Marcus Atkinson, Business Engagement Manager and School Green Team member considers how moves to make our streets more cycle friendly has sparked debate.
According to certain corners of Twitter, pop up cycle lanes are destroying the very fabric of society, civilization is hanging by a gossamer and democratic institutions are about to fall into the hands of Lycra clad fanatics.
I know this, because I read the introduction of a petition to close the A24 pop up cycle lane in Worthing, West Sussex. Over 8,000 people were spurred into signing it. It spurred me into a depression.
Luckily, getting around on two wheels is a proven pick-me-up, so I jumped on my bike and peddled over to the offending piece of repurposed tarmac.
At the start of the cycle lane, endorphins had already kicked in and I couldn’t help but crack a smile that broadened into a grin, just as the narrow 1.5m cycle lane broadened to take over one whole lane of the dual carriageway.
I cycled along feeling like a king of the road. Ahead I saw a dad and daughter cycling side by side happily chatting away. What a glorious moment, I thought, I must bring my six and eight year-old kids to cycle here too. Endorphins eh?
I immediately rushed home to set up a counter petition in praise of all pop-up cycle lanes. I’ll show them. We’ll soon have 10,000 signatories in favour.
Sure enough, as I shared across social media the petition quickly picked up a healthy following and was soon, well, nowhere near the other petition. Cars 1, Cycles, 0.
I didn’t let that get me down. After all, my petition put me head to head with its rival, a fact soon picked up by the local media.
Out of the blue, I received an invitation to interview, live, at 08:45am, on BBC Radio Sussex Breakfast show. I’d accidentally become an advocate of local cycling infrastructure. Only, I didn’t really know anything about it.
Pouring over the internet I dredged armfuls of facts and statistics to counter any anti-cycling adversary. I even set up a Twitter account to test my arguments, but on Twitter my facts were ignored, denied, derided, said to be cooked up by the anti-car cabal who are clearly intent on nothing but the destruction of capitalism. That was not what I had expected.
Facts, it seemed, are useless in this emotionally heated argument, only serving to bind me into one side of the argument, where everyone believes answers are straightforward. This left little room to uncover common ground and appreciate the complexities of something as complex as our travel infrastructure. And so I re-learnt a very simple lesson. Listen first. Ask questions. Understand what others find to be the problem and what they would prefer. Look for the common ground on which to build understanding and a consensus.
Well, back to the dad and daughter. I am so glad I saw you both happily cycling along the A 24 cycle lane, happily chatting. That is, simply, all that we want, a safe space to cycle with our children. And that’s hard to argue against. Cars 0, Cycles 100.