Well, it’s been a while since I did a “proper” blog post (most of my recent mutterings being on Twitter and Facebook recently) but, having just returned from the debate on the Surrey Cycling Strategy aired live on BBC Radio Surrey, I thought I’d post a small round up of my thoughts.
I can’t possibly cover everything that came up, just the bits that stuck in my mind, but you can listen again to the whole debate here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01k5y0c
Nick Ephgrave – Deputy Chief Constable of Surrey Police (and former competitive club cyclist)
Simon Pratt – Regional Director, SUSTRANS
Helyn Clack -Cabinet Member for Community Services, Surrey County Council
Ian Huggins – him of the petition
David Preedy – Head of Headley Parish Council (cover Box Hill) & Lib Dem leader on Mole Valley District Council
Johnny Clay – Cycle Sport & Membership Director, British Cycling
One of the starting points was a debate around organised events, closing the roads and the impact this has on residents and businesses. IH seemed to think there were over 250 races which resulted in road closures. He was corrected as there had only officially been 1 road closure in the past year for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 – a key annual legacy event from the 2012 Olympics (which I rode in this year and was an absolutely brilliant event). The roads were closed for one day (less than 24 hours) for this event – essential for the 16,000+ cyclists to complete the route safely – but it seems some residents of Surrey can’t tolerate this 1 day per year despite having plenty of pre-warning.
A somewhat more legitimate point was made regarding some businesses losing out on trade on that day due to the road closures. There is no doubt that this is a valid point and that some businesses would have lost a day of trade or seen a downturn in revenue on that day. It’s equally true that some businesses would have seen an upturn in trade, particularly those along the route in spectator hotspots. However, as the BC representative said, there needs to be an overall economic impact assessment of the RideLondon event on the whole of Surrey to see the net economic effect on the county.
A further good point was made regarding this by the National Trust who have adopted a progressive, bigger picture approach to cycling. Yes, they agreed footfall and therefore revenue was down at their properties in Surrey on the RideLondon-Surrey day, but they strongly believe that the huge publicity and longer term impact this has on visitor numbers to Surrey, far outweighs a dip in business on one day of the year. And cycling is seen as one of their key ways to get people out and enjoying the countryside. In response to a comment on Twitter or text that was read out from a lady who said she no longer visits Box Hill due to having to navigate the huge numbers of cyclists, the NT stated that their figures did not show this was a common view with visitor numbers overall largely unchanged.
The guy from BC summed it up nicely at the end when he said yes, some people will be inconvenienced, but it’s for the greater good of the people taking part (in reference to the RideLondon-Surrey).
There is a reasonable point here which is that Sportives place large numbers of cyclists onto the roads and there is currently no coordination of events or regulations for those running them. Now I do agree there should be some coordination of events in Surrey as there can be days when several large events operate in a similar area. There should also be guidelines for the people who run the events, particularly in terms of briefing riders in road etiquette, with regard to some of the actual roads used for the big events, littering and removal of signage after the event.
The petition by Ian Huggins receives far too much attention in my opinion and it is certainly disproportionate to his support base. At the time of writing, his petition has 3,024 signatories. Let’s compare that to the number of people who have applied to participate in the RideLondon-Surrey Classic in 2014 – 80,000 in 4 weeks. Or let’s compare that to the population of Surrey which was 1.135 million as of the last census in 2011. Or maybe let’s just compare that to the number of people who have signed the counter-petition – 3,631 signatories at the time of writing. That’s a bit of a blow, Mr Huggins.
Road tax wasn’t mentioned once! That’s right, the message seems to have finally got home.
Surrey CC & the National Trust are clearly well behind cycling.
Surrey CC are already signed up to the the RideLondon-Surrey for another 4 years.
Surrey Police have a DCC who is a former cyclist who understands the issues and is keen on cyclists behaving correctly on the roads.
BC made the point that 9/10 of their adult members are also drivers.
A new (to me anyway), worrying, argument that was mentioned a couple of times is that not all roads are suitable for bikes! Um, hang on a minute, last time I looked, and as the man from SUSTRANS pointed out, all roads are suitable bikes (except the obvious exceptions such as motorways). Some of the anti-cycling brigade seem to think bikes shouldn’t be allowed on single-track roads or country lanes because they get in the way of cars. I’m not making this up, people actually said words to this effect. Indeed, a lot of the anti-cycling points were framed against the unspoken assumption that the roads are for cars and cyclists are in the way.
Someone suggested all bikes should be registered – a ridiculously bureaucratic suggestion that solves what problem?
Drivers & elderly drivers are too scared to overtake cyclists or are intimidated by sharing the roads with cyclists. Um, I think these people need a re-test or should consider handing their license in if they are not competent enough to drive in an assured and safe manner.
Cyclists being blamed for spooking horses. Yes, cyclists can spook horses, as can cars, motorbikes and anything else that surprises them. IH seemed to say 3 horses had been spooked by cyclists and died, but he needs to cite his source for this statement. Most cyclists, like car drivers, will slow down an leave ample space when passing horses.
The Rest of the Strategy
Well the rest of the strategy, including proper infrastructure, health benefits, off-road cycling, getting children cycling and so on wasn’t really debated much except for a short time towards the end which was slightly disappointing as it is full of some rather promising ideas in a lot of these areas.
That’s about as much as I can remember – listen again online for the full debate: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01k5y0c
It was a useful debate, conducted in a calm and adult manner, although focused somewhat rather too much on the RideLondon and closed roads to start with. Some outrageous claims and numbers (with no evidence) were banded about by the anti-cycling brigade as well as the usual hearsay and 2nd hand stories about “lycra louts” that cyclists have, sadly, become accustomed to in this type of discussion.
What Surrey CC are trying to do is quite commendable, particularly if it results in a material improvement in road cycling infrastructure and increased participation levels.
Off-road cycling and mountain biking are in the strategy and, really, what could be safer than cycling in the countryside away from the traffic completely? It’s an area I feel should have more focus and money.
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