Whether we like it or not we are in transition. Our planet is teetering precariously on a resource cliff. And as the most intelligent species on this planet, this is our fault. Climate change is caused by our emissions and even the milder transition scenarios are catastrophic. We must direct change or change will overtake us.
Our current transport system has much to answer for. The fight is on, and the gloves are coming off. If we cycled like the Danes, on their fantastic cycleways, we could reduce our total emissions by up to 10% when short journeys are transferred from car to cycle.
On this side of the North Sea, our north east cities are running on empty. They’re becoming lifeless places, clogged with infuriating traffic jams, chaotic bus systems and dangerous cycling conditions. Exhaust-choked footpaths are rendered useless by parked cars and prolific railings. Space in our cities is at a premium, bringing cyclists, pedestrians and motorists into daily conflict. Clean air is in high demand, but difficult to find. Noise pollution is ubiquitous.
And yet for some, cycling remains a dirty word. And I think I can understand why that is. New solutions and veering from the status quo are scary and can make people frightened and angry. Furthermore, an uninformed, prejudiced, discriminating and hateful anti-cycling rhetoric has been allowed to develop over decades, fuelled by local authorities that either stand still or peddle old-fashioned and failed transport ideas.
As a cyclist, I’ve discovered a breed of cycle-skeptics who simply hate cyclists for cycling. These people, just like climate change deniers, are so blinded by their anger and fear of small changes in lifestyle that they cannot see the solution – even if it were tattooed to the back of their hands.
When I meet these skeptics, this is what I usually say: If you really want better motoring conditions, join in the call for better cycleways as this will reduce the number of cars on the roads, tackle traffic jams and make for a much smoother journey for all. And trust me, once these cycleways are built, there is a good chance you will have become a cyclist yourself.
It is vital that conversations and debates about future transport are nurtured, and alternative scenarios are aired, grounded in evidence and led by policy. With the Newcastle Cycling Campaign we’ve started the conversation about city transport policies and we’ve applauded decision-makers when they’ve proposed alternative scenarios.
Now Newcastle is leading by example and beginning to place real emphasis on building protected cycleways. The current focus is on the creation of a safe north-south route into the city centre, linking through Gosforth and Jesmond, but taking cyclists as far as Wideopen. In Tynemouth and Whitley Bay there are plans to build protected cycleway so that children can cycle in safety and comfort to school. Other cities in the region, such as Durham, are beginning to take cycling more seriously too .
The tectonic plates of local government are beginning to move and policies are in place. Yet we’ve found implementation to be severely lacking. Where are the politicians who are willing and able to take charge and promote their policies of paradigm shift? In moments of transition hard choices have to be made and leadership is needed.
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