Monday, 11 February 2013

Critical blog-mass

I remember when Microsoft Windows was at its peak, before the advent of smartphones and other powerful handheld devices, there was hope of some new competitor to the dominance of Windows. Back then, one of the contenders was Linux. With all of the available software and its two high quality GUI's (Gnome and KDE), it could and can do pretty much everything Windows could.

On the websites I looked at, I remember at the beginning of each year they always said this was going to be the year of Linux on the desktop. I don't know nearly enough to say whether it was or wasn't the year of Linux on the desktop but I do remember it being said more than once.

The same thing could sometimes be said of bicycles as part of a city's transport system. I started reading bike blogs sometime in 2008 (or possibly earlier). Back then, some of my favourite blogs were well established. Since then, many other great blogs have joined them.

I do not think by any stretch have they simply been preaching to the converted. Without having any real clue, I think that readership has increased as people slowly get sick of being imprisoned in their cars each day and the associated financial cost of being so and of course wondering if there is not perhaps a better way.

The developments over the past few years can be seen particularly in the UK. The number of blogs from there has ballooned but for me one of the most important developments was the formation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. You can also see the effect of all of this advocacy in the last election for London's mayor and the role that transportation played in it as well as the changes that have been won in various TfL plans. Indeed, the whole concept of Love London Go Dutch would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

That it has become part of general discourse I think is illustrated in this video from the BBC's Newsnight programme (the equivalent to the ABC's Lateline):

This was uploaded by the owner of the excellent As Easy as Riding a Bike blog

I cannot see that this would have happened a few years ago. When I was very young growing up in the UK, I remember a short segment of a children's show called Blue Peter all about the Netherlands. It seemed to be this far-off foreign place - very different from home. Indeed at the end of the segment, the presenter said, in a matter-of-fact way, that what we saw couldn't be achieved in the UK because the pavements were too narrow. And that was that.

Now thankfully we have moved on.

To ensure 'balance', the BBC dutifully spoke to a motoring journalist for his view. Some of the sad old canards came out: 'We already have cycle paths' (ie: what more do you want?), 'just use the roads' (he obviously missed the scene with the truck at the beginning).

Then along came the interviewer with a purposefully stupid comment - it's raining and it's windy here [snore].

And then the crowning turd on the cowpat from the motoring journalist again - 'but they have a cycling culture there'. Classic attribution error. Note what he said in passing just before the interview ended. We need to spend money on health and education. Correct but the inference is that we cannot possibly invest in this strange cycling nonsense - even the small amounts required are not available. But at the same time, from his point of view, it could not possibly come out of his motorway budget or just be a 5% part of it as the point was made. Classic 'carhead'.

The video shows that instead of being the province of a handful of bloggers tapping a furiously and producing a bicycle basket full of blogposts, this is now so much in the national consiousness that it is the subject of BBC Newsnight articles. Further than that, the UK Parliament currently has an all-party 'Get Britain Cycling' committee dealing with the topic.

At the same time, the video also shows that the tired old myths are still alive and kicking. Our friend the motoring journalist would do well to have a look at David Hembrow's much linked-to myths and excuses page or its equivalent on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

Looking at the progress made in London, dare I say it, it may be that we see some significant changes in the next few years. A lot of valuable lessons could be learned. As usual, Australia is a few years behind the times but happily we are slowly learning.

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