Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bike Film - Now for the Politics

After cinema screenings here in Darlington and in Bremen, Germany, Beauty and the Bike was released on DVD along with the accompanying book in December 2009. The short online film has attracted over 35,000 views in less than three months. Enquiries have been coming in from all over the world. Now cycling advocates are starting to use the film as a starting point for debate about the state of cycling in their own towns and cities.

For example, this local councillor in Vancouver, Canada, has posted the online short on his blog, and there will be a public screening in the city soon.

Screenings in New Zealand, USA, France, Spain and Germany, as well as in various UK cities, are all now taking place or being planned. In most cases, women are taking the initiative and organising these events.

The political challenge implied by the film revolves around how to make cycling more attractive than driving in towns and cities. Here in Darlington, we have ideal conditions to do so. The town is just the right size, and with relatively easy topography, for cycling. If you strip away all the urban planning junk - extra right-turn lanes for little side streets, railings to herd pedestrians like sheep, silly short stretches of parking - that car-centric planners have thrown up these last 30 years, the main arterial roads are generously wide. There would be no problem designing safe, pleasant cycle paths along these key routes.

Then there is the safety issue, one that is known to deter a majority of women from cycling. A useful review of a number of studies that examined the relationship between cyclist safety and infrastructure concluded, not suprisingly, that good quality infrastructure that gave space for cyclists, resulted in far fewer accidents. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand this. Prevent the chance of accidents in the first place by giving cyclists safe space, rather than making such a big issue of cyclist self-protection having just decided to throw him/her into dodgy situations.

Many (mostly male) cyclists go on about "dangers" being exaggerated. Very true. Once you are confident on a bicycle, there's plenty of "dangers" that can be handled. But this "machoer than thou" approach misses the point. The question needs to be asked, what would most ordinary people prefer? Cycling amongst fast, speeding traffic, or cycling on a separated cycle lane? On such preferences, people choose to cycle (in Copenhagen, Bremen or Amsterdam) or not (in most towns and cities in the UK, including Darlington).

Our good friend David Hembrow, who appears in Beauty and the Bike, has been showing the world what good cycling infrastructure can be like, with excellent posts about his home town of Assen in the Netherlands. He describes this safety issue as "subjective" safety in the following terms:
Subjective safety - Are you near fast moving traffic ? Is it easy to make a turn across traffic ? Do you have to cycle "fast" in order to keep up ?

And you can improve subjective safety by improving the conditions for cyclists. And in response to the macho school he says:
Don't make the mistake of thinking that subjective safety is a concern only for inexperienced cyclists. No-one suffers from cycling being pleasant.

Interestingly another regular blogger near London, who says he was previously in favour of road-sharing with cars, has now come out in favour of separate cycle lanes. Not least after studying the example of David Hembrow.

Then there is the relative convenience of driving or cycling. In most cycling-friendly towns and cities, a conscious decision is taken to make much of the urban environment people, rather than car, centric. The design of streets tends to relate to the needs of the communities living on them, on the assumption that these streets are shared space, and not private car parks. Town and city centres are typically car free, and around such centres, one-way systems are organised in such a way that driving across town is difficult and complicated. Only delivery services make regular use of such streets. Cyclists are generally not bound by such one-way traffic rules.

Consequently, car drivers learn that these spaces are predominantly for pedestrians, children and cyclists, and unlike the average Darlo motorist tanking down Skinnergate at 5.30pm after the bollards come down on the Pedestrian Heart, they get into the habit of driving with care.

British motorists' driving habits were one of the shocks for the visiting Bremen girls in Beauty and the Bike. But when you look at the amount of road space car drivers have in this town, it's almost as if the authorities are begging us to zip through the town. Why this hypocrisy about road safety? Surely if we want drivers to slow down, we should be designing our roads in a way that encourages slow speeds?

Which brings us to the virtuous circle of the busy urban street - take space away from cars to slow them down, and give it to separated cycle paths. The carrot of quality cycling infrastructure. The stick of less space for cars. Where the fuel escalator failed - it changed nothing but the money in peoples' pockets - this approach to tackling congestion is working elsewhere. Berlin is the most obvious example. Here, the financial crisis has forced the city council to adopt cycling as the answer to congestion, rather than building new, expensive roads.

