(In homage to AsEasyAsRiding’s article about lazy cycling journalism…)
So you’re responsible for roads and transport in your borough, but you’ve got some pesky people want you to make a bit of effort to make cycling a nice thing to do in your area.
But you can’t be bothered, so here’s some great money-saving techniques to keep the car number one in your area:
1) Have lots of documents
When you’re consulting people, you need to recognise that most of those interested in where they live also try to hold down a full time job. You can make sure they don’t really know what’s going on by having lots of things they need to read, in order to understand what really is going on, or what is planned.
2) Make them lengthy
If you’ve not succeeded in putting them off with the sheer number of documents, make sure each of them is lengthy. Richmond’s “Local Improvement Plan” is a good example – all 125 pages of it.
3) Refer to other policies which are also lengthy
See (1) above – there’s bound to be some twaddle the DfT has thought up, or the mayor’s office (if you’re a London borough). This is a good example, from version two of Richmond’s LIP:
When adding information like this, make sure it manages to look relevant enough that someone feels the need to read it. To really taunt them, don’t bother including links, or any obvious hint where you might find the information.
5) Be unclear about who wins when you’ve got competing remits
So, using the diagram above, what would you do if they all said different things about cycling provision? Well, obviously you’d do whatever you wanted to do in the first place, because one of the documents would probably support it. The key point here, is that you can talk about how all these policies ‘feed in’, ‘support’, ‘influence’ whatever you want to do.
As an example, Richmond Council’s just finished consulting on the Twickenham Area Action Plan. But Richmond has its own little ‘villages’, all of whom are busy consulting and have their own action plans, and there’s the mayor’s directives for London transport, there’s what TfL wants to do, and so on. How to decide which one to follow? You don’t care, because no-one else will be able to read all the verbiage available on the subject.
6) Talk about consultation, whether you’re going to do it or not
Obviously, you care about what people think about your plans, because it’s the easiest way to fob off your naysayers, if you can find someone to agree with you. The Twickenham Plan has a great selection on this, if you dare to download the 12Mb PDF which discusses all the various consultations undertaken.
The great thing about most of these consultations is that someone always summarises the feedback, and it tends to be then added into a massive document like the one above. Best of all, you can make sure that you ask the right questions: don’t ask them, for example “Would you like to be able to cycle in a fully segregated facility”, ask them “Do you agree with the council’s plan to include time-based,non-mandatory cycling provision on key routes?”
7) Talk about how budgets come from different places, and you need to ring fence particular budgets
The key here is that unless someone’s a keen council, or a council official, they’ll have no idea what section 106 money is, nor will they be overly interested in the minutiae of how funding is acquired. So don’t forget to talk about ‘matched funding’, while not stating whether or not the amount you’ve talked about includes the proposed matched funds or not.
8) Make sure you say something aspirational about cycling numbers without any specific plans to address those aspirations
So you want more people to cycle, and it’s good to have some numbers. How about “a 40% increase on current numbers”? 40% sounds good, and for anyone not fairly on top of their maths, it’s not obvious that you’re talking about cycling rising from 5% to 7% modal share in eight years (see para 31.iv).
Now you’ve gone with this, you’ve got a problem: if cycling goes up from 5% to 7% then you have a couple of options: have more journeys overall, but make most of them cycling; have the same number of journeys, but try to persuade fewer people to drive; or just don’t bother fussing the drivers, and cut walking and bus trips, so you can have cycling up its numbers.
Easiest of all, though: just don’t bother talking about it. Give ’em the figures, and gas on about how much you rock.
9) Remember your Victorian infrastructure
Any fule know that because of the way the Victorians built our entire country, it’s quite impossible to fit useful infrastructure in for cyclists without it all going wrong. (You can see a discussion on the subject here.) The key thing is that most of your audience aren’t traffic engineers or architects, they just tend to have a general view that if the Dutch and Danes can do it, then we bloody well should be able to, as well.
10) As a last resort, talk about what someone else is doing
You may be a luddite, but you can rest assured that there’s usually someone out there who is making an even better fist of doing less, while producing more hot air at the same time. In Richmond, for example, we have lots of poor ‘infrastructure, like this. But that’s fine, because other boroughs in London do even worse, so we can still look down our noses at them.
And two backup options:
11. Have someone else do the work
You’ve done some talking about all this cycling stuff, but it’s all effort. Why not have all your schools produce extensive travel plans, which analyse how pupils and staff get to school, and what the school is going to do to make those numbers better. The joy of this is that you’ve had to do nothing except tell the schools to do the work.
And if you’re Richmond, you’ll quickly get to the stage where you don’t even bother collating the results that come back from the schools, after 2010. (See ‘Journey trends’ on this page.)
12. Pick the right type of cycling
Remember at all times that Britain is great at track and competitive cycling, so that’s always a good subject to approach: it’s what people know and, best of all, your audience’s lack of familiarity with high quality infrastructure means that they have no idea what you can really do with some proper design. If you start talking about people cycling to school, doing their shopping or – heaven forbid – children cycling generally – you’ll probably have to talk about safety. And you don’t want to be doing that, because you believe that cycling is safe, because you can’t count.