“Cars come first” in London

24 Mar

Cycling London Online met Jim Davis on a Sunday morning. Sitting on a couch decorated with colourful cyclists, he was reading a newspaper, while drinking short sips of a smoking cappuccino. At that same table, he had officially started, weeks before, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

Jim Davis, Cycling Embassy GB (Photo: MLS)

Jim Davis, Cycling Embassy GB (Photo: MLS)

Jim Davis is not a rookie in terms of campaigning: he has been a campaigner on behalf of British cyclists for the last ten years. But, during that time, he became “frustrated with the lack of perceived progress with appalling [cycling] infrastructures and facilities that are often dangerous and badly designed”.

So, he thought, why shouldn’t he create a new campaign to address such an issue? Last year, Jim pitched the idea on his blog and, all of a sudden, he was getting support from a blogging community of cyclists that had “also been frustrated through campaigning”.

Last January, the Embassy was finally born – inspired by the model of the Danish Cycling Embassy – when a group of 40 cyclists gathered around this same table where Jim Davis gave his first interview to Cycling London Online.

What is the Cycling Embassy all about? Watch the video!

Cycling infrastructure is quite frankly appalling”, costing “councils and taxpayers hundreds of pounds”, Jim Davis says. That’s why the Embassy is committed to promote proper conditions to cycle across the UK – and if that goal is achieved, they believe more people will feel safe enough to ride bikes more often.

Confusing? Jim Davis explains the concept in a minute:



In order to illustrate the distinction between good and bad infrastructure, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is already preparing what they call “infrastructure safaris”. The concept is simple: “we go around, film and just take pictures of the best and worst infra-structure in a given area and just show that to people”, Jim Davis says.

But, above all, the Cycling Embassy aims to act as a lobbying group, putting pressure on the Whitehall: “we actually want to see a commitment from this Government to create a sustainable transport legacy we can hand on to next generations, who are currently trying to cycle to school in heavy traffic”.

From his point of view, “cycling hasn’t been treated seriously as a mode of transport at a national level”, with car traffic being prioritized over cycling. Jim Davis says it is all about a political culture that has to be changed.

The problem, he says, is that cities haven’t yet figured out what sustainable transport is all about: “for them [the Government], it could mean to widen a road that improves traffic flow, because it lowers [carbon] emissions”.

London, city of cars – not bikes

Jim Davis (Photo: MLS)

Jim Davis (Photo: MLS)

And not even London is an exception to what Jim Davis claims to be a car-oriented policy: “London is certainly seen to be more progressive than other areas, because there are schemes like the Barclays Hire Scheme, and of course the cycling superhighways – however, I don’t think that will create a shift towards mass-cycling”.

As mainland Europe showed by just designing the car out, they made their city centres places quite civilized to be, to stop, have a coffee, walk around, have a look at the architecture”. But, at the moment, cars can still cross central London without constraints, thus creating dangers to cyclists.

“I just cycled around Parliament SquareI wouldn’t want my mother to do it. I just do it with my head down and just hope for the best”, he says: “if that was made more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists, there would be obvious benefits”.

At the end of the day, Jim says it all comes to political options: “if we had a fraction of what it cost to widen the M25 motorway, we could create a nice cycle network in London”. “The money is out there and cycling, as a mode of transport, deserves as far greater share in this country”, he says.

ON A GLIMPSE: What does the Cycling Embassy want?

“We want cycling to start being taken seriously, because the benefits for this country are huge”.

“We want the 97% that do not cycle regularly to consider cycling regularly”.

“We want them to realize that the car has its place but the people come first”.

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11 Responses to ““Cars come first” in London”

  1. TJ March 24, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    “I just do it with my head down and just hope for the best” this pretty much sums it up. London has very little infrastructure for cyclists and is rather unfriendly for riding. But at least London motorists are friendly for the most part.

    • Marco Leitão Silva March 24, 2011 at 11:27 am #

      Do you think London motorists are friendly? That’s controversial! :) Bearing in mind previous conversations I had with other fellow cyclists, I would say that opinions are quite divided regarding that matter.

      Is there any other spot in London (aside from the Parliament Square) where you follow Jim Davis’ example, putting your head down and hoping for the best?

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. markbikeslondon March 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Jim seems like a real breath of fresh air on the UK cycle advocacy scene and I am sure he has lots to contribute. I for one totally support his principals of the necessity of reaching out to the 98% of people who don’t currently cycle, and from a purely economic point of view it is clear to me the only way to go about doing this is to use a system that has been tested and proven to be successful elsewhere in the world (aka Holland)

    Hooray for the Cycle Embassy!

    • Marco Leitão Silva March 24, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

      Your point is a quite interesting one. Indeed, Jim mentioned several times during our interview that there are other examples in Europe that Britain could easily follow. According to him, two of the most successful ones are the Dutch and the Danish examples.

      Does any of our international readers have anything to say about cycling policy in their own countries?

      Thank you for your comment, Mark! Feel free to share this article on your Twitter account!

      • movementforliveablelondon March 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

        Hi Marco, Jim will be exploring the issues he raises in your interview in more detail and looking at the lessons London can learn from Europe and beyond in his Street Talk on the evening of the 12th April. Full details here – http://movementforliveablelondon.com/2011/03/10/aprils-street-talk/

      • Marco Leitão Silva March 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

        Thank you so much for your comment!
        I’m sure it will be a good opportunity to hear Jim once again!
        Cheers,
        Marco

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] “Cars come first” in London « Cycling in London Cycling London Online met Jim Davis on a Sunday morning. Sitting on a couch decorated with colourful cyclists, he was reading a newspaper, while drinking short sips of a smoking cappuccino. At that same table, he had officially started, weeks before, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. BikePortland.org » Blog Archive » Portland tops in new research report on nine major cycling cities A new research report, Bicycling Trends and Policies in Large North American Cities prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation, has found that Portland leads the pack in bike-friendliness among nine bike-centric cities in the U.S. and Canada. Share This entry was posted on March 29, 2011 at 10:44, filed under Press Cuttings and tagged Links. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Lake Sagaris awarded! [...]

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