I love cycling, so why am I not doing it?

The only time I’ve ridden one of my three bikes in the last year was going to get my booster jab in mid December. Why? What’s wrong with me? Why would I have 3 bikes and not ride any of them? It sounds odd, but really I think it comes down to a mix of reasons that have just worn me down to where I’m at now.

Before covid, I was doing a relatively long ride once a week or so on a Monday or Tuesday. At that point I was working part time, and having those two extra days off a week was crucial to my mental health. It made working a pretty miserable, low paid job a lot more tolerable. But over time I was becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of car-light route options. Knowing that there was one somewhat enjoyable route to a location; and that taking any wrong turn would lead to stressful, fast moving traffic and the general feeling of being a second class citizen sucked so much of the fun out of these longer rides.

This wasn’t the first time I was feeling like this. I’ve had a couple of long breaks from cycling over the years. The first one was from about age 18 to 23, and then from 27 to 30. The first time was due to generalised anxiety disorder, and then the second 3 year gap was when I started a new job and I felt that I couldn’t cycle the 5 miles there because it wasn’t cycle friendly. I got a scooter for two years and then a car after that. Which brings me back to where I started doing those longer rides.

Looking back now on when my anxiety was the most incapacitating, I wonder how much of that time was attributable to what I now know about our unsustainable economic system, as well as that trapped feeling I had as a cyclist. Maybe subconsciously that played a big role in me feeling the way I did, but I couldn’t articulate it at the time. Maybe I knew that this society wasn’t made for people like me. When it came to the decision to buy a scooter and later drive a car, I was definitely very aware by that point that people like me who wanted empty roads and everyone cycling weren’t welcome here. Electric cars made me feel as if I wasn’t succumbing to society’s demand to drive, and that I was doing it on my terms. But I really wasn’t. I think it’s pretty clear that had I been living in a more accepting society rather than a closed minded one, I probably would have kept cycling all the way from childhood to now with no breaks. And my anxiety would have most likely been a lot more manageable too.

When covid came along, I felt a kind of relief at being locked down for months from April to June 2020 and being restricted to 30 minutes of exercise per day. It meant that I only had time to go from home to the seafront and back again to stay within the time limit. There was one route that allowed me to make it down there almost car free. It also allowed me to avoid the majority of pedestrians and other cyclists in addition to the few cars that were still driving around.

I continued in that pattern for a few months, occasionally trying some other local routes while the traffic levels were so low. When the full lockdown was prematurely eased, I went back to just riding that one route to the seafront. It became gradually less fun. The couple of busy roads I had to cross filled up again and took ages to cross, the noise returned, but it was still by far the best route to ride. I decided I wouldn’t go back to doing any long rides again until after the pandemic.

Then, the temporary covid bike lanes appeared in August and officially opened at the beginning of September, months after the full lockdown had ended. I decided to ride on those instead and change up my route. At first it was a novelty to have a whole car lane to myself going into town, but it wore off when I thought about how polluted it was with so many cars right next to me. I stopped using it even before it was removed at the end of November (just three months after being installed).

By that point, I had stopped riding long distances, seen drivers become more and more dangerous and anti-bike, experienced a (albeit fleeting and poorly executed) glimpse of what being given permanent dedicated space for cycling might feel like; and seen us return to business as usual while covid was still far from over. I started riding at night instead, but I couldn’t keep that up very long. I retreated from society even further and stopped leaving the house entirely.

Covid got worse and worse. All restrictions ended. The government became more and more openly absurd and anti-science. Scandal after scandal and yet they remained untouchable. No one in the mainstream challenged the anti-science stance that had seeped into the public psyche. Scientists who were doing that (such as Dr Deepti Gurdasani and others) were increasingly ignored and no longer able to get on major TV or radio. And that pretty much leads us to today. I still don’t want to go anywhere. I still don’t feel safe anywhere in public covid wise. I still have no intention of taking public transport anywhere.

Every day I just have this ridiculous hope that maybe soon we will come to our senses as a society and force the end of car ownership, so we can have empty streets to ride again. In my mind, getting rid of cars has become the symbol of when our insanity stops as a species. But it doesn’t feel like anything is going to change any time soon. Only the climate crisis or another deadly Delta-like covid variant have the potential to interrupt business as usual and maybe lead to lasting change to the benefit of cycling (and everything / everyone else sane left in this world). It doesn’t seem as if the current cost of living crisis is going to be enough to force any real change. People will just put up with it quietly, like the obedient little pawns in the economic game they are.

