For the UK advocacy scene to be successful it needs a good dose of diversification (as well as resilience, confidence, read article, linked below). Though cycling’s face is slowly changing – yes there are good pockets of really good people doing really good stuff – UK advocacy is still often in a rut of sameness and irrelevance (see sustrans, ctc). Like a record playing in one groove, its eerie sound goes on and on, so much so that after a while you don’t even hear it anymore, you block it out. Let’s face it. Cycling in the UK currently isn’t fun (convenient, safe, comfortable…).
Cycling COULD be fun if the urban design is supportive – then the cycling experience, and with it the social norm, would shift. For population-wide ‘behavioural change’ to occur, nudges are not enough (yet nudges is all we have done for decades).
No, we need to change the environment.
Initiatives that are solely based on “cycling is so much fun” (not linked to building a cycle network which has been mapped carefully etc) totally, tragically and sadly miss the point and can even do damage. Talking positively about cycling is a good thing – but… you have to make it relevant to people or they stop listening. The context must be set. It must address people’s concerns which we hear over and over again is: aggressive traffic and roads, not safe, no space to cycle.
However, just playing the record over and over again of “cycling is so much fun” creates a disconnect and ultimately people stop listening. That is not marketing – that is plain self-defeating auto-destruction.
I think many have stopped listening. What would you do as a parent? Your kids go to a school, cycle training is offered, there is positive talk of cycling but the real world, outside the school gates, the road environments are hostile, aggressive, unsupportive – not ready for walking or cycling. We all know cycling currently isn’t fun. Elements of it are good, of course. Cycling has tremendous potential. Moreover, yes, the evidence is on cycling’s side – but as a general experience cycling in the UK is not enjoyable. Cycling organisations have to orientate themselves towards the full population, get to understand (hear and listen) people and their concerns, stop their patronising messages and start to contextualise cycling in a relevant way – display some empathy. But then, these cycle organisations get small pieces of government funding and are silenced that way. And the DfT likes it like that, and it was all part of the plan.
The UK cycle advocacy must move (on), shift up and get real. The message must be:
Please join us in the campaign for better* cities with cycleways and good walking conditions (which necessitates DfT minister to ensure a regular budget is set aside and design standards are drawn up).
As for directing the message to ministers… I’ll further leave you with this article I wrote for bikebiz http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/changing-the-record/019359 (thanks goes to Paul Gannon and Carlton Reid).
(*) better = cleaner healthier economically-vibrant socially-inclusive active-transport modern (etc)