Out of Sorts

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.

20 Responses to Out of Sorts

  1. Nigel Shoosmith says:

    But where I live I’m a weirdo. I guess wierdo is the Scottish weirdo?

  2. disgruntled says:

    ah crap. I never get that right

  3. Nigel Shoosmith says:

    Your secret is safe with me.

  4. What’s wrong with having a 10/15/20 mph period on the roads leading to the school – applies to all traffic. Makes minimal difference to Quarry truck driving 20-40 miles to deliver stone etc to go slowly through during hours of say 08.15 and 09.15, and again between say 15.00 and 16.30. Minimal effect also on all other drivers. It is done in US and in UK fro roads outside schools during set periods.

    You might even find that some of the regular drivers will adjust their driving pattern to avoid driving through the village during speed lock-down periods (even better)

    It might even prompt a few folk to notice how much nicer the village is during the lock-down period and think about having it all day…

  5. disgruntled says:

    The problem with the quarry lorries is as much the roads outside the village – where lorries can quite legally go 40mph on roads which are basically as wide as a lorry. For some of the younger kids there’s no speed at which that’s safe if they’re having to negotiate around them on a bike.

    • John Gibson says:

      You just have to keep on doing your bit, thats all any of us can do.
      The thing with children is that they do unexpected things, like running out into the road. If a quarry lorry hit them at even 10 mph because of the weight of the truck it would be very bad.

  6. stripymoggie says:

    Re moving to the Netherlands: what’s not too like about the Netherlands? Scores top marks for whatever parameter the OECD can think of. Besides those pesky Danes no one gets close.
    And then I remember the joy of cycling out of Belfast. Within 30 minutes you’re in the middle of nowhere, with stunning scenery and nothing but the wind and pale northern light to keep you company.
    Cycle 30 minutes out of any Dutch town and you’re in the next Dutch town. Cycle through the countryside all you see are the apartment blocks and towers dotting the horizon. On the wind is the metallic smell of industry and the stench of too many animals kept in high-rise, high-density factory farms. And at night the sky is kept light by the greenhouse lights, ensuring cheap watery tomatoes all year round.
    Nice cycle infrastructure, though.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Surely we can have the best of both worlds …

  8. Jane says:

    Our Mayor is intent on making all roads 20mph in central Bristol and already closes bits of the centre to cars on Sundays. The council makes all new houses have recycling storage and public buildings have to have bike racks. They plan to put solar panels on all council stock that can support them. Our chief exec in the PCT used to go to meetings on her bike, and the building has showers etc and bike storage. There is even a borrowable bike for staff.. For a hilly place we seem to do ok as a cycling city ( its a work in progress admittedly) Move here and you would be normal. Ish.
    Don’t tell anyone were we are to though, we don’t want to turn into That Lundon, my lover……

  9. disgruntled says:

    Ah if we didn’t live here, Bristol would be top of the list (not sure I could persuade the other half though)

  10. Paul @iomadh says:

    The problem is not the local councillors, it is not the car drivers, it is not even the quarry lorries, it is society as a whole. Whilst it can be depressing to thing that, I like to think that at some point, something will create a tipping point and expel us from this collective madness, be it petrol prices, child cycling deaths 😦 global food prices, impending local council fiscal collapse, i dunno.

    I suppose the thing to do is to continue to show the alternative (better!) options and keep them in the people’s minds. Then, you’ll be that weirdo who turned out to have some excellent ideas.

    Seen as there appears to have to be staff organising cars at the school (possible not what a teacher trained for!) why not use the village hall as a mustering point and organise a walking bus with the same staff. Our school started a breakfast club to spread out the time the kids arrive at school and it has done a great job of reducing cars parked on the pavement when we walk to school in the morning. Possibly the village hall could be used as a breakfast club – but yeah, I’m sure there are many reasons why this harder to organise that spending money (see fiscal collapse above)

    Whilst we can look to the Netherlands for excellent cycling infrastructure, we can’t look there for working out how to get there – Netherlands went for cycling when we and most of the rest of the western world went for increased car safety and forcing as many people as possible into the cars. The impetus for cycling that occurred in the Netherlands will never occur here because transportation is now very safe (as long as you are in your metal safety box).

    I’d be a useless campaigner because most of the time I think, I don’t care, I’m fine on my bike, but then I wonder how safe I’ll be when older or realise that I really don’t fancy cycling to work when the clocks change and the reason for that is that I’m scared of being hit by a car in the dark, not by cycling in the dark itself.

  11. disgruntled says:

    In fairness the walking bus idea is being considered and parents are encouraged to car share and many do. And another part of the problem is that the council cancelled the school bus because of falling numbers and now hasn’t reinstated it now that numbers have doubled meaning the kids who are entitled to transport come by taxi…

  12. misspiggy says:

    For many people a bike is not the answer to their transport needs and never will be in such a hilly, wet and windy country. Having a warm, dry means of getting about is a joy to people like my parents, whose grandparents tended to die of pneumonia in their 40s through working and walking outside in all weathers. Cars and safe parking are important for people like me. I could no more walk four miles than I could fly to the Moon, yet I’m ‘not sick enough’ to qualify for disability benefits and I’m expected to get to all sorts of places for work.

    Encouraging more bikes, fewer cars and more walking is good and important, but it’s not the minimum standard for society. Having a council that won’t fund a school bus seems like a bigger thing to focus on from an environmental perspective.

    • Nigel Shoosmith says:

      So we in UK live in a hilly, wet and windy country? So what? The Netherlands may not be particularly hilly, except in the Limburg province, but, believe me, as one who has had two trips there in the past few months, it can be very windy (flat country usually is) and very wet. And in the winter, very cold – -10C is the norm mid-winter. Even then it doesn’t stop a very high level of cycling modal share though. Why? Simple. Infrastructure.

      Think about it, even if cycling as a mode of transport has no *direct* relevance to you whatsoever, it is still in your (and everyone’s) interest that more local trips are done by bicycle. Fewer car trips = less traffic congestion; more parking spaces, less crowded buses, and so on.

      I’d say that upgrading our primitive and brutal highway system to something subjectively safe for everyone from 8-80+ is very much a minimum standard for society.

      • disgruntled says:

        Agree with both of you, although in this particular case the school bus would have the most immediate effect – sadly that was a battle that was fiercely fought and lost before my time… perhaps time to reignite it?

  13. Andy in Germany says:

    I get this sort of attitude here as well: at the moment our college has a refugee settlement taking up a third of the car park and the drivers are absolutely indignant about having to park somewhere else. Unfortunately the comments have turned nasty.

    We also know a lot of people who drive within a mile to get to places who would be shocked at the idea of not driving. I frequently get told it “is impossible” to live without a car. Usually the reason given is that you can’t carry big things on a bike. I then produce the Bakfiets and the reason changes…

    On the other hand I thoink I have a good compromise here: plenty of open space (including some really remote areas) and -most of the time- a general acceptance that riding to work/school/shops isn’t a subversive activity.

  14. disgruntled says:

    There’s a difference too between ‘living without a car’ (even we don’t do that) and ‘not using the car for everything’ – which would be a start!

  15. Take that car park, chop it into little strips and stick them end to end and what have you got? OK, fanciful, but what is so wrong about weird?

  16. […] Out of Sorts (cityexile.wordpress.com) […]

  17. […] taking her 6 year old to school. In Manchester, Emma Copson wrote to the local council, and Sally Hinchcliffe gives an insight into a council meeting discussing the […]

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