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Why cycling will only ever be a minority activity

Roger Lawson Campaign director The Alliance of British Drivers Chislehurst BR7
14 September 2018

The pastiche of history by your correspondent Brian Dalton was very amusing, but it cannot stand as the truth of why cycling fell out of favour in the UK (Letters LTT 31 Aug). 

To suggest it was Hitler’s fault might be true in the sense that it meant continentals moved to using cycles during the war and continued long afterwards while the British took up motoring in a big way. The latter was not, however, because our love of motor cars was instigated by the Americans driving around in Jeeps. It was simply that the UK economy recovered rapidly after the war and in the fifties and sixties we produced cars relatively cheaply. We “never had it so good” as Prime Minister Macmillan said and the UK also became a major world car manufacturer.

That meant that my father could give up his bike to get to work and buy his first car – a cheap second-hand one of course. Meanwhile, continental economies were still recovering and taxes in some countries on cars and petrol were high. 

Perhaps my father also preferred to get out of the cold and rain and be able to travel further while using less personal energy and in relative safely. His past enthusiasm for motorcycling also faded into history because a car can carry passengers – such as a wife and children like me.

It is not because of a failure of Government that cycling fell into decline and remains so in most of the country apart from some isolated exceptions such as London. It was simply a rational choice of transport mode by the population. Only in London where we have had car-hating fanatics such as Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan and cycling enthusiasts such as Boris Johnson as mayors have such politicians managed to distort the natural economics that decides on the prevalent transport modes. 

Improved public transport helped somewhat in London but only the young and impecunious will put up with the conditions on London Underground and buses. Private hire vehicle usage is ramping up as people hate the overcrowding on trains and the slow progress of buses.

The 1996 National Cycling Strategy did not fail because of a lack of Government support. It was simply that local authorities faced up to the reality that cycling was in decline and for very good reasons. For example, the only time I have been injured in a road traffic accident after 50+ years of driving was when I was knocked off my cycle at the age of 16 by an errant motorcyclist. 

I decided it was better to own a car at that point, which I bought at the age of 18 at a cost of £25. Similarly the only death in my school class was when one boy cycled into the back of a stationary vehicle. No doubt my experience and choice was mirrored in lots of other people. That is why cycling is still a minority choice of transport mode and always will be.

Perhaps with a bit more experience all the enthusiastic young cyclists we see at present will change their views in due course and stop trying to impose their enthusiasm on the rest of us

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