London Bicycle Film Festival panel write up. How can we get more people cycling?

Panel LBFF.jpg

Photo courtesy of Alex White (@AlexAlexjwhite)

The eternal question.

I chaired a panel of excellent speakers on Saturday at the London Bicycle Film Festival, under the title ‘Are we born or made cyclists’.

With me were Dr Rachel Aldred (Westminster University, Near Miss Project), Erik Tetteroo (APPM), Cllr Clyde Loakes (Waltham Forest Council), Fran Graham (LCC), Louise Gold (Sustrans London), and Caspar Hughes (Rollapalluza, Stop Killing Cyclists, etc).

Almost everyone introduced themselves by saying how they’d got into cycling and/or advocacy, why they are passionate about it, as well as the issues in their areas, and how they relate to the question. I think it’s good to remember we all do this because we love it.

We then discussed how to improve diversity in cycling, and the answer was largely ‘safe infrastructure that normalises cycling, by making it feel safe and comfortable’, as well as specific events and spaces to empower women and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to cycle.

Louise Gold asked everyone to close their eyes and think of a cyclist. Of course a man in Lycra popped into everyone’s thoughts, unbidden. Louise said if we want more people cycling, we need to stop talking about ‘cyclists’. To get more people on bikes, who don’t already cycle, behaviour change needs to be core to every cycling project, she said. Louise managed the award-winning Marks Gate Community Street Design project, of which community engagement was a key part.

Erik Tetteroo showed us clips from two films, Why We Cycle, and Turkish Delight. He said in the Netherlands people who cycle one day drive the next, which means there’s less ‘us and them’ than in the UK.

Rachel Aldred reminded us the happiest commuters are those who cycle. She mentioned a favourite ginger cat she sees on her daily commute, which I’m sure many of us can relate to (the fact of the cat, not necessarily the cat itself). She said cycling needs to be seen not as an individualistic pursuit, that you need special skills and determination to do, but one that’s treated as mass transport, for everyone.

Future of bike shops

One audience member asked about the future of bike shops, given the rise of online retailing. Clyde Loakes said new bike shops have opened up in Waltham Forest since the Mini Holland infrastructure went in, because more people cycling means more demand. He made the case that people like him, who don’t want to, or don’t have time to fix their own bikes will always need shops to carry out repairs, give advice, etc. I believe ebikes are one potential saviour of the bike industry as they cater to non-cyclists, as car replacements. Fran Graham said local bike shops can do more to be more inclusive.

Pedal to the metal?

Another asked about the glacial pace of change in cycling investment and growth, which really got (already passionate) people livened up. Caspar spoke of the urgency of action, given the recent IPCC report, that says we’ve 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe and the fact transport is a huge contribution to carbon emissions, and said, in the absence of government action cycling campaigners can learn from the Extinction Rebellion, in terms of peaceful direct action. He cited Bank junction protests as an example of effective pressure bringing about change on the roads.

Clyde Loakes said we need to be less afraid of taking away driving licenses from people who endanger, injure and kill on our roads. He spoke of the importance of taking communities along with you on journeys to reduce car traffic, and to talk about active travel and street space, not just cycling - he and his colleagues learned that the hard way.

Overreaction and mapping

He also revealed someone threatened to go on hunger strike over parking loss on Lea Bridge Road, where the council is building a cycle superhighway. He contrasted it with the silence that greets councils losing millions from their social care budgets. Parking is uniquely bonkers - people feel the parking space outside their home is their property. He believes cycling and walking improvements will be led by councils, not central government, and urged people to talk to their councillors.

We had a question about mapping - how to find good routes in London. There’s no good answer to that yet, but TfL is making its mapping data available at some point soon, according to Rachel Aldred.

I may have missed some bits - chairing means you can’t take lots of notes - but hopefully this is a decent enough overview. I came away, if anything, with a renewed sense of urgency around action to tackle transport’s contribution to climate change.