Are we beginning to see a coalescing of views around building cycling infrastructure where it is needed most - alongside busy urban roads - rather than where it is easy, and doesn't disturb the car driver? With a Darlington-made film at the centre of such debates around the world, Darlington Borough Council is currently consulting on a Local Transport Plan for the next 15 years. Would this not be an opportune time for such a debate to take place in Darlington itself?


wsxwhx667 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Concerned-Supporter said...

The film has got to be applauded for its professional content, the number of hits the short video got on “You Tube” when compared with others of a similar vane (even good old Boris did not get as many hits) is proof of the results you can get through high levels of inclusion in the public domain. Every one who took part should be applauded. The only worry that I have is the cost implications of the project as a whole.
Producing DVD’s is relatively easy and cheap, but the cost of printed publications is large given that I doubt a publisher would do a print run at a “No Cost” of a book with possible limited sales, may I ask if the cost of publication of the book is to be – is being “Self Funded”.
There has obviously been a great deal of hard work and time consumed by all concerned with the filming both here in the UK and Germany and it would be interesting to know from whence the funding for the project as a whole came from, and how much it cost.
I know you have probably done this, but it would be great if the film could be shown, or edited parts of, by our local T.V. companies. There is no better way of getting people who don’t take a particular notice of the subject to be informed of it in an un-voluntarily way when mixed in with other subjects.
Just a suggestion – Ever thought of doing a “Jeremy Clarkson” with the blessing of our good old Northern Echo, namely this, get a cyclist and a car to set off at the same time from the towns outskirts during rush hour to arrive at a given place in the town centre and compare the result. I guarantee no matter where the start point/s are, the times will be on the cyclist’s side. The results would make for a decent article with the injection of a bit of “Jeremy” style humour and one in the eye of the car user.

Passing on to the bikes that are to be offered for hire to our young ladies of the town through the “Velodarlo” scheme, I notice that a new organisation “DarLOVElo” will inherit the Velodarlo Bike Pool, and receive funding of over £30,000 to buy some 40 more bikes, and set up a base with part-time staff near the centre of the town. Is this funding to be put in place extra to the initial? Presumably the funding came from the industries “Bike Hub” scheme.
As the rental charge is a meagre £3.00p / week and given that insurance would have to be in place, this is going to be possibly a heavy loss maker.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong in (I hope) my conclusions, but it is beginning to be a possibility that the total cost of “Beauty & the Bike” plus the “Velodarlo” scheme is going to be no small sum and run at a non profit / heavy loss situation year in year out.

This in no way is a criticism to all those involved and the hard work that has gone into the scheme/s. Bravo to all, but I worry, as do many, as to the total cost of such exercises.

I tried to E-mail this to darlocycling@googlemail.com/, but it was rejected and something is up with this link as well www.bikebeauty.org

Concerned-Supporter said...

Silly me, click on "contact" and it writes your email address as - darlocycling@googlemail.com/

Get rid of /

Inconvenient Truth said...

Hi Concerned,
Thanks for the comments. Just to answer your questions. The project is funded partly via grants raised and partly self-funded. The book printing especially is self-funded, the hope being that we can recoup the costs via sales. We feel if the work is good enough, people will be willing to pay a small price for a copy.
But of course a lot of the work was done unpaid - subsidized time from my other work. But this is how ANY project based on commitment works, isn't it? Darlington Media Group, the producers, survives with the help of volunteer time.
We are trying to get the film broadcast, but this is a long and complicated business if you don't have friends in the right places.
As for doing a Clarkson, nice idea, but right now we're all concentrating on distributing Beauty and the Bike.
Finally, yes, Darlovelo will get a Bike Hub grant and will inherit the Beauty and the Bike bikes. As for the fear of a loss-making enterprise, don't be fooled by profit and loss. Think bankers. If an activity is socially helpful, it needs to be pursued. The financial problems can be sorted out - as we have done with the film. There are already way too many people doing something just because it makes a profit.

Best Wishes
Inconvenient Truth

Concerned-Supporter said...

A rather political answer – “The project is funded partly via grants raised and partly self-funded”. By how much?
As mentioned on the web site the members of the Velodarlo helped “raise the grants” needed to fund the project at the start, and (I believe) financial help also came from Darlington council.
On the 27th. July 2009, the “Bike Hub” issued funding of £100,000. to the following - “GET CYCLING” in York, “AGE WELL ON WHEELS” in London and “DARLOVELO”, Darlington. If each received a third it would equate to £33,000. Plus further funding for Darlovelo to £30,000 this year, without any knowledge of council funding nor the original raised funds, we are already at a substantial £63,000

miketually said...


