Mostly, I manage to live my life in a nice generally-right-on vaguely greenish bicycle-shaped bubble. Pretty much everyone I follow or who follows me on Twitter has ‘cyclist’ in their bio, except for the ones who prefer to be known by the more politically correct ‘person on a bike’ (the rest are mostly poets and probably consider most of my more rabid cycling tweets to be some sort of extended metaphor about the cycle of life and anyway aren’t in any position to judge someone else’s eccentric lifestyle choices). And most of the people I know locally are also either writing people or green people or cycling people, with a few ticking multiple boxes. But occasionally I have to step out of my comfort zone and be reminded how the world really is, and that (here in the UK anyway) it’s completely dominated by the car to the point where even questioning whether that’s a good thing is considered a bit odd.
Take our community council meeting, for instance. Now, on the whole it’s a lovely community council: it’s not riven by disputes, it only spends 10% of each meeting discussing dog poo, most planning applications are uncontroversial, and generally we whip through the agenda at a brisk trot. We don’t even get too het up about wind farms. Last night was no different, except that we ended up discussing the issue of the purchase of a piece of land to create a larger car park for the (newly delivered – it looks pretty good too) school. The dropping off area outside the current school is too small for all the cars, so there is a bit of chaos (although not as bad as this – the staff supervise things fairly strictly), which means that the kids who walk (and the three who cycle) are at risk. So a new car park would, technically, make active travel more attractive although it would also of course make completely inactive travel even more so. And I can see their point – the catchment area of the school is pretty large, and while most of the roads are lovely and quiet, there are enough quarry lorries bombing up and down the road beside the school to make parents think twice about having kids cycle however much they may enjoy any one-off biking events (and no, we can’t stop the lorries from roaring through the village because, well because we just can’t, and we can’t even restrict them for an hour around the start and end of the school day, because when they’re mending the roads they need to be delivering tarmac and gravel all the daylight hours because you cannot hold up the mending of the roads and obviously that is more important than anything else). They are considering having parents park up near the village hall and walk down with their kids but that all seems a bit complicated and difficult compared with just buying a bit of field and tarmacking it. And – as the others said – a bigger car park would be an asset to the community. After all, when there are events on in the hall, there’s not enough space for everyone to park.
I didn’t say anything. Well, I did try and press the case for the ‘park and stride’ option and I may have made a small whimpering noise at the ‘asset to the community’ part, but I did manage not to just put my head on the table and give up. After all, I knew that every single member of the community council except for myself and one member who lives in the village, had driven there, mostly less than two miles. The thought of any of them choosing to walk or cycle to the village instead, even on a summer evening, let alone in October when the nights are drawing in, just seems totally improbable even to me. Looked at objectively, it’s not the community that’s wrong about welcoming the prospect of a new car park, it’s me. Not building a car park won’t suddenly make everyone cycle everywhere, or walk, or even arrange to share lifts down to the village. So I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself and so another little piece of the countryside risks getting tarmacked over in service of the great god car.
There is a school of thought even among cycle campaigners that the UK is so car-centric that there’s really no point investing in cycling because most of the population just won’t countenance the idea. I’m not quite sure what lesson we’re supposed to take from that (give up? Start looking for a new planet? Move to the Netherlands?) so mostly I choose to ignore it. After all, in the cities where there has been investment in cycling, rates have increased markedly. Give people the facilities, and they will come. Even in Bigtown, you see more and more people on bikes using them simply to get around. But every so often, I am brought up short by the realisation that here and now, to most of the population of my own country, I am, in fact, a weirdo, and I should remember that fact. A tolerated, indulged, even occasionally admired weirdo, but a weirdo nonetheless.