National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist

Photo: Stop Killing Cyclists
Duncan Dollimore's picture

National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist

Stop Killing Cyclists (SKC), a voluntary campaign group which grew in the wake of cyclists’ fatalities in London, will be protesting in Westminster on Saturday, demanding £6 billion for cycling. Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore explains where there’s common ground with SKC, and why focussing on that makes sense.

Whilst I’ve been involved in cycle campaigning, I have heard numerous and varied arguments about what campaigners and organisations should be asking for, particularly around money for cycling and walking.

Views differ around the ask, the amount needed, whether to express this as a percentage of transport spend or an actual figure, who to target with any campaign ask and even how any new money should be spent.

But there is a common thread. We all agree that the Government needs to massively increase the amount of money invested in active travel.

That’s why I’m writing about the National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist, which takes place this Saturday 7 September, meeting at Lincoln's Inn Field in London at noon, before departing at 1.00pm for a protest in Parliament Square between 2.00pm and 3.30pm.

Same goal

More money for cycling is an argument that Stop Killing Cyclists (SKC) have been making loudly for a number of years. The first demand to be made at Saturday’s protest, which SKC have organised jointly with Extinction Rebellion, is for £6 billion pounds per year investment in a national cycle network.

We’ve not always completely agreed with their approach, but it’s not unusual for people and organisations to have different views about the path to take and the tactics to use to secure their goals. When those goals are closely aligned, however, it’s always better to focus on how a collaborative approach can help affect change rather than squabble amongst ourselves.

As I’ve said, people can disagree about the amount asked for and how that’s expressed, but in the last two months I’ve written several blogs encouraging people to support our funding campaign, and pressing the Government to show us the money for cycling and walking. So, let’s stick with the common ground.

Cycling UK and SKC both want the Government to drastically increase the money invested in active travel and, as 11,500 of our supporters have variously emailed their MPs, Transport and Treasury Ministers asking for this, it makes sense to tell you and them that SKC’s protest is taking place this Saturday, and SKC would love any of you to attend to support their protest.

Not just about cyclists

You can see SKC’s demands and details of the protest on their website, with their press release stating that the funeral will “consist of three horse-drawn hearses carrying three symbolic adult coffins. These will represent those who have died from transport and climate breakdown related causes over the last decade. In addition, a small child’s coffin will represent the over 280,000 children and adults who died prematurely from air-pollution diseases including asthma.”

It’s perhaps worth dealing with the elephant in the room at this point. If Cycling UK share common ground with SKC, why aren’t we more actively involved and organising this event with them?

Well, we support or signpost other events which we don’t directly organise, such as Pedal on Parliament, and our five-year strategy acknowledges that we can’t do everything ourselves, but have to look to facilitate and support the work of other organisations, groups and individuals.

Also, in truth, we’ve struggled with the concept of the coffins, and potentially the assumption that it’s just cyclists who are the victims of air pollution and transport-related climate change. Breaking this down to separately symbolise the consequences of air pollution, traffic danger and climate change, however, makes more sense to us.

That’s because SKC’s protest isn’t just about cyclists and cycling. It’s about hugely important, related environmental crises, which is why we’ve also struggled with the reference to killing cyclists. But I’ll park that, because arguing about branding, imagery and messaging could leave us fiddling while Rome burns.

Underfunding of cycling and walking crisis

Within our funding campaign, a line we’ve used frequently is that we’re currently facing a climate crisis, a pollution crisis, a congestion crisis and an inactivity-related health crisis, with all of these crises underpinned by an underfunding of cycling and walking crisis. It’s clear that SKC agree with that, and they’re asking people to take action by attending the protest on Saturday, just as we’ve asked people to take action in a different way.

I don’t see these as binary options. People can do both, at the same or different times, and can even change their mind over time about which is likely to be more effective. That’s important, because one approach on its own might not work.

Leveraging more money from the Treasury isn’t easy. Organisations like Cycling UK have worked hard lobbying for change, and we’ve spent several months campaigning for more money. But there is a place for louder protest, and sometimes louder protest dovetails well with other approaches.

So, whether or not you’ve supported our funding campaign, if you agree that we need a major increase in funding for cycling and walking to help tackle the various crises I’ve referred to in this blog, please take a look at the details for SKC’s protest on Saturday. 

And if you’re free on Saturday, SKC would I’m sure give you a warm welcome, because their fundamental ask for much more money for active travel is one we absolutely support.

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