Honest campaigning, it’s political

Do you remember to have heard “In whatever you do, do not ever appear anti-car!” I certainly was given that advice over and over again by well-meaning cycle campaigners. To me there was a conundrum, a dilemma. If you don’t talk about the problem, how will you solve it?

A very British thing perhaps. We think we can magically circumvent the problem, let it lie on the roadside, and move on. We haven’t seen it. So it does not exist. Head in the sand. If, however that problem is in the public imagination (as car use is) and hence part of the thing you are trying to move on, circumventing will be counterproductive.

The ineffectiveness of that campaigning tactics stems from the inability to link with the felt and lived realities. If you construct an alternative reality (as campaigns, activism, initiatives always will try to do) but this reality simply loosely floats in thin air – and is not seen by the public, bears no links to their reality – then it won’t hold. There is no hook, no grip to make it stick.

This kind of cycle campaigning is not honest with itself. The advice stems from wanting to circumvent confrontation. A very British thing. Yet campaigning is about dealing with changing the status quo, dealing with conflicts this arouses. If you do not spell out relatively head-on the problem – it also shows your honesty – it won’t be stirred. And cycle campaigners ideas and demands for a better transport future will again, be marginalised. As they have been for decades. The wishes were deliberately unpolitical. Cozy. How was that ever supposed to work? Why would they be seen?

Of course these wishes were easy to be ignored as they were nice and friendly. They did not attack the wrongs, and – here’s another necessity – they did not spell out the solutions. Once you talk about fair space, spatial efficiency and the safety for future generations you’ll get there. This is what new cycle campaigners have been doing and that is now stirring opposition. As it must. As it is predicted. As it has to be addressed. Cycling has now made political demands. Space is political.

Now we (simply) must communicate cycling’s case again. Now we are getting there.


2 thoughts on “Honest campaigning, it’s political

  1. Why should I be anti-car when the car (or car-use) is its own worst enemy. I’ve no problem with driving a car but for most trips it makes no sense in cost terms – both financial and the use of my time. Instead of making drivers the pariah of any campaign we offer them pity for the stress and time and money wasted in making journeys by car.

    Comparing notes with another orphan – OK so I was 43 when my second parent died – we both inherited the parental cars and within weeks were planning to get rid of the things. So much hassle for this under-used drain on finances, and the stress on security, where to park etc…

    Add to that being at least £3000/year better off and life becomes pure bliss


  2. “Space is political.” There upon we can agree.

    But no, cycle-campaigners fighting cars isn’t a problem of the British. As I see it in Germany, that’s a widespread opinion among cycle-campaigners and even more among several ‘cycling-friendly’ politicians based on a raucous mixture of (male) cyclists’ daily experiences in traffic 1:1 unthoughtfully translated in ‘politics’, of environmental issues including some kind of narcissistic moral-centered views, of VC-ideology changing cyclists to bumpers against motorists, of car-industry related politics called ‘divide et impera’ (‘othering’) and, last not least, of a manly concept of politics as fighting persons instead of politics as balance of interests.

    As David Hembrow has put it rightly in his piece ‘Three Types of Safety’:
    “There is no point in arguing with people’s decisions [driving a motor-car], or ridiculing them. The person making the decision to use a car has made it for quite logical reasons.”

    At the local election campaign in Hamburg two years ago I studied the transport concept of the Green Party of Hamburg. They pretended to build a ‘Cycling-City Hamburg’ (“Fahrradstadt”). The text was all about (anti-) motor-cars. Counting I could found the word ‘motor-car’ and related words such as HGV, MIV (Indivudual motorized transport) and so on more than thrice as words describing the so called environment-network (“Umweltverbund”) consisting of cycling, walking and public transport.
    The outcome is:
    Now they are tearing down cycle paths either without substitition (‘mixed traffic’) or substituted with paint, all for “safety reasons” (better conspicuity).

    On the other hand there is the ‘Radentscheid’ (cycling referendum) in Berlin. In their 10 demands and even in their campaign you will not found any notice of motor cars. Okay, nearly none. Instead you will read and hear a lot of the needs of cycling children, of cycling elderly people, of differences in cycling of men and women, the needs of cycling commuters and, all above, of the need of a new deal out of public space. They focuse on the needs of humans and not on cars. In only three weeks they got more than 100 000 signings, the most sucessful beginning of a referendum ever. In a representative survey of ADAC (Germany’s motor-driver association) Berlin 56% of the members agreed to give more space to cyclists and 68% voted for to establish a separate cycle-net used by cyclists only. Approval was first of all given by women.

    In Germany we have a saying: Wash my fur but don’t wet it.
    In GB all cycle-campaigners will ‘go Dutch’ without following the underlying political scheme.
    In the Netherlands cycling works for all including drivers. That’s how to put it.


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