SPORT: On the Road Bikes

As the Olympics kicks off, not everyone thinks the two-week London lockdown and corporate gameshow is worth the money. Ben Brangwyn aka Dr Bike puts a spoke in the wheel:

The Olympic velodrome in London cost £93 million, and that’s not counting its fair share of the rest of the infrastructure needed to support it – roads, security, IT, parking spaces, enhanced traffic control, maintenance, marketing, heat and light.

This is cycling in the narrowest sense possible, catering for an elite (and admittedly highly talented) set of athletes riding bikes that wouldn’t last five minutes on the potholed roads of London.

What if that £93 million had been spent on cycling in the broadest sense? What could for example, Sustrans, have done with £93 million?

Well, I have firsthand experience of that. When I was between tech jobs in the 90’s in Bristol, I volunteered for the cycling charity, Sustrans. I helped their finance guy put a spreadsheet together to manage their eye-wateringly massive “Millennium Commission” grant. But it wasn’t £93 million, it was around half that –  just over £40 million.

In the right hands, that kind of money can go a long long way. 5000 miles to be exact.

Sustrans used that cash to build the first 5000 miles of the National Cycle Network, partnering up with enlightened local authorities. They hit their target, incredibly, and the National Cycle Network has gone from strength to strength, carrying hundreds of millions of people and snaking 13,000 miles around the UK. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably spun a few miles along one or more of them.

Sustrans are developing cycling from the ground up making it accessible to all. It’s the exact opposite of the velodrome, which is developing cycling for an elite group with an expectation of some future trickle down, which may or may not happen. Sure, the intention is stated on their website that “after the Olympics, a new mountain bike course and road-cycle circuit will be added to create a VeloPark for the local community, sports clubs and elite athletes. It will include a café, bike hire and cycle workshop facilities, helping to make London the cycling capital of the world.“ But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

And even if it does get built, how much difference will it make to London’s sustainability and general transportation challenges? And what’s the subliminal message for spending all that money on these facilities? I think it’s very car-centric – “keep your bikes in the bike park and off the road”.

Give me Sustrans’ message any day – “make your bike a part of your daily life and we’ll give you a whole chunk of road to move around safely on”.

Trickle down vs bottom up? No contest in my opinion.

After his inner eco-warrior wrenched him forcibly from his career in hi-tech industry, Ben Brangwyn concluded that Transition was by far the most attractive of the potential futures he could imagine. And so he set about trying to make that a reality, co-founding the Transition Network on a wing and a prayer (to Gaia). Since then, he’s been on something of a wild ride and is enjoying almost every minute.

Image: Ben as Dr Bike in Totnes Market.

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