Notebook: why did the cycling demonstration towns fail?

Well “fail” is not the right word; they did achieve some good stuff even though they didn’t live up to the original ambition of the project. I think the CDT project is best viewed as having built some mental infrastructure – and here in Bris some useful physical infrastructure as well.

I’m writing this now because I was looking for something to push the previous post off the top of the stack (so’s I don’t look like a sluggard who leaves old news lying around) and Dave Horton has just listed some possible reasons for the somewhat disappointing results of the project. He’s talking about Lancaster, but I think his comments can be extended further. In addition to the main post he gave a numbered list in reply to one of his commenters, and I think this is worth repeating. His comments are here and here is a filleted version:

“First, the money & status associated with being a Cycling Demonstration Town was seen as more about the money & status than about the cycling (i.e. key people saw things ‘the wrong way round’;

[My comment: yes, for sure – and I bet the same thing applied to Bristol – and all the other places. But what can we do about this? We’re back to this whole nebulous thing of “changing cultures” arn’t we?]

“Second, the project’s goal to enable more short trips to be made by bike very quickly got transformed (because it is easier to do) into a focus on making the district a more attractive cycling destination (i.e. the project became about using cycling to sell the area as a tourist destination, much more than about doing the difficult things required to get local people cycling). That’s a bit unfair (I’m skipping some important detail), but I’m confident of my general point.

[My comment: presumably this only applies to specific towns which have some sort of tourist trade – not all the CDM towns had this – something to be aware of if and when “son-of-CDT” comes to pass]

“Third, people (including key decision-makers, but also ‘ordinary’ local people) were never convinced of the case for re-making the district around bikes. That’s because there were too few people articulating that level of vision and ambition, and they were too peripheral to the process. The main people in the project, in other words, didn’t believe in the product they were selling enough (and related, were not sufficiently charismatic).

[My comment: this seems to me connected with the first point. I don’t know enough to make a detailed comparison between the Bristol and Lancaster experiences, but I recall there was a definite feeling of distrust among Bristol cycling campaigners when Cycling city started – it started with a whimper not a bang. Again, what can be done – what can we do about it?]

“Fourth, that local institutional capital which did get built during the six years of the project was immediately lost when it got cut. Key council officers were made redundant, the dedicated website became neglected etc.

[My comment: in other words, the gains are being rolled back. Bristol had its stint as a “cycling city” later than Lancaster, and we are still able to draw on it. It feels like we haven’t yet slumped back into business as usual and we’ve still got some momentum, but that there are forces in that direction.]

Oh, time for a picture, I think. One of the cycling demonstration towns was Southport. I know the town and had cause to visit it shortly after its CDT term. Was there any difference? It should have been perfect for cycling – flat as a pancake and ridiculously wide roads. No difference visible to my casual eye, apart from these cute cycle stands (unsullied by actual bikes, you will note):

Southport cycle stands


Horrible history

Just a quick shout for Joe Dunckley’s notes on the history of the national cycling strategy. This has relevance for some of my comments about the recent cyclenation conference and the wretched history of infighting in the cycling advocacy “community” – a history which generated a continuous bass grumble through some of the afternoon presentations.

The plenary comments made much of the “community” having “blown it” in the mid-nineties because of that infighting and how important it was not to “blow it” once again, now that a “window of opportunity” seems to be opening up. JD’s reading of the recorded evidence from 1996 to 2005 suggests that this is not a particularly accurate account of what really happened.

Why am I even bothering with this, given that I think it important not to get sucked into pointless pseudo-battles? Well, it’s useful to be aware of the past … for obvious reasons. Also, of course I don’t want to look naive to any (improbable) readers.

“Cyclenation” conference in Bristol

So why did I enjoy it? Well, roomfuls of cyclists tend to have nice energy about them. I used to do a martial art and it feels like that – it is I suppose just being surrounded by people who are unpretentiously fit. And it’s nice being surrounded by people who you knowaren’t going to plunge into Tedious Car Conversations at the drop of a hat. (On the downside, I suppose it was rather undiverse – though it was somewhat less middle-aged and mono-male than I was expecting).

A bonus was that the structure of the day catered to my natural fidgetiness. It started at 9:30 with a set of mini-field trips to look at the local roads with specific reference to cycling infrastructure. That is to say, half of the morning was spent walking or cycling. Then when the indoor talking started, it commenced with a discussion format which involved attendees talking to each other, then getting up every so often and talking to a new bunch of people. In other words the morning was partly spent in outdoor physical exercise, followed by an indoor activity at which it was almost completely impossible to fall asleep.

