Inspiring Goals?

On the day that somewhere between £38M & £160M has been announced for cycling in the UK, this might seem a little churlish. But it’s important, as it’s about the vision needed if that money (and hopefully much more later) is to deliver results.

In the UK we’re at least 40 years behind the Netherlands in terms of cycling. We live in probably one of the least safe countries in Europe for people on two wheels. Put simply, in the cycling safety stakes, we’re getting our butts kicked, and it should be a national embarrassment for those in power.

Yet Boris Johnson said…

“They’ve [the Dutch] already got a totally different culture. We’ve got a long way to go before we’ve got the same mentality about cycling, and that’s what I want to achieve…

“… They already have a totally different culture for cycling. And we’ve got to get that. When you cycle in Amsterdam or Copenhagen or Berlin it’s… you’re not in a great fleet of people with their heads down, wearing Lycra who feel that they’ve got to get from A to B as fast as possible.

“You’re… everyone’s on big sit up and beg bikes; they’re weaving around, because there’s a much more relaxed feel to the way the cyclists occupy the streets. And we need to get that culture going, and that’s why we’re doing the mini-Hollands.

“Of course I believe in the segregation where it’s possible to do. But we don’t have, in the centre of London particularly, we don’t have enough road space to consecrate entirely to cyclists.”

Boris Johnson on the Newsnight Report comparing UK cycling with that in the Netherlands. Available here ’till Wednesday 14th August.

It’s great stuff. Except for that last paragraph, which the status quo could see as its get out of jail card. It says, “We’ll do what we can, but not if it gets difficult, or if we have to make difficult choices”.

This isn’t the sort of speaking that really inspires action.

Let’s compare with a speech from over fifty years ago.

In 1961, the US of A was also getting its pasty white butt kicked – in the space race. Sputnik had appeared in orbit in 1957, creating what can only be described as an outside context problem for the Americans. The fear was compounded when Uri Gagarin became the first person in space, and something had to be done. America was becoming an also-ran; in the cold war, the embarrassment this caused was acute. The USA could not afford to lose.

There followed much discussion about what America could actually win in this race. First satellite? USSR. First man in orbit? USSR. Likely first lunar orbit? USSR. Likely first communications satellite? USSR. First man on the moon….? A marginally better than a 50:50 chance of success, and a similar chance of beating those darned Ruskies.

So on 25th May 1961, JFK announced to a joint session of congress:

“I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals.

“FIRST, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.

“No single space project in this period will be more impressive or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish…”

The goal was clear and unambiguous. There were no get-out clauses (least of all after 22nd November 1963), and everyone involved knew what they were getting into – this would be no walk in the park.

The project was approved. Within eight years, the help of around 5% of US GDP, and employing over 400,000 people at its peak, the Eagle landed in Tranquility Bay.

Yes, we can make giant leaps if our political leaders are willing to commit.

So make sure your MP attends the parliamentary debate on the 2nd September.

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Posted in Bike Culture
One comment on “Inspiring Goals?
  1. Giant leaps are indeed what are required to catch up, but they’re not on the table at all. The debate on the 2nd of September is to call for ten pounds per person per year for cycling in the UK. That’s about a third of the level of Dutch expenditure.

    If the maximum amount called for is allocated as a result of this debate then this will allow the UK to continue to fall behind, but a little slower than before. It won’t lead to closing the 40+ year gap.

    Campaigners ought to be fighting this. The goal is not nearly ambitious enough.

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