posted 5 years ago

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Guest article by writer and cyclist Carlton Reid

Take a long hard look at the photograph above. That’s your future. Can’t see yourself as one of those on a bicycle? In that case you’ll be the one stuck behind them in your car.

Cities are back in fashion and pretty much all of the experts agree that most people on this finite planet of ours will be living cheek by city jowl with many others within a generation. The urban motorway, like Watney’s Red Barrel, is a relic of the 1970s. There will be no new roads bulldozed through any British city. We’ve got to sweat the existing assets and that means squeezing a growing number of people down the same highways. No city on earth believes the answer to future mobility is more cars. Whether you like it or not, the future will see ever greater restrictions on the use of privately owned motor cars in central business districts.

Using a car to get into the centre of a British city is like using a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut. It wouldn’t be so bad if the one-tonne SUVs tootling around were carrying the seven people they’re designed to carry but more often than not they’re transporting just a solo driver. This is an enormous waste of precious resources. Petrol might be getting cheaper but city rents aren’t. Land is scarce making it expensive, yet so much of it has been given over to slow-moving lumps of metal that take up inordinate amounts of costly city space per human traveller. Now, this is a motoring website, so where’s the twist? There isn’t one. Consider this a reality check. In your future, and in mine too, there will be fewer facilities for travelling everywhere by car. The nooks and crannies are already slowly being closed off to motor cars, and the generous number of carriageways will also be slowly reduced. Roadspace reallocation will be done stealthily – just as frogs don’t jump out of water boiled from cold, you may not notice until it’s too late. In fact, such “filtered permeability” for users other than private motor cars has been happening for some years but at such an under-the-radar level it may have passed you by.

Cities are in the business of prosperity and, with expanding populations, it will become clearer and clearer that the most efficient ways of getting around the city are also the most profitable ways. Look at Manchester and Edinburgh – they’ve reintroduced trams, taking space away from motorists. Look at London, it’s got a £1bn plan to create dedicated space for cyclists, taking space away from motorists. To move masses of people cities are recognising they need new ways of thinking. The future may eventually drip with high-tech but it’s probably not driverless-cars high tech, the real saviours of city mobility will be ultra-efficient public transport, buses, trains and trams, and ultra-efficient private transport – the bicycle.

I’ll be discussing all of this in a new book, Bike Boom. This is currently blowing past its funding goal on Kickstarter (cycling is booming, see). Granted, not everybody has a bicycle-shaped future but today’s motorists still have every incentive to encourage cycling. Bicycle advocates have an ungrammatical, but pithy, phrase for this: One Less Car. For every person who ditches the car for travelling to work/school/college and gets on a bicycle instead there’s more room on the road for those motorists remaining. Instead of demonising cyclists, or shouting “get off the road” at them, motorists should be love-bombing them with as much infrastructure as they can eat.

Want to climb out of the boiling water but don’t want to ditch the car completely? Buy a folding bike and keep it in the boot. Park on the outskirts of the city and cycle the rest of the way in. You’ll save a fortune in parking charges, burn off a spare tyre’s worth of blubber, and get to appointments on time for a change.

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Carlton Reid is the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, a history book about motoring and cycling. It has been #1 in the automotive category on Amazon.com’s Kindle store.