For years European cities have been pointed to as the model for bicycle enthusiasts – with accommodating laws, conscientious drivers and plenty of keen cyclists.
And for almost as long a period of time, many in Britain have been trying to increase cycling levels, for many reasons – for health, decongesting the roads and causing less pollution.
But while we continue to be weighed down by blame-apportioning arguments between motorists and cyclists – see letters pages of The News on a regular basis – other countries have joined the northern European benchmarks of Holland and Denmark in promoting cycling.
Germany set a target of 15 per cent of journeys being made by bicycle by 2020, and looks like it will easily exceed that, showing that where there is a political will, there is a way.
Britain, although sporadically enthused by cycling – after the Olympics or the Tour de France – sees little progress in promoting cycling. London’s Boris bikes and new cycle lanes are an exception, and have seen cycling increase in the capital, but the rest of the country sees little or no action.
As Jon Spencer from Portsmouth Cycle Forum says today, repeating that Portsmouth is an ideal two-wheeled city has become a cliche. But, while risking a hackneyed phrase, let’s state it again: a flat, compact city, and one in which no point is more than a 30-minute bike trip away.
However, despite calls from many quarters – including from this column over the years – little has been achieved. For every good cycle path, such as the off-road Eastern Road route, there are 10-metre stretches of green tarmac on major roads that do more harm than good in terms of hazards.
Germany and London show that progress can be made. This is not about privileging cyclists over motorists, and nor is it to excuse the anti-social way in which some cyclists ignore traffic lights, ride in darkness without lights, and so on. That’s wrong and always will be. What should be recognised is that cycling could improve this city for everyone who lives here.
It would be a refreshing change to see some action.