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What will Britain’s roads look like in 2022?

20 December 2012

This Christmas marks the close of a year which has seen cycling at the heart of an unprecedented wave of national celebration. The first English Tour de France winner and eight cycling gold medals at London 2012 were undoubtedly highlights. We’ve also seen the Mayor of London pledge to double spending on cycling infrastructure in the capital to £268 million by 2015. Projects in the pipeline include a new Jubilee footbridge in south-west London, which will facilitate a new hub of cycling traffic between Chelsea and Battersea.

But such a successful year has not been without its controversies. A trio of post-Olympic accidents involving Bradley Wiggins, team GB cycling coach Shane Sutton and Mark Cavendish redirected attention back towards the more unsettling dangers that accompany everyday cycling in the UK.

I recently watched the curious documentary aired on primetime BBC One: War on Britain’s Roads. Whilst, as a cyclist, I admit that I did find the programme entertaining, and moving in parts, I was left with an acute feeling that its purpose was deliberately skewed, or confused at best. Interspersed with dramatic close up interviews, much of the footage consisted of a series of flinch-inducing ‘crash shots’. These were clearly intended to play rather crassly to the more sadistic nature of the viewing public, instead of being used to demonstrate any purposeful argument.

One point that is often overlooked, especially by documentaries such as War on Britain’s Roads, is that the vast majority of all road users are sensible and cautious, even if there are always some exceptions. This problem is bound to a more fundamental point – for all the improvements aimed at increasing cycling safety in inner cities, our modern urban environment simply wasn’t designed to cope with the number of cyclists and motorists currently seen.

Whilst increased funding will see cyclist numbers rise and conditions improve, the feud with motorists will continue until we see a more radical approach in urban planning – one which reflects cycling’s ascendancy on a national and global scale. This isn’t a question of painting another narrow cycle path on an existing main road, but one which rethinks the nature of the current urban landscape and its incompatibility with emerging travelling and population trends.

There’s a sense amongst many that the most drastic overhauls to cycling in the UK are yet to come. Early next year will see a parliamentary inquiry into cycle safety. This will be followed by a report from leading academic on transport policy Phil Goodwin, who champions the theory of ‘peak car’. This posits that car use is undergoing decline and that urban spaces should be designed for alternate forms of transportation as a result.

The year 2012 has seen a vast change in public perceptions of cycling. It’s difficult but exciting to predict how drastically this shift will manifest itself in the aesthetic make up of our streets and cities, and whether cyclists will continue to be perceived with such levels of controversy and animosity in ten years’ time.