Why long-term campaigning works: spotlight on cycling
2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of the London 7/7 tube bombings, a terrible tragedy but which had the unexpected side effect of increasing the number of people cycling to work in London. Many will have reverted back to the tube having experienced riding a bike on the capital’s roads is perhaps not as expected. Overall though, we’ve seen a steady increase of cycle commuters, to the point that bikes now outnumber motor vehicles on some London bridges during rush hour.
Over the last 10 years, Forster has consistently promoted cycling in various guises and hues. We’ve managed the PR campaign for Bike Week for the past seven years, been working to promote Cyclescheme for the last 18 months, helped London Cycling Campaign to create the “Love London, Go Dutch” campaign for the last London mayoral elections, developed cycle safety campaigns for the Department for Transport’s Think! road-safety programme, delivered projects for CTC and Sustrans nationally and promoted cycling in Exeter and Worcester amongst other places. We even developed a shared-use campaign for the pedestrians and cyclists using canal paths managed by the Canal and River Trust in London. It is fair to say that, as an agency, cycling is an area we are strong on, not least because we practice what we preach in our own cycling policies and practice as an employer.
It would be easy to sit back and reflect with pride on what we have done on cycling in the last decade, to praise ourselves for the small role we have played in increasing the number of people on bikes. But the unfortunate truth is we made very little difference on a national level.
While commuter cycling in a small number of cities like London and Bristol is currently growing, cycling as a modal share of all UK journeys has flat-lined over the last decade , and a number of individual blogging cycling campaigners have tirelessly reiterated that stubborn fact over the last ten years and reminded everyone that real change needs real vision and commitment from many.
Bloggers such as David Hembrow , Mark Ames , Danny Williams , the no-longer-active-but-not-forgotten Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest, along with numerous others have consistently called for proper commitment and investment in cycling. The last 10 years has seen cycling advocates hold government and others to account time and again when what they actually deliver falls so short of what was promised (e.g. London’s “Cycling Superhighways”), bringing the debate back to what is really needed to meet the vision of getting more people of every kind onto bikes in all parts of the capital, as well as other towns and cities in the UK.
In London certainly, and perhaps in other parts of the country like Manchester, the realisation of the cycling advocates’ vision is creeping slowly closer. London looks like it’s finally going to get some international standard cycling infrastructure with the TFL Crossrail for Bikes project, with other places looking to follow suit. Thanks in part to the Times’s Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, we are closing in on a real commitment from the three main political parties to proper, long term investment in cycling rather than yet more empty platitudes. The world has turned, just a bit – what seemed outrageous and impossible when many of the cycle campaigners first started blogging about investing in cycling properly, now seems possible and even probable. There have been many steps forward and back, blind alleys explored in the time since, and no doubt plenty more to negotiate in the next 10 years. What will thankfully stay constant is the commitment to a vision by campaigners.
If you are embarking on a campaign that seems vanishingly distant from the current mainstream view, take heart from what is happening (and will hopefully keep happening) around cycling, and gird your loins for a long but hopefully fruitful journey.