I have already confessed my love for cycle sport in general and the Tour de France in particular – while arguing that that the Tour in Britain may have had a negative effect on the prospects for everyday cycling. It’s not just that the benefits of cycling as sport for cycling as transport are limited – the Tour de France is, after all, not supposed to be more than, well, the Tour de France. It’s that the impressions of what “cycling” is, as derived from the Tour and cycle sport in general, can actually impede the progress of cycling as transport.
I’ve enjoyed the Tour in the UK, and will stay glued to it. But it is time to review the situation with some observations of where we are and what the effect of the Tour may be.
Talking it up…
The rule of the Smarter Travel movement is to be positive, talk up the alternatives to car use, and not to be negative about car use. Being sceptical about benefits of the flavour of the month is not smiled on by the powers that be. But – and remember, I’m speaking as a cycle sport nut – that is exactly what we have to do. In this case I’m not the only one.
…and the reality
A good review of the amount of cycling in the UK is provided here. It’s nicely scientific; not coming to definite conclusions about whether there are small trends (outside the obvious increases in inner London this century) upwards or not. The point it makes is that any upward trends there may be are just that: small. It also shows how a continuing cycling modal share of around 1 – 2 % nationally is regularly associated with government and other officials talking up cycling. We are led to believe that if a large number of people are not cycling already, they very soon will be. The history of my career as a transport professional is of politicians from Lynda Chalker in 1984 onwards talking about how government wants to encourage cycling. Take a look at the graph below to see what’s happened
Let’s take a swift look at some cycling themes which have been brought to my attention in the last week:
1. Here’s the view we had of the Tour passing by near the Olympic site:
And the road after they have gone: remember this is part of a mainly purpose built environment close to the Olympic site.:
2. This story in Cycling Weekly
So, the problems with Operation Safeway look set to continue, with the Met telling cyclists to wear helmets and hi-viz while – I hope this report of what the officer said is wrong – there is reluctance about enforcing the law “because we would be accused of it just being about revenue”.
3. This tweet from Green MLA Jenny Jones:
Jenny Jones@GreenJennyJones 14h
While #cycling this morning a cabbie shouted at me: ‘Why no hi viz? You look like a pedestrian.’ Don’t they have to look out for them too?
Any prospect of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association taking disciplinary action?
4. Road Safety GB North-East
Then the “road safety” publicity in South Yorkshire (which appears when the Tour de France visits) comes up again from “Road Safety GB” in the North East with the same old (to be polite) “problems”:
5. On the day that the tour de France visits, the government announce even more money to support the country’s car culture.
One can go on, and on, and on…The point is, will the Tour de France visit help to deal with the car-dependent and anti-cycling culture of which these (few of many) cases are manifestations? Or make no difference? Or hinder?
Now, obviously the failure to achieve a significant rise in cycling’s modal share can’t be attributed to cycle sport. But it does have some bad effects, which I can illustrate again:
I mentioned here the high tendency – compared to normal urban cycling in the UK – of Tour de France racers to crash. Since then the two main British stars, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, have crashed out in front of billions of viewers. Based on watching TV coverage, it is easy to see how “Cycling” can be seen as inherently hazardous, with a relentless stream of crashes. that must be a key element in any image of “cycling” drawn from the Tour.
Speaking for “cycling”
The go to spokesmen for “cycling” are now those with deserved reputations for expertise when it comes to the sport, who are now supposed to be authorities on cycling in general. Of course, Sir David Brailsford, as the architect of Olympic and Tour de France wins, has to be worth listening to. But on transport policy and safety on the roads? Try this: “It’s quite clear when you stand back and look at it,” he urged. “If cyclists took a little bit more time to think about motorists, and people in cars took a little more time to think about people on bikes, everybody would win.”
No, it is not “quite clear”. This is just the old “road safety” policy of the “even stevens” approach, which ignores the difference in potential danger to others of the two forms of transport.
Me, I’m going to carry on being glued to the TV and websites, as I am every July. I’m hooked on the magic. But every time a racer hits the deck or displays his bandages, I’m not just feeling their pain. I’m thinking about the negative effects of the Tour de France on the prospects for sustainable transport. Cycling as sport does not have to be cycling as transport – but I do have concerns about it getting in the way of it.