Is the CTC helping or hindering bike use in the UK?

14TH OF SEPTEMBER 2012 · 19:40

You know, I read so much nonsense written about cycling that I often don’t know which blog post to write next. If I could hook up my brain directly to WordPress then you’d find a new post by me every five minutes.

While writing my last post I took a look at the new CTC website, which has been updated recently. One thing that caught my eye was their “Right to Ride to School” page. It’s a good idea – every child should have the right to ride to school in a safe and pleasant environment. But the phrase “Right to Ride” made me a little suspicious, as it usually refers to the right to ride on the road with the cars and vans and lorries, which is a right exercised by almost nobody. I wonder why?

The CTC thinks that the reason 99% of children in the UK don’t cycle to school is because…

  • they don’t know how
  • their parents would rather drive them
  • they don’t have anywhere to keep their bike
  • their school actively discourages this mode of transport

Now, is it me, or is this a perfect example of cycle campaigners ignoring the elephant in the room? Why isn’t “because it looks and feels dangerous” on that list? How about “it’s insane to expect small children to cycle around cars and vans”?

Even the photo they have used looks suspicious – why can’t we see where these children are riding their bikes? Looking at the short height of the kerb in the bottom-left corner of the photo, I wonder if these children are actually riding on a protected cycle path. Has it been cropped to prevent angry emails from vehicular cycling zealots?

They’re not on the path – are we meant to think they’re riding on the road? John Franklin would be proud!

These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’m genuinely asking why the UK’s biggest and most influential cycling group – “the national cycling charity” no less – insists on sticking to this “Right to Ride” mantra. How about “safe cycling routes to schools” – what’s wrong with that? Why does everything have to be tied in with vehicular cycling? On a page about children riding bikes to school they don’t once mention the fear of motor traffic being the number one reason people consistently give for not cycling.

Instead, they blame the children, they blame the parents (they also blame schools, but quite rightly, as there are schools in the UK which are anti-cycling).

Personally – and tell me if I’m nuts for thinking this – I blame it on a lack of safe, motor traffic-free routes. Can’t the CTC see this?

I realise I’m opening a can of worms here by criticising the CTC – an act which, in some circles, seems akin to publishing cartoons of Mohammed – but here goes. The CTC has been around for over 100 years, and where has cycling in Britain gone under their guidance? A 1% cycle-to-school rate (against 89% in the Netherlands), a mere 3% of people riding once a month for utility (compared to 93% perweek in the Netherlands).

What are the CTC for, if not to promote the use of bikes in the UK? I know they can’t be held responsible for the brain disease epidemic that affected town planners throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but by focussing on the Right to Ride so much they have ignored the one thing that would get more people in the UK cycling: Dutch-style infrastructure. Riding on the road has failed, they’ve had a century to promote it and still nobody wants to do it.

Apparently, some CTC members are pushing for a more pro-infrastructure stance, which I think is great. I really hope the organisation is waking up to the fact that most of its members are hardcore cyclists whose desires and needs are very different to the rest of the population, and that if it wants to grow cycling in the UK then it needs to promote Dutch-quality infrastructure. But having to argue for cycle paths within the CTC must feel a little bit like having joined the Communist party because you believe in equality and fairness but then finding Stalin in charge.

Update: I’m pleased to have inspired two bloggers, both of whom I respect greatly, to have written articles in response to this post: David Arditti and Freewheeler.