It started with a cycle cash mob. If you don’t know what one of those is, I’m not sure we did either just over a month ago, if indeed there ever was such a thing…
…but it had to happen. After our borough won a £33 million bid to make it a haven for cycling – a ‘Mini Holland’ in fact – some local shopkeepers started panicking that cycle lanes meant less parking on the high street which meant that all their businesses would go bust. The chair of the local business association launched an anti Mini Holland campaign, and he and another local woman stood as independents in the local elections pretty much to oppose the scheme (no, they didn’t get elected). There was a massive assumption that the local economy has to be driven (no pun intended) by people using their cars to get to shops. It didn’t seem to matter that local shops are flourishing in Amsterdam and Copenhagen where cycle lanes rule, or that studies in Bristol, New York and elsewhere have shown that shopkeepers stand to gain business, not lose it, from facilitating cycling. And no one seems to be remembering the bigger picture: we have to wean ourselves off our cars for local journeys if we’re going to make a dent in obesity and air pollution.
So we (mainly the local London Cycling Campaign members) got on our bikes, cash in hand, and mobbed the shops during the local ‘shopping carnival’. Every business we patronised got a slip with the London Cycling Campaign logo saying, ‘I did my shopping by bike.’ It was fun. The most fun bit was riding three abreast (for less than a hundred yards) into the town centre, getting in the way of the motor traffic, and doing a little victory lap around the main junction. If you blinked you missed us, but we were there, and the local paper proved it by putting us on the front page.
Then we put the new bike parking to use outside a local cafe (the cycle elves have been busy) and had some bacon sarnies.
But was that the end of my weekend of subversity? No, it was not! The next day was our second play street closure.
There were water fights (the photo shows quite a tame moment. It escalated to children throwing whole buckets of water over each other. Don’t be deceived by how cute the little chap is with his sub-machine gun).
There was a parrot.
The parrot came with a riot-trained prison officer, complete with riot helmet, and that’s a light sabre he’s holding. Again, I assume that every street has a jedi riot knight with a parrot?
There was much scooting and skipping and chalking and chatting and everything else you’d hope for on a sunny July play street. Even the Bad Neighbour put in a sort of pantomime appearance, on foot this time, ranting that adults who ride scooters need to ‘take it to the bedroom’. One steward told me later he was thinking, ‘But there’s no room with my swing in there.’
So everyone seemed happy. It was even worth missing the Wimbledon men’s finals for.
* Photo by Mr. Suburbanite
** All street photos by our co-subversive neighbour