Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cycling to decline????

Cast your mind back to August - David Cameron, a man who is happy to be seen on his bike to boost his green credentials - told a grateful nation about his aspirations for cycling: "The government wants to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle and encourage far more people to take it up"

Heartwarming stuff. An opportunity for the prime minister to be photographed alongside cycling greats like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. And to deliver the welcome news that the government was setting aside more money for cycling infrastructure.

Fast forward to this month. In response to a parliamentary question, the transport minister Robert Goodwill blithely declared that the Department for Transport reckons this cycling lark is just a fad.
Ok, he didn't quite put it in those terms, but that's the thrust of his department's most recent traffic forecasts. It reckons the annual total of cycling trips will increase to 1.4bn in 2015 from 1.2bn in 2010, but then decline to 1.3bn by 2020 and stay at around that level until 2030.

Let this sink in: the Department of Transports boffins reckon the number of trips we take by bike will fall in the latter half of this decade, and won't recover for at least 10 years, while motor vehicle use keeps increasing.

This has nothing to do with the recent spate of cycling fatalities in London putting people off getting on their bike - but has everything to do with the the convoluted way that the department arrives at its figures. Its statistical model takes into account factors such as the ageing population - older people cycle less it thinks - and economic growth, which will mean people growing richer and therfore being able to afford to use cars more often.

Outside the computer models of Whitehall the findings fly in the face of most cyclists' everyday experience: the popularity of cycling is growing and shows no sign of a decline.

So what, you might say, if a few academics get the figures wrong? Well, it matters a lot, because although the predictions are little noticed in the real world, local authorities base spending plans on them. If the government is predicting a fall in cycle use, councils are unlikely to spend on infrastructure to make cycling easier and safer. But if they don't invest in it, fewer people are likely to take it up. In other words, the Department of Transports forecast becomes self-fulfilling.

Make no mistake - the actions of local authorities have a real impact on patterns of transport use. In London, investment in public transport and the congestion charge led to a fall of 7.8% in car traffic in 2003-10. Meanwhile cycling boomed.

We should worry when the government predicts that the increase in cycling will grind to a halt - such forecasts undermine the rationale for investment in facilities to make bikes more popular. Recall what the prime minister said: the government wants to make cycling 'easier and safer' - we hope he keeps his word.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Catching up...

I'm so far behind with everything - including updating this blog. My defence is weak, a combination of events and circumstances that have colluded to distract me from worthwhile achievements. I've been suffering from a lingering cold that has slowly progressed around my body - currently manifesting in the chest and throat, I have a spluttering cough and runny eyes - generally I feel down. I ventured out on the bike for just a short ride last weekend, the preparation for which left me exhausted let alone the actual riding. It was a slow meander on a crisp, dry morning. The sky thumb-smudged with slate-grey clouds with the occasional brilliant white streak. I've ridden only five or so miles before i'm being peppered by heavy drops of rain, conspiring to dampen my spirits even further. I stop to shelter at a Church lychgate, reasoning that the last thing I need is a soaking.

Thankfully the downpour is short and I'm soon on my way. The roads, shiny and slippery, seem unfriendly - I sense a sudden shiver as a cross wind bites into my side. I'm not enjoying this, not one bit. I pass through countryside now closed for the winter, fields of grey, lifeless and solemn. There is a track to my left, a play route for four-wheel drive enthusiasts, demonstrated by deep ruts puddled with pond like water and topped with delicate patterned floating green and yellow leaves. There are a few oak trees around the perimeter, tall and majestic and surrounded by rows of younger upstarts. I press on, at last finding some rhythm. A stretch of downward road helps me along and I pick up a welcome turn of speed as I pass through quiet villages, not much sign of life, nothing much seems to be happening.

I start thinking about riding through the winter months - between now and next March the short days and testing conditions inevitably mean that miles will be few. I'm keen to find a way to do something but wonder what. Last year I experimented with a turbo trainer - a contraption designed for riding indoors - I didn't enjoy it all, I found it mind-numbingly boring. I'm now looking at a possible investment in a set of rollers - I had some many years ago and after the initial wobbly session I remember them being okay - more like real riding because the rider has to keep balanced and concentrated. Or maybe some sort of static exercise bike - there are many machines on the market these days, expensive machines that report back full statistics of all efforts - calories/heartrate/watts/average speed - etc. These machines also have internet hook ups so that it is possible to ride any route anywhere in the world via Google maps and an iPad - I could be riding Alpe d'Huez one day and a local route the next - all in the dry, relative warmth of the garage. It's a possibility. 

Next I'm thinking about our 'challenge' for next year - we need targets, something to aim for. The balance of available holiday time and realistic expectations is something that needs consideration and at this stage nothing is certain. Amsterdam maybe. Dunwich Dynamo?, Coast to Coast?, Tour de France (UK stages)? - there're plenty of options.

I arrive home and plonk the bike in the garage - not a great distance covered and certainly not a rewarding ride. But I'll be better soon, illness kills the desire and hinders the benefits of exercise - I'd have been better sitting in front of the fire with a glass of whisky.