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 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 bikesAnd 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 Square – I 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”.