Thursday, 30 August 2012

London's Olympic Legacy: why is Utility Cycling being ignored?

With the Olympic Games already over, and the Paralympic Games coming to a close on 9 September, everyone is talking about London's Olympic 'Legacy'. What absolutely baffles me is that so many people seem to be ignoring the place that Utility Cycling (also known as 'transport cycling') should logically have in this 'Legacy'.

Yes, I know that cycling to work/meet friends/etc. isn't exactly a 'sport'. But isn't Olympic Sport about more than just competition?

It's about getting the physical benefits of regular exercise. It's about getting the mental benefits of regular exercise. It's about combatting obesity which is the single fastest growing health risk in this country. It's about getting out of your car/tube/train/office/home and getting into some open space and getting some fresh air. It's about putting some real effort into doing something yourself (sometimes even where it's raining).

Cycling as a method of transport encompasses all of these things. Moreover, you don't need to pay anything for the privilege. With so many commentators correctly identifying the problems associated with successfully funding an Olympic Sporting Legacy during a recession, it seems idiotic for these same commentators not to see a parallel promotion of Utility Cycling as something worth writing about.

Moreover, given that Team GB's greatest successes at both the Olympics and Paralympics have been on bicycles it seems even more ridiculous for Utility Cycling not be given the press coverage it deserves in relation to London's Olympic Legacy. In The Times today (30/8/12) there was a double page spread on GB's Paralympic Cyclists, but Utility Cycling was not mentioned once in a 'Legacy' opinion piece written by LOCOG's official lawyer. And, let's not forget, The Times is the same newspaper which has launched the 'Cities fit for cycling campaign'. Who knows what The Telegraph think our Olympic Legacy should consist of...

Scottish cycling group Pedal On Parliament have successfully used the Olympics as a political springboard from which to gain cross-party council support for a 'Sir Chris Hoy-Way' cycle path on Leith Walk, Edinburgh, which will now go ahead.  By contrast, London, the city which hosted the 2012 Games, has zero Olympic Legacy cycle infrastructure projects on the horizon.

In a relatively flat city like London it is just completely unacceptable that our road system is seen by the majority of the population to be so inhospitable and dangerous that many people, 'inspired' by our glorious Olympics, are deciding to drive to Richmond Park in order to get on a road bike there, to drive to the gym in order to go on a stationary bike there, and to drive to a velodrome in order to do some track racing there.

We came 3rd in the Olympic medal table. We are widely tipped to come 2nd/3rd in the Paralympic medal table. Our competitive cyclists are the best in the world. We're clearly not that bad at encouraging top athletes to get involved in sport, especially on two wheels.

However, our levels of Utility Cycling over the whole population are some of the lowest in Europe.

Therefore, raising the percentage of journeys made everyday in London on a bicycle from 2% to 20% over the next few years would be a real Olympic Legacy. It would be a real Change. It would be a real Challenge.

It is an ambitious goal that will require money, time, and effort to achieve. It will also entail difficult decisions with regard to restricting motorist space (including car parking) on London's roads and creating cyclist-only routes in London's parks. But our Olympic successes required money, time, and effort. And they required difficult decisions like dropping Sir Chris Hoy from the individual sprint race in favour of Jason Kenny. And they paid off.

Moreover, raising Utility Cycling rates would be a long-term Legacy which the Government and London could reap the economic benefits of for years and years to come, and - just as they have done with Olympic medal results - jingoistically flaunt in the faces of other large Western nations like America, France, and Germany.

With this in mind I'd like to see a much greater focus from our press on the place of Utility Cycling in the government's Legacy plans. I'd like to see more difficult decisions by the government (both local and national) going in favour of cyclists. Lastly, as well as RideLondon promoting competitive cycling in the capital, I'd like to see an 'Olympic' Cycle Superhighway promoting Utility Cycling.

Despite plenty of parking and TfL repeatedly telling us to, no one cycled to the Olympic Park because cycle routes in East London are mostly crap and dangerous. We therefore learnt something. Olympic Legacy: radically improve cycle routes in East London. Simple.

It seems completely moronic that local and national authorities cannot see the very real political capital involved in making these kinds of difficult decisions to promote Utility Cycling, especially at a time when Olympic cycling successes are inspiring voters to cycle while a national recession is simultaneously forcing them to forgo more expensive methods of transport. Boris can see the political potential. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been so popular lately. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been tipped to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

After all, we're already world-class at competitive cycling on a professional level. This hardly needs more investment or exposure.

We should be using the Olympic 'Legacy' as an opportunity to improve cycling levels on the part of the whole population, making us a greener, cleaner, fitter, and more prosperous country to live in.

You, the reader, can make a positive impact yourself by contacting your politicians over this issue through the following steps:

1. Writing to your local MPs and Councillors (www.writetothem.com)
2. Writing to your MP through this contact detail too, some of them can be very reticent (http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/)
3. Writing to TfL at londonstreets@tfl.gov.uk
4.. Writing to Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg (http://www.number10.gov.uk/contact-us/http://www.dpm.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/contacthttp://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/contact_index.htm)

(comments welcomed)