About which project are you concerned? The film project or the bike pool/club?

Inconvenient Truth said...

If you'd like to know more about film funding, I'd suggest you pop in to the Media Workshop, where you can see all the figures in great detail.
Don't quite understand where you are coming from here. Is it the film costs, the bike pool scheme costs, the book costs? Is this an issue about public funding(Local Motion, £14k), private grant funding (Bike Hub £33k), EU funding (£13k from Youth in Action), German funding (£2k from Heinrich Boll Stiftung) or regional funding (£7k from Changemakers, Newcastle)? Unpaid time on the project is probably worth another £25k at least.
In economic development speak, £14k of local money has levered £55k into the town.
As to your concern about the cost, I would just LOVE to see a proper "value for money" exercise done that really compared like with like.
Try comparing these figures with the BBC schedules. How much for an episode of Bargain Hunt, on BBC1 today? How socially helpful was that programme? Paid fully out of our licence fee.

Concerned-Supporter said...

That’s all I wanted to know, £69,000 to Darlingtons Velorado, and to the film. I was not that far out. I’m sure one and all enjoyed making it and I sincerely hope the DVD’s and book sell well to further fund your project / s.

But there’s only one sure way to increase cycling – invest in infrastructure – build on the ground, and after Darlington’s waste of 3.25 million funding in 2005 onwards. I and others like me, doubt we’ll see it in our lifetime. I know this has nothing to do with your campaign, indeed, it must sicken you.

I fail to see the relevance of the comment about the BBC whose programs are exported all over the world, informs us of current world, national and local affairs and includes radio. The licence fee is a bargain.

Inconvenient Truth said...

Thanks, Concerned. You're right, build infrastructure. Just what this project argues for. And yes, the licence fee is a bargain.

Concerned-Supporter said...

Now we’ve got the costing out of the way, may I make one final point and I hope that members of Darlington council log into this blog, which I’m sure they do.

The film has made a huge impact at a cost of – say £60,000 – (not counting bikes) – Darlington council in control of 3.25 million funding could have made an incredible 54 of these films, albeit labour at free issue.

I would along with others love to see the balance sheet for the 3.25 million.

Inconvenient Truth said...

I've now managed to check all the figures. The film cost £24k, the book £10k, the bike pool as we have it now cost £7k. The Bike Hub £33k has not yet arrived, and is all for new bikes and running the hire scheme.
To be fair, some infrastructure has been built - it's just that little has been built where it's really needed, on all main roads into town.
The Cycling Campaign is prioritising that issue this year - join and make our voices louder!

Brian V said...

H’mmm – All proves value for money in my book.
I like the “Jeremy Clarkson” idea.
Just returned from Montpellier where they have similar bike hire scheme. The service is called “Velomagg” and has proved very popular over the years.


It’s a bit crappy, but fills my evenings!

miketually said...

Fixed the email address, thanks.

JohnR said...

What a great project! I just stumbled onto the Beauty and the Bike stuff the other day and am amazed by the depth of all of the projects.
One question, why Dutch bikes? As a young boy in Canada to have an English bike was tops. I suppose Pashleys are too expensive now!

Inconvenient Truth said...

I guess "dutch bikes" is just a shorthand for a particular style of bike. Pashley have just sent us one of their bikes to try out here, so we'll soon find out if they are as attractive to the girls in our project.

JohnR said...

Ahh, I get it now- I guess I don't get points for undertanding style. I'm thinking the girls will love the Pashley!

David Hembrow said...

Thanks for the mention. I've now watched the film and read the book, and I have to say that I'm very impressed with what you've done on both. They very clearly show the problems facing normal people in the UK who might, in a different world, ride a bike.

Hopefully you will influence people with the project. It's important. Britain could gain an enormous amount from changing priorities in transport to favour the bicycle.

JohnR: Old Dutch cycling catalogues made much of the "English" style of Dutch bicycles and of the components used. After cycling started to decline in the UK, The Netherlands was for many years the biggest market for components produced by British manufacturers such as Sturmey Archer and Brooks. Indeed, there are even roads and cycle paths named after them over here.

However, with the honourable exception of Pashley, the British utility bikes have all gone. The Dutch continued to improve them, and modern Dutch town bikes are quite splendid.

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