Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fit/Fat and Cycles (and Caroline)

The Government wants us all to take more exercise. Too many of us are obese. Caroline Flint - looking rather fine here - is the Health Minister responsible for this initiative which will encourage people to make “small changes” to their lives in order to improve their fitness. John Humphreys on the Today programme asks Flint, vis-a-vis Gordon Brown, John Reid, and John Prescott: “What are you going to do about them?” He also asks if the Government is going to ban ads for junk food targeted at children (Flint waffles about some “consultation exercise” underway). Are they going to require trains to provide adequate space for bicycles? Are they going to stop selling school playing fields? Are they hell. Earlier John Grimshaw of Sustrans (they have a web-site) calls the Department of Transport the “Department of Sedentary Affairs”. He argues that walking and cycling are regarded as secondary forms of transport and that everything is geared to the car. He’s right about that. Politaholic is a cyclist and is fed-up with inter alia: cycle paths that suddenly come an end after a few hundred yards throwing me onto a main road; cycle paths used as a convenient parking space by cars requiring me to use the road; motorists who overtake and turn left almost knocking me off my bike (I was once knocked off by a bin lorry and if I hadn’t been wearing a cycle helmet I would have been killed: I was in the cycle lane at the time); motorists who empty ash-trays or throw fish-and-chip papers out of the window, which ends up in my face; motorists who open their car door and step into the road without looking; motorists who beep their horn or scream foul abuse because at a particular point the road isn’t wide enough for them to overtake, so they have to wait a few seconds before they can do so; motorists who simply don't give cyclists enough space and tryy to force them into the gutter or off the road; children and teenagers who jeer and shout through an open window as they drive by, their parent sitting contentedly in the driving seat; and, of course, the ubiquitous broken glass. I recently went to Norway on a cycling holiday. There is no train linking Newcastle railway station to the ferry terminal. Cycles are not permitted on buses. To get to the ferry it is necessary to cycle. It isn’t far – about 8 miles – but it is a very unpleasant and dangerous ride along a main road. Once in Norway the cycling is tough. But it is possible to take your bicycle onto a bus (it costs a child’s fare although often they don’t bother to charge). I was able to get a bus from Bergen to Voss with bicycle. The bus-driver, a helpful, civilised human being (yes, I know, a bus-driver!) helped me stow my bicycle in the luggage compartment, and helped me get it out at the end of the journey. In this country the Government and most local authorities are simply not serious about this. Most cycle paths have clearly been designed by people who have never ridden a bicycle. Cycles can’t be taken on buses. Trains only have room for two bicycles (they don’t have a guards van anymore). The local authorities think all they have to do is paint a green stripe down the side of a road and say “Hey, look how Green we are!” The truth is they do not want to do anything that will upset motorists (“Middle England”). All this talk about getting fit is hypocritical twaddle until such time as they are prepared to treat such things as cycle paths seriously. The same goes for ads for junk food, school playing fields, etc. Getting Flint to talk twaddle is no substitute.


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