Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Forgotten Art of Political Rebellion

Darlington's Beauty and the Bike project includes a youth exchange with the German state of Bremen.

On Monday one of the project's researchers will be meeting Dr. Reinhard Loske, Bremen's Senator for the Environment, Europe and Transport, to discuss his work on improving Bremen's already good cycling infrastructure.

He also appears in the following video, advocating speed limits for Germany's motorway network. In fact, he is imposing these speed limits on all the motorways in Bremen State anyway.

In Germany, motorways without speed limits is gospel. Like America's freedom to bear weapons, the vast majority of Germans see fast driving on motorways as sacrosanct. Dr. Loske is not exactly the establishment's favourite politician, limiting their god-given freedom to burn fuel. But he understands when it's necessary to confront national orthodoxy - to rebel. Even when this means taking on the most powerful political lobby in Germany, the car industry.

Our own "national orthodoxy", as far as transport is concerned, also revolves around the car. To deny our citizens their god-given right to drive the kids 500 yards to school, to the shops, or to the local office, is not only too much for our politicians, but "corridors of certainty" are required to make the trip faster, easier, and more direct.

Heaven forbid the idea that we might disrupt this sacred tarmac by taking a square inch of road space away from the car to construct safe cycle paths. The only space available for such fanciful stuff round here seems to be pavements. If there is a definition of the political rebel that we need here in Darlington, it is the politician brave enough to state the obvious - road space, especially on our main roads, needs to be taken from cars.

The local authority have successfully encouraged many Darlingtonians to switch from car to bicycle. But a cursory count on the streets of the town will tell you that, unlike we seasoned cyclists, these beginners are very often seen on our pavements. The main roads are clearly regarded as just too dangerous.

Our "national orthodoxy" reaction to this, of course, is to curse and scream at those wicked cyclists - and we all know how easily this attitude spreads to include all cyclists. But the brave politician, the politician willing to reflect and understand, must rebel against this orthodoxy, defend cyclists, and state the obvious conclusion. These new cyclists need proper infrastructure.

So until the day we hear this on our own transport agenda, lets celebrate the art of political rebellion, German style.

...and by the way, we hope to invite Dr. Loske to Darlington in the future.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

20MPH in Darlington Getting Closer

Darlington Cycling Campaign's policy of a 20mph speed limit for the town is a step closer to becoming reality.

Proposals to bring down speed limits in areas of Britain where there is a higher risk of accidents have been announced by the government.

Reductions from 30mph to 20mph in urban locations and 60mph to 50mph in the countryside are being considered.

Road safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick said the way people learn to drive and are tested is also set for reform.

The plans are part of a new strategy to reduce road deaths in England, Scotland and Wales by one-third by 2020.

Places such as Newcastle, Portsmouth, Oxford and Leicester already use 20mph speed limits in residential areas, and other local councils will be given new guidance to cut speed limits in residential areas and outside schools.

Darlington Borough Council have been introducing 20mph zones in selected residential areas, but have been hampered by a "can't do" mentality amongst local professionals, who for example cite the need for regular signage and speed bumps as a barrier to the wider use of 20mph.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Create more bike-friendly streets by empowering councils

Councils should be given greater powers to create designated streets that favour cyclists over cars, a national inquiry has concluded.

'Active communities: cycling to a better quality of life' is the report of an inquiry held by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and Cycling England.

This report has found that transport regulations should be reviewed to give councils greater control over cycling routes to get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes.

Councils would be able to design the street to favour cyclists while also making it accessible for cars and pedestrians.

For every car driver converted to a bike, the UK economy saves around £400 a year through reduced medical bills, congestion and pollution, according to research conducted by Cycling England.

The inquiry report - downloadable as a PDF here - also calls for every public building to be an exemplar to encourage cycling, for example by implementing storage facilities and bike loan schemes.

LGiU Centre for Local Sustainability policy analyst Gemma Roberts said: "Councils should be given greater control over cycling routes to ensure more roads are made cycle friendly. We need to make it easier and safer for people to cycle.

"Local authorities need to take the lead and make cycling a priority in their communities," she said.

"But the efforts to promote cycling do not stop with the council. We also need the professional and political backing to invest more heavily in cycling so we can really tackle some of the wider issues communities face, such as obesity, climate change and congestion."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Darlington Girls visit Bremen

Seven girls from the Beauty and the Bike project are this week visiting Bremen to experience cycling in a cycle-friendly environment. The project has been running in Darlington for almost a year. It is documenting, via video and photography, the reasons why teenage girls typically stop cycling in the UK, but continue in cycling-friendly countries.

The girls are documenting their trip on video on a daily basis. You can catch their vblogs at the Beauty and the Bike site,, or on the project's youtube channel. Or watch one of the videos right here.