On your bike! Ed Miliband on Britain’s Much-Needed Cycling Revolution | Books
WWhen it comes to tackling the very big challenges of our world, you may not immediately think of cycling and walking as solutions. But it’s time to recognize the potential of the humble bike and our own feet.
But first, I have a confession. Do you know how most kids learn to ride a bike around the age of five or six? Well, I learned late – about 11 or 12 years old – and I’ve always been a very, very nervous pilot. Plus, after learning, I left it for over three decades before doing more than a few minutes of uncomfortable swinging. We’ve been through six prime ministers, drainage pants, Duran Duran, the invention of the internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, the bacon sandwich incident – and I held off on two wheels anyway. .
When the first lockdown started and people were discouraged from using public transport, I had to find a way to get to work in an eco-friendly way. This led to a brief flirtation with an adult tricycle, but it didn’t feel like it. I was a little worried about the stigma (and the photos). Then, at 50 and in the European mountain biking capital – the French resort of Châtel – I had a revelation. I rented an electric bike. It was the eureka moment, and now I have the zeal of a convert.
Seriously, however, policymaking is often out of step with the things we truly value in our lives, and yet it shapes them so deeply that we can lose sight of the fact that even the way we travel every day could. be different. We should ask ourselves, if we were to think from scratch about how we wanted to get around our cities, what would our priorities be?
I would put safety and speed at the top of my list. I would also like affordable and accessible transport, which does not occupy more public space than necessary and which has minimal impact on the local environment and on our planet as a whole. Ultimately, if city planning and town planning reflected the life we want to live, I think walking and cycling would be taken much more seriously.
For starters, they make us healthier and happier. Of course, we all know exercise is good for us, but the problem is, making it part of our lives is easier said than done. Here we can learn from Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, and Nicoya in Costa Rica, described as “rare longevity hotspots in the world where people thrive in the hundreds”. Their secret? People in these places exercise while going about their daily lives – walking and gardening, for example – without really thinking about it.
Inactivity is not the only fatal consequence of our current transportation habits. Each year, around 25,000 people are killed or seriously injured on our roads. Air pollution, meanwhile, is believed to be responsible for around 40,000 deaths in the UK each year. Giving people decent alternatives will make our air cleaner and our streets safer. When it comes to the streets themselves, designing our lives around cars only is simply not an efficient use of public space. A study found that bicycle lanes can carry two and a half times more people than car lanes, even though they take up half the space. And if you add up the square meter of parking across the country, you’ll end up with an area larger than Birmingham.
That said, the most pressing case for change is that road transport currently contributes around a fifth of UK carbon emissions, and the bulk comes from cars. Public transport emissions are negligible in comparison. Electric cars are key to reducing emissions, but replacing every conventional car trip with an electric car trip will not be enough. Government climate change advisers say we need to reduce our car use globally. There are a number of reasons why this is necessary. These include the fact that changing the entire UK car fleet from petrol and diesel to electric is going to take some time. In addition, manufacturing and powering electric cars still results in carbon emissions.
There is another advantage of walking and cycling over the alternatives. The average UK household spends almost £ 60 per week on owning and driving a car, around 10% of their family budget and an additional £ 15 on other forms of transport, including bus and train fares. The beauty of walking and cycling is that they cost next to nothing.
However, in Great Britain, only 2% of trips are made by bicycle, compared to 12% in Germany, 16% in Denmark and 27% in the Netherlands. Much like in the UK, the postwar years in the Netherlands saw a boom in car ownership and urbanism focused on automobiles rather than bicycles. Cycling fell rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s and commuting became increasingly dangerous for cyclists.
But then something changed. In October 1971, six-year-old Simone Langenhoff was killed by a high-speed car that struck her while cycling to school. Simone’s father was a reporter for a national newspaper and used his platform to campaign for road safety. It helped get started Kindermoord stop (Stop the Child Murders), which has grown into a huge social movement across the country. Over the following decades, the government invested in cycling infrastructure and built the separate cycle paths that the country is now famous for, which have grown from 9,000 km in the mid-1970s to over 30,000 km today. .
Cyclists are now far from neglected in the Netherlands. Rather than having to rely on helmets to mitigate the consequences of crashes, streets are designed to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. Drivers are restricted to low speeds and reminded to watch out for other road users. Whenever possible, cyclists have separate lanes, protected by barriers and bollards. Cycling lessons are very common in schools – which would have really helped me. It works. In cities like Amsterdam, around two-thirds of all trips are made by bicycle or on foot, compared to less than a third (28%) in London.
Most of the most interesting actions in urban transport have come from local and regional governments. Nothing demonstrates this better than the Greater Manchester Bee Network. When Andy Burnham was elected mayor in 2017, he immediately appointed Olympian Chris Boardman as the walking and cycling commissioner. Chris visited each of the 10 local authorities in the area and asked them to think about how their roads could be redesigned. Within months, they had a plan for a 1,000-mile network of walking and cycling trails across the city area. An online consultation with members of the public generated 4,000 comments. According to Chris, the most negative response was: “Where is ours?”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo also believes there is a better way to do things. In 2020, she made Paris a quarter-hour city (City of 15 minutes) the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. It’s the idea that you should be able to meet all of your daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of your place of residence.
One of the main reasons for the rise of the car is that it has been absolutely empowering for our lives. A lot of people depend on cars, especially in more rural areas, and cars will continue to be needed by many and play a vital role in getting us where we want to go. Many people also depend on driving for their work and income.
The response to the Covid crisis has reminded us that there is nothing inevitable about the way we use our public space. The first weeks of the lockdown in March 2020 saw road traffic drop nearly three-quarters to its lowest level since the 1950s. On some days, cycling has reached double or even triple its previous levels. Covid in the UK. More than three-quarters of Britons said they supported permanent measures to encourage more walking and cycling.
Ultimately, the big idea here isn’t really about transportation; it’s about building a better life for people: making sure that everyone can live in a clean and attractive neighborhood and giving them more choice on how to get around. As far as our company is concerned, we cannot let the market decide. We have to make these choices ourselves.
These questions remind me of a cartoon someone once showed me to an audience at a conference while listening to a speaker list all the benefits of taking action on the climate crisis – from clean air to healthier children. Someone in the crowd interrupts him: “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” Before you even think about tackling the climate crisis, more walking and cycling could help build a better world.