On Reinventing the Wheel: learning from others and the past

This week, Londoners heard the very welcome news that 33 of London’s biggest and nastiest road junctions were to be transformed:

Gyratories at Archway, Aldgate, Swiss Cottage and Wandsworth, among others, will be ripped out and replaced with two-way roads, segregated cycle tracks and new traffic-free public space.
The Elephant & Castle roundabout, London’s highest cycle casualty location, will be removed. At other intimidating gyratories, such as Hammersmith and Vauxhall, safe and direct segregated cycle tracks will be installed, pending more radical transformations of these areas in the medium term.

Of course, there will be a lot of work still to do to ensure this programme (a) really happens and (b) really does provide excellent cycling and walking environments. However, it’s a positive sign. As is the description of the junctions to be removed as being ‘Sixties Relics’, linking motor dominance to an imagined undesired past.

Once, the car was the future. As Dudley and Richardson have written, the motorway lobby didn’t succeed just by its (important) economic and political power, or by convincing the British public of the need for motorways. It’s also crucial that they tied motorways to a vision of a utopian, consumerist future, without the rationing of the past. A shiny new individualist world where everyone would have their own washing machine, fridge, garden – and private car.

More than half a century on, we’re living with the new forms of ugliness and squalor that the private car has imposed on our cities and countryside. And yet, in much transport policy discourse, the default imagined future is still an even more motorised one. The Department for Transport’s National Transport Model perpetuates this vision, even though in many countries and cities the facts suggest something rather different is happening. It is possible to build a future that centres walking, cycling, and public transport, and marginalises the car, and moreover the evidence suggests that there is strong demand for such a future. In London, TfL research suggests that half of all those London commuters who don’t currently ride to work believe their journey could be cycled. That’s a lot of ‘near market’ people waiting to be convinced, by a clear vision of the future allied to good infrastructure on the ground. Casting the bike as the future, and the car city as the past, can help support the coalitions needed to build that infrastructure.

The cycling movement arguably has a lot to learn from other movements who have sought to shift the status quo. The motorway lobby in the middle of the last century is one such movement. Others may have nothing at all to do with cycling or transport, yet there may still be similarities that can lead to mutual learning – for example, around dealing with processes of victim-blaming, which often involve the pressure for ‘out-group’ members to be held responsible for the behaviour of every other ‘out-group’ member (while every ‘in-group’ member is an individual, responsible only for his or her own behaviour).

Cyclists are not the only people to be told, when they are the victims of violence, that they were at fault because of their dress or behaviour. Cyclists are not the only group to be misrepresented as ‘dangerous’ or ‘aggressive’ in the media. Cyclists are not the only people to be regularly described as ‘vulnerable’, although their ‘vulnerability’ is imposed by a system that exposes them to risk. Cyclists are not the only people to be disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies.

It’s worth saying clearly that I am not equating any of those linked-to experiences to what people might experience because, or when, they cycle. Clearly, there are big differences.

However, some of the processes – for example, the construction of some people, but not others, as ‘deserving victims’ – are related, just as the motorway lobby’s construction of a vision of the future parallels some of the ways we might talk about cycling in the city of the future. Cycling movements can learn from the challenges – and successes – of other movements. For example, while many problems remain, the situation of women in relation to the legal system has improved, influenced by the efforts of advocacy movements in that area. I used to touch on this issue while lecturing in my previous job, and students were always surprised by how new some rights were that they took for granted – such as the legal right not to be raped by your husband, established in 1991 in English and Welsh law.

So I was really pleased when Ellen, who was involved in the Londoners on Bikes campaign, suggested to me organising a workshop where cycling advocates could learn from people involved in other movements, such as domestic violence campaigns and campaigns around the use of stop and search. It seemed like an ideal event to hold as part of the LCC’s Policy Forum Seminar Series, which I organise with my advocacy hat on.

We’ve put together an event on the evening of the 13th March entitled ‘Reinventing the Wheel’, with four facilitators from other movements, and an agenda that will allow sharing ideas and experiences of responding to victim-blaming. The four key areas we’ll be discussing are: influencing decision-makers; working with the media; liaising with the police and judiciary; and changing public attitudes. There are still a few places left and if you’d like to contribute to this debate, please sign up online.

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3 Responses to On Reinventing the Wheel: learning from others and the past

  1. Tim says:

    TfL’s announcement from February 2012:

    “The first junctions [out of 500] proposed for priority review include St George’s Circus, Highbury Corner and Stockwell Gyratory. Work to deliver improvements at Bow Roundabout expected to begin in April 2012.”

    I’m so sick of the hollow announcements, and the way we lap them up. Where is the action? Where is the consistent annual usable budget for cycling infra? And where is the outrage?

    Because I can show you a city where a tiny percentage of journeys are made by bicycle, and I can show you the ghost bikes.

  2. Dr. Marina Gafanovich, MD says:

    This sentence includes a dead link – Cyclists are not the only people to be told, when they are the victims of violence, that they were at fault because of their dress or behaviour.

    The working one is https://www.nyccriminallawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Responding-to-the-challenge-of-rape-myths-in-court_Nina-Burrowes.pdf

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