I’ve been arguing for some time that the challenge facing cycling campaigners is less a practical one of explaining the technical features of effective infrastructure, and more a campaign to change perceptions and attitudes. Politicians might be shallow and opportunistic, but they’re not so stupid that they couldn’t find out how to build decent segregated facilities if they really wanted to do that.
The problem is not that politicians don’t understand what works, but that they can’t, deep down, be bothered to do the job properly. They don’t think it’s important enough, and they don’t think there are enough votes in it (at the moment, they’re probably right, though some leadership might be nice).
It’s great being photographed on a bike because it makes people think you are a man of the people when you’re not. (Dave, George, Boris…) But still, no economically successful voter would really want to ride a bike seriously, would they?
Which is why I agree with most of Edmund King’s recent comments, that cycling has a serious perception problem, akin, in some ways (see caveats below) to racism. Edmund King is a very canny leader. No spittle-flecked road tax rants from him.
I’ve been meaning to write something along these lines for a while. News stories come up all the time which reveal the damage done to our collective wellbeing by the misconceived and disproportionate status given to the car:
To deal with this threat it’s not enough to point out where, pragmatically, the road lobby is wrong (although we do have to do that). We also have to neutralise the imagery and iconography of the car, to counter the huge weight of positive propaganda created by the advertising and political weight of the motor industry.
I’ve made a particular effort to avoid the Belgian Dardennes brothers’ films for over ten years, after a misspent evening watching Rosetta, one of the most eyeball-scratchingly pretentious ninety minutes of celluloid ever to give art cinema a bad name. (You can now see the whole thing on Youtube, you lucky things, without having to track down an arthouse cinema, as I did back in ’99.)
Veering between having no plot and a plot so abysmally contrived you wish they hadn’t bothered after all, it confirms every casual prejudice about serious French (and Belgian) cinema. Its sole purpose appears to be to enable the audience to cleanse its indulged soul of middle-class guilt with bizarre (the fishing scene is to die for) and extravagant fantasies of working-class misery.