No, but seriously?
There is a battle going on around here about the adoption of the Mini Holland proposals (aka a generous pot of money from the Mayor of London to increase cycling in outer London boroughs).
In our Borough of Enfield, currently only 0.7% of journeys are by bicycle – and those journeys are generally made by lycra-clad, battle-scarred male cyclists who aren’t afraid to mingle with London traffic. The rest of the population tend to hop in their cars, if they have one, even for journeys of just half a mile. Which is unsustainable. Not enough space on the roads, not enough oxygen in the air, and a quarter of kids leaving Enfield primary schools classed as obese.
The Mini Holland proposals (known around here as Cycle Enfield) would, hopefully, make cycling a bit less scary for a lot more people. There would be better segregation between bikes and cars on main roads, and more thought given to keeping cyclists alive at junctions, and quieter residential streets to link it all together. Maybe, just maybe, it would help some of those kids to see off the obesity and cycle themselves to school.
Which all sounds reasonable, does it not? but there’s a bunch of noisy dissenters railing against it.
Don’t take parking off the high street to make way for cycle lanes, or our businesses will collapse! they say, as many of them are shopkeepers. (Cycle Enfield sweated over their plans and showed there would be a net increase in parking for shoppers.)
Cycle lanes will increase congestion and pollution by slowing down the rest of the traffic! they say. (Studies consistently show cycle lanes having the opposite effect.)
Don’t pander to cyclists – they’re just a tiny minority! they say. (Perhaps that’s because a cyclist is just a person on a bike, and if most people don’t feel safe to get on a bike, of course cyclists will be in the minority.)
Last night I heard the statistic that traffic along one of our main roads dropped significantly in 2008, by about 6,000 per day. Presumably this was the result of the recession – some people, and businesses, could no longer afford to drive. That set off a lightbulb in my head: if you make the car king, you automatically discriminate against the poor and the vulnerable. Anyone who can’t afford a private car – or is too young or old or disabled to drive one – is at a disadvantage when roads are built with only cars in mind. But if you curb the car, and give priority to bicycles (and pedestrians) in road design, you give freedom to everyone. A child is free to visit her friends or get to school on her own. An adult who can’t afford a car is free to get to work – practically for free. A stay-at-home mum with three kids and no car is free to take them on trips. An elderly person is free to cycle at his own pace, and enjoy the exercise. Even a driver ends up with more freedom, because there is less other traffic to compete with on the road.
I’m therefore pretty convinced I know the answer to my question. As a champion of the poor and the oppressed, and of children – and someone who opted for a donkey over a horse – Jesus would surely ride a bicycle.
I knew there was a spiritual, and ethical, dimension to pushing for better cycling in our area, but I couldn’t put my finger on it…
Freedom to the captives! Power to the marginalised! Let them ride bikes!