Is UK cycling at a turning point?

Cyclists at Manchester's Labour Conference show their support
CTC's newly-appointed Campaigns and Communications co-ordinator Sam Jones considers whether attitudes to cycling are changing.

Anyone who hops onto a bike will at times encounter prejudicial views towards cyclists. Pavement-riding, red-light-jumping, two-wheeled-terrorists, lycra louts... the list goes on.

Of course, irresponsible cyclists do exist, in the same way that there are irresponsible drivers, irresponsible football fans - and the same is true of any other group you care to name. CTC believes all road users - drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike - have a duty to respect each other's safety and the rules of the road. We are also strong supporters of increased roads policing, given that cyclists - like pedestrians - are disproportionately the victims of irresponsible behaviour on the roads. But simplistic stereotypes are never helpful.

Yet we shouldn't overstate the prevalence of these views. In a 2010 Mintel opinion survey, just 10% of respondents agreed with the statement that "cyclists are a nuisance". Unfortunately this 10% gets an awful lot of media air-time though, and the "irresponsible cyclist" scapegoat still does a lot of political damage to the cycling cause. "Drivers versus cyclists" is always a good space-filler for newspapers and shock-jock radio shows alike, usually resorting to a familiar list of cliches - next time you see one, enjoy playing cyclist-hatred bingo!

Through patient discussion and a few choice facts, people holding these opinions can often be won over, or at least swayed in the right direction.

Yet there will always be those who stubbornly hold onto their views - however ill-considered and factually incorrect they may be - and will resist all attempts to engage them in open-minded inquiry or measured conversation. Such situations are frustrating, no more so when they are created by those in positions of authority.

In the past couple of weeks we have seen a Birmingham councillor display a shocking level of ignorance about the utilitarian nature of cycling, while an MP in Peterborough called on his local council to endorse a “three strikes and you’re out” rule for cyclists caught riding on pavements (he had evidently forgotten that the pavement cycling laws are set by Parliament, not the Council). Both stories received a good deal of air time in the regional and national media, and are really only the tip of the iceberg of the vitriol cycling can encounter from opinion-formers who should know better.

The aforementioned Birmingham councillor, working in one of the Prime Minister’s eight Cycling Cities, claimed funding for cycling only benefits “young white men”, thus failing to recognise the purpose behind her own party leader’s initiative to democratise cycling and make it a viable and attractive option for one and all. Rightly, the people of Birmingham took up the challenge to demonstrate how wrong the councillor was and show that “young white men” are only one facet of their cycling city, and that investing in better cycling conditions is exactly what is needed to make cycling a safe and normal activity for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Increasingly, as the positive messaging for cycling begins to resonate in the media, Westminster and beyond we are seeing what were once lone voices of reason being backed by a chorus of public figures standing up for cycling. For every Birmingham councillor who bashes cycling, there is another Brummie like Cllr Jerry Evans who became the 500th councillor outside London to sign up to the national Space for Cycling campaign. The success of this campaign, first started by the London Cycling Campaign and now carried on by CTC and local campaign groups, supported by funding from the cycle industry's 'Bike Hub' levy run by the Bicycle Association, has been down to the well-spring of support from everyday cyclists who have made their voices known and taken action to make Space for Cycling.

The recent Labour Party Conference saw MPs and councillors taking part in a family ride about a conference where cycling was a hot topic. While there were no promises of funding, it seems that there is a recognition of the importance of cycling and the benefits of its increase. The Liberal Democrats have already shown their commitment to cycling and, heading into the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday (28 Sept), CTC along with our campaigning partners will again press the case for long-term sustained funding of at least £10 per person annually, rising to £20 as cycle use grows. If you’re in Birmingham on the Monday evening then bring your voice and your wheels along for another cycle rally, hosted by CTC together with Birmingham cycle campaign group Push Bikes. 

Abraham Lincoln famously said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”, and it does seem as though the veil of our car-centric obsession is slowly lifting. Alternative means of transport such as cycling, are being given serious consideration by both public and Government alike. With your help pressuring decision makers, both local and national, we can make funding for cycling a reality.

To find out more about CTC’s campaigning activity, click here.