So I guess if I have to sum up why I’m not cycling, it comes down to lack of quiet bike routes, cars, psycho drivers, endless covid mishandling / corruption / stupidity, lack of infrastructure and my depression at the endless stupidity of our broken economic system. I think that covers it.

The cases are going down gradually at the moment according to the ONS / Zoe Covid Study, but they’re still remaining stubbornly very high compared to previous waves of the pandemic. Universal masking is a distant memory at this point, and the booster must be wearing off significantly by now.

I’m hoping that by the summer, things will have shifted significantly in a positive direction, and I’ll hopefully head back out on the bike again. I’m curious to know if I’m the only one who feels this way. There must be others out there who just feel so beaten down by all this shit.

What I would do tomorrow if I was in charge

After the last post where I talked about how much it feels like what we’re doing now is leading us straight to extinction; I thought I would indulge myself and come up with a list of things I would do immediately if I was in charge of the country (and assuming every other country was led by someone with exactly the same ideals). In the process show any doubters that I am in fact positive about the future. Just one where we make massive changes; rather than one where we waste precious time tinkering around the edges of our disastrous current system.

Rather than write a lot about each policy idea, I just want to simply lay out the basics of my plan, and perhaps go into more detail in future. Especially on topics I haven’t previously covered.

  • End capitalism
  • Nationalise all essential industries, and shut down all businesses that don’t bring a clear benefit to society.
  • Bring in a universal income so work is optional and only for the benefit of society as a whole; not for individual gain.
  • Ban all new and begin rapid phaseout of existing fossil fuel infrastructure
  • Implement the MEER Reflection Framework, Marine Cloud Brightening, Ocean Pasture Restoration, and other Geoengineering / solar radiation management techniques.
  • Tax the rich 99% (everyone lives the same way)
  • Ban all unsustainable building materials
  • Ban private cars for everyone except for those who couldn’t live without one today (disabled etc). Begin rapid phaseout of diesel taxis and the small number of private cars that will remain in favour of EVs.
  • End deforestation and give back vast areas of grazing land to nature.
  • Ban all cryptocurrencies, mining, NFTs etc.
  • Ban pesticides
  • Ban meat production
  • Ban all new road, airport, port, and other developments intended to increase trade and GDP.
  • Ban all new single family homes, luxury apartments and mansions, and begin the process of converting existing large homes into many tiny apartments or buildings for other societal purposes.
  • Ban landlords
  • Begin rapid phaseout of fossil fuelled vans, trucks etc. Aim to replace most vans with cargo bikes. Demand for vans and trucks will drop due to massively reduced consumption levels.
  • Ban private jets, super-yachts and all other privately owned luxury transport.
  • Ban second homes
  • Severely restrict flying. Mandate that people may only take one return flight per year, regardless of wealth. Only holidays, visiting family, moving overseas permitted. Business travel by air banned.
  • Mandate that ground transport must be used for all trips where the destination can be reached within about 24-36 hours. Air travel only when absolutely essential.
  • Immediately invest massively in public transport, bicycle parking, and begin the phaseout of diesel buses, coaches, trains.
  • Immediately begin phasing out plastic and mandating the use of reusable containers and schemes to return them to shops for reuse.

I could probably go on endlessly listing more and more things, but I think this covers a lot of bases. Imagine a real politician coming in day one and doing all of this. It would be incredible compared to everything we’re used to. But we shouldn’t forget that what I’m talking about here isn’t some crazy nonsense. What politicians do right now is pure insanity. What I’m proposing is entirely logical and urgently necessary. The people talking about net zero 2050 are the crazy ones.

What are you NOT doing to fight the Climate Crisis?

Just do less

What are you doing to fight the climate crisis? That question drives me nuts. Are you driving an EV? Are you buying sustainably manufactured products? Are you powering your five bedroom detached house with renewable energy? These are the questions you hear all the time.

