ Cyclists: we’re passionate people, see?
But to give a broad picture of the views from the speakers, they can be divided into 3 main camps:
1. Progress should be made by working from within the political system by campaigning and talking to people in power (Will Brompton-Adamski) as well as making changes on a local, council, level (Vincent Steps, who, without wanting to sound prejudiced, doesn’t have the shape of the classic cyclist);
2. Demystifying the whole cycling thing to show that it’s for everyone (the sweet and lovely Lady Vela who was MC-ing the evening);
3. The rather more angry, militant, and, go on, I’ll say it, revolutionary, Donnachadh. Donnachaagdh probably has the most difficult name I’ve ever had to spell, but apart from that, put the fear of God into me with his facts and figures of deaths on the London roads. In the same way that Orla Guerin has done a good job on the BBC News in dissuading me to ever visit some of the tougher parts of the Middle East (were they separated at birth?) Donnacarrradh doesn’t beat about the bush in his forthright views about the dangers of cycling in London.
Obviously, it was Donnachgaaaargh who stole the show and the audience loved his rousing call to arms, or bikes. And, when it was the audience’s turn to have their say, and believe me, they were chomping at the bit to do so, the majority seemed to demonstrate a similar anger and bewilderment at their shocking treatment from drivers (“Bloody idiots”). There was an MP there too, Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, who was very important, but we didn't understand the point she was trying to make. However, the consensus among the real, normal, everyday cyclists was that a) a lot of drivers seem to be out to kill us; b) lots of the schemes like ‘quiet routes’ don’t address the problem because what we really need are segregated lanes, and c) there seems to be no political will to invest a decent amount of money so that it’s normal for a kid to cycle to school or their parents to cycle to work without danger of death.
I recently spoke to two parents from South London whose children are desperate to cycle to school, one 16, the other 13, but their parents have forbidden it because of the risks.
So, we all agree on the problems, but there are lots of views on what we do about it. Stage demonstrations of ‘dead’ people stretched across the road (a la Donacgchhhagga)?; work on influencing people in government?; scare people about the horrific dangers to make them wake up?; ‘quiet routes’ with traffic calming measures?; work by quietly encouraging people onto their bikes through a blog that celebrates the freedom and joy of cycling?; encouraging e-bikes that make it easy to get to work without donning lycra and turning up soaking in sweat?
As much as I hate to agree with a Public School Head Boy, and it was Will Adam-Banger-Smythe who said this, we actually need all these approaches, all these pressure groups to bring about change. And I absolutely believe him when he says, “My revolution is a quiet revolution, but I’m pedaling bloody hard!”. And I love Donchafekaghahahagh for his passion and anger: "children's lungs are shrinking!" I believe in Vince Pots’s plodding approach to gradually change each borough at a time, and Lady Gaga for her great blog as well as Jon Court-Marshall’s design innovations that make it all easier. And, like most bike riders, I recognize that I also drive a car out of necessity sometimes. We need to work out a way we can co-exist.