Pro-Cycling vs. Anti-Car

Friday, 1st May 2009 at 8:00 UTC 4 comments

All being well, today sees the return of the Critical Mass Bike Ride to York’s streets, just after London Critical Mass celebrated its 15th Birthday. One of the most common accusations against Critical Mass is that its dominated by people who are anti-car, rather than, I suppose, pro-Cycling. But what of the difference, and why the taboo?

The whole “I’m not anti-car” rhetoric some use to turn down invites to Critical Mass is something which I entirely fail to understand. After all, for all its being used to justify too much with too little care being paid to the fine details, scientific data around Climate Change clearly states that burning fossil fuels is wreckless and is contributing to humanity’s self-destruction. Ergo, driving a vehicle powered by oil should be considered something environmentalists oppose.

But the thing with cars is that they take so much carbon to make them. This tends to startle people but the figure for lifetime carbon emissions for a car still on a garage forecourt waiting to be sold is generally quoted at 25 tons. That’s like your personal carbon allowance for 2030 x 25!

The idea that somehow the electric car will save us pales towards the ridiculous when put into this perspective. One of the biggest problems I have with these electric cars I keep seeing in Central London, much as I’m glad people are doing something, is that they’re 2 seat cars generally. So basically, they’re even more likely to be driven “single occupancy” than most other cars.

And the hydrogen car, which is just pure science fiction. It might one day be possible to build such a car, but it will not be possible to do so with significant emissions cuts. Either we cover the whole of the Earth in solar panels just so we can drive, or we use natural gas to get the hydrogen. As my geekier friends would say “epic fail”!

If we are to adequately solve the transportation side of climate change, there are few things clearer than this: that individuals without extremely good reason should not be allowed to use personal powered transport. Either you bike it, or you take public transport.

Yes, this means public transport needs to improve, but this cannot be done along the lines of pro-bike policies. Eventually push must come to shove and people must actually be encouraged out of their cars as well as onto bikes and in to buses. But the problem we then hit is that buses aren’t that great either. They’re really great for the immobile, but what pisses me off is seeing a hundred able bodied students waiting for the Number 4 to town from campus. Bikes people!

Yes, there’s the worry people will start seeing bikes as fashion items (which they already are for some people) and what with them being quite cheap lots of people will start owning multiple bikes. We really can’t afford for everyone to have more than a good bike and a back-up bike. But at the same time, car ownership has to drop, and cars have to be disposed of as safely as they can be (not terribly easy).

This brings me to perhaps the most controversial thing I find I can say in this situation: that once car ownership significantly drops and people stop taking selfish car rides, we shall be able to reduce the number of junctions with traffic lights in our cities. This means exactly what it says: that the inconvenience cyclists face when having to stop at traffic lights is not down to them, it is down to car drivers, who generate such dangers as to require their imposition.

Recently my city’s “Cycling Champion” quit in a huff over a set of road improvements designed to give better priority to drivers, stating he felt the city had become too anti-car. What? How? His job is to champion cycling as a better alternative to car driving, isn’t it? Surely the role is to cut the number of car journeys being taken in the city in favour of cycling. Which, in a city with such finite space and horrific single-street pollution levels as this one, is inevitably going to require anti-car words and deeds.

But I don’t think this is just a problem caused by giving a Tory the job of Cycling Champion. Its a problem of living in a world where everyone must know the answer to the question, and yet no one dares to speak it for fear of becoming an outcast. We can’t solve Climate Change by going out for a quick bike ride once we’ve driven home from work. We have to communicate a need to stop driving, be that through changes to road layout, or campaigns around the public consciousness. Its not that our politicians need more spine, its that we all do!


Entry filed under: Climate Change, Cycling, Development, Energy, Environment, Sustainability, Technology.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Friday, 1st May 2009 at 15:14 UTC

    Woah there! Slow down a bit! Obviously cars= bad for the environment (along with just about every other bit of Western culture, and arguably, humans) but perhaps some consideration needs to be given to those who are less able-bodied than you.

  • 2. Greg  |  Monday, 4th May 2009 at 18:36 UTC

    I’ve replied to you over at but additionally, I’m not convinced about your point about traffic lights. It’s been consistently found that operators are more aware in a congested environment where perception of danger is high: enitre gliding clubs have safely shared one thermal, but the only two gliders in a different thermal have collided. A submarine has collided with a bicycle (on a south coast beach, I think) and I was run over on an otherwise empty road. Fewer cars could mean that the remaining drivers take less care, which would be doubly dangerous for the new, exposed cyclists. Only a test will tell, though.

  • 3. robertjessetelford  |  Monday, 4th May 2009 at 21:58 UTC

    With you 100% Graham.

    I’ve made the lifelong commitment to not drive.

    Others should too.

  • 4. John cooper  |  Thursday, 7th May 2009 at 13:39 UTC

    I’m afraid your wrong re the Hydrogen car – it’s a goin up in Shetland and was featured on ‘Coast’ a few years ago!

    All in all good post though

    With Regards


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