The afternoon was, of course, speakers, but I was still surprisingly perky. There was the launch of the cyclescape website, some quite technical political stuff which I didn’t entirely follow and there was also … well no fights broke out, but I gather there had been a few skirmishes in the morning session.

Ok. This blog is shy and retiring. If it was a bird, it would be a small brown thing that goes “pheep” occasionally. Nevertheless, part of my purpose (inter alia*) is to address an imaginary reader who is innocent of the culture of cycling activists, and so I need to outline the debate about cycling infrastructure. This is usually called “integration versus segregation” but this is a misleading phrase and one of the annoying things about this particular Heated Debate is that both sides have consistently misrepresented each others stance. In fact, this issue is slowly coming to a semi-consensus, but it gave a thorough airing to lots of important points along the way, so is worth a few words in the next post.


I’ve just been to a cycling conference …

This one – “cyclenation” is an umbrella group of cycling campaign groups. One of the organisers of this shindig was the Bristol Cycling Campaign.

Was it good? Yeah it was, and it’s going to be the jumping off point for a number of posts. It was chaired by Philip Darnton, formerly head of Cycling England, useful and pointlessly-culled quango. Amongst other things he said this (more or less – I don’t know shorthand), which is so completely in keeping with the spirit of this blog that I have to repeat it:

“No-one starts cycling because they’re ‘saving the planet’. They start because it’s convenient, easy, cheap or for whatever reason. Once they’ve started and find that it works them and they enjoy it and it becomes part of their life, then, if you ask them why they ride a bike, then they’ll say ‘oh, I’m saving the planet’ “


More soon.

Why do you do what you do?

In my previous post, I argued that it’s worthwhile paying attention to what research shows about behaviour, motivation and all that intangible jazz.

In Psychobikeology posts which fall into the ‘behaviour’ chapter, I am going to draw on ideas from the whole span of academic areas from experimental psychology to social anthropology. I am also going to (try to) say how research findings or suggestions or theories relate to the practical question of what “I” or “we” can do to chip away at the problem.

Posts in the behaviour category will fall roughly into the following types:

• Speculations of my own, sometimes outrageously unsupported, but which I simply can’t resist telling you about

• Sensible speculations of my own, which do draw on existing mainstream ideas and which might actually be tested or investigated in some manner

• Actual observations I’ve made which illustrate behavioural points

• Discussions of current research (though trying not to overlap too much with other people) and of recent events which have a bit of a behavioural aspect to them.

• Discussions of various older journals papers and books which I’ve read. Look at the picture below – I’ve had these damn boxfiles of stuff for years, I’ve read everything in them and to what purpose huh? I’ve got to make at least something out of it.

Exciting trip not exciting after all

A band I used to follow in the 80’s (very local and jazz I’m afraid, so nothing anyone will have heard of) used to use the following introduction to a Denzil Best number:

“Is there anyone here from Milton Keynes? No? Oh that’s a pity because if there was, we were going to dedicate our next number to them.

“It’s called MOVE

That is really unfair.

Anyway, tomorrow I was hoping to hire a Brompton to use in combination with a train journey to Milton Keynes. Thus giving me an excuse to discuss the topics of bikehire, folders and Milton Keynes. Sadly the brompton hire from Temple meads is not yet working (though it is set up and there are bikes there, because I had a look the other day), but I still have to go to MK.

Oh and tomorrow, 22nd September, is something called world carfree day. Very nice idea – though you could be forgiven for never having noticed.

Next post on Thursday.

Transport psychology

How could I, trading under a title like Psychobikeology for goodness sake, have possibly missed this? A whole issue of the psychologist about transport psychology!.

The Mindhacks blog post quotes Dr Ian Walker. I’ve got some posts about his research stacked up ready for next month. In fact this is a good opportunity to try and assuage some personal embarrassment. Back in 2007, I blagged an interview with him – good writing practice I reckoned and I wanted to publish it in the magazine of my local cycling campaign – and he was nice enough (and he is a nice chap) to talk to me at length. Unfortunately I never managed to write it up – partly lack of journalistic skill and partly because I think I was quite run down at the time – and ever since have been very embarrassed about effectively wasting his time. I’ve still got the transcription and will turn it into one of next month’s posts.

(And if you’re reading this Ian – unlikely I know – please accept my apology).