Well, it’s been over a year now since Darlington Borough Council was awarded £5.74m to develop new sustainable transport initiatives. What have we got for our tax money?
A fine cycle path along West Auckland Road was already being built anyway, and is spoilt by the fact that at every road crossing, cyclists must give way to cars. There is the Local Motion campaign, with lots of hype and PR and, more usefully, door-to-door visits of local people, trying to help them change their travel habits.
Then there is the Pedestrian Heart, a building site at the moment, but with the promise of??? Cyclists, already ignored by road engineers during the building phase (where do cyclists go, for god’s sake?), will be given 6 months to prove that we are all angels, after which (since all humans are not angels) we will be banned from using our bikes there.
We are promised a number of new cycle paths, but there is no plan to join any of them up into a proper set of complete, safe, cycle routes. The nearest we have got to this is unsafe, on-road, “advised” routes.
The research that launched Town on the Move in 2004 stated clearly that cycling was the key to changing peoples’ travel habits. Yet cyclists are still being treated like second or third class travellers.
The local authority’s aims are both time and vision limited. There is a reluctance to engage with the real problem – that motorists have been given the freedom of town roads for too long – for fear of alienating potential voters. But this also reflects the meagre sums being allocated to cycling anyway, when compared to motoring. A recent article in Guardian Unlimited points out that the Department for Transport budget this year is £13.4 BILLION. Last month it made a great PR song and dance about doubling its grant to Cycling England – from £5 million to £10 million. Maybe you can figure out what that is as a percentage of its total budget.
Truth is, the level of government commitment to cycling is pathetic, and the level of ambition at local level reflects this. There has been much talk of using “soft measures”, ie persuasion, to encourage more cycling, and indeed much money is being spent on PR by Local Motion. But the execution of this PR has been hijacked by the New Labour Spin Industry to sell a product that is devoid of substance. Of prime concern now are the “good stories” being pumped out to national media about the wonderful things that are happening in Darlington. Any dissent – or even critique – is strictly verboten.
The sad fact is, the council’s own research repeatedly confirms Darlington Cycling Campaign’s position – that many people would cycle more if only it was safer and more convenient. But as long as the motorist’s “King of the Road” psychology is not openly and politically challenged, we’ll all have to either continue Rambo Cycling to get through the traffic, or accept that we must break the law and share pavements with pedestrians. And cycling in Darlington will continue to be a minority sport.