What you never hear is “what are you doing less of?” Are you switching from working full time to just a couple of days a week? Are you buying less clothes, less shoes, less tech, less stuff? The focus almost always seems to be on “sustainable consumption”, which is basically an oxymoron. Yes, we need to consume certain things to survive, but that’s not what people mean when they say that. It’s about continuing to over-consume things we don’t need, but in a slightly less bad way than before. That’s not going to do anything to stop our climate predicament getting out of control.

We’ve been hearing recently about 4 day work weeks and UBIs. I’m certainly in favour of both of these policies, but while they promise positive things for quality of life, mental health and reducing poverty; they don’t really do anything about our rampant over-consumption. A 4 day work week with the same pay as now would reduce emissions from commuting, but presumably it would lead to an increase in leisure consumption and long weekend travel.

As far as a UBI, I think that concept is something that would have been great if it was implemented decades ago. Now, it feels like far too little, too late. It’s not about providing people with a great, simple, high quality of life. It is intended to allow people to actually get by when they’re unemployed. It’s basically a decent level of unemployment benefit similar to what you can get in numerous countries now.

I think what we need now is more like a full universal income that can provide people with everything they need to live a healthy and sustainable life, rather than an unemployment safety net. And I think that should be the way everyone lives. The only people who will work in this scenario would be people who make a real positive difference to society, and they wouldn’t be doing it for money. We would all live in a broadly similar way, with different hobbies, interests, opinions and so on to differentiate us. We could get rid of currency entirely. I’ve talked about that before.

The general point I’m trying to make is that it’s the big things that we don’t talk about reducing or eliminating. To be fair, we do hear people talking about eating less meat and dairy or flying less, or even eliminating those things entirely (very rare when it comes to flying). But when do you ever hear people talk about how we need to have less kids to reduce the population, or live in the smallest homes we can? I don’t hear it. Sometimes you see people talk about the insane emissions of the richest 1%, and how we need to tax them 99%; and that’s true. But people never talk about how not only do they need to live like the rest of us; but that we all need to live much smaller and simpler lives than almost any of us do currently.

Many people get frustrated when activists like Greta, scientists like Paul Beckwith, or nobodies like me tell them how bad our situation is. They want to know what they can do. Well, here you go: just do less. While it’s true that certain elements of sustainability require you to do something differently, like ride a bike or use reusable containers, fundamentally it always comes back to living simpler, smaller, and more local lives. All of the things we need to do differently come naturally once you’ve made that decision to just do less.

It’s really that simple. The media, politicians and neoliberal economists want to make it sound so complicated, but the truth is that it couldn’t be simpler. Just do less.

Bike Parking needs to change fast

In my last post, I wrote about how comprehensive bicycle infrastructure networks, for the most part, are no longer necessary at this late stage of our climate crisis. But bike parking is a totally different story. We desperately need quality bike parking facilities.

The Dutch understand this and are investing massively, and have been for years. Which is why a new, state of the art facility that accommodates tens of thousands of bikes is opening seemingly every week. They understand that secure parking is almost (if not equally) important in getting people cycling as providing the safe routes themselves.

I don’t know if the Dutch are rolling these bike parks out at the immense clip that they are because they know how critically short we are on time to prevent climate tipping points; but they certainly are acting as if they do. As I mentioned previously, almost everything we do now as a world society to tackle the climate crisis has to be possible within a few years. That’s why we should ban cars now instead of copying the bike network of the Dutch. But there is no other option when it comes to parking. You have to design and build these facilities, which takes years of design, planning and construction. At the rate Britain is going, we might have one of these facilities, on the scale of the world’s biggest in Utrecht, open in 2026. And I’m far from convinced that it will actually happen. We have to move fast and put the money into this immediately. If we focus on bike parking as our transport priority, we could potentially have them in every major town and city by 2024 or 2025.

In order to achieve something like this, you would need to completely flip the transport budget upside down. The government has their £27.5 Billion road building program, but cycling is only getting a less-than-pathetic 1% of that amount. Any government serious about having a future on this planet would immediately swap those around, but of course almost no governments would do that. But let’s just pretend they would and imagine a better world for a minute.

You might be wondering in this hypothetical scenario what we do between now and 2025 when all of these bike parks are up and running. Do we all just not ride bikes in the meantime through fear of getting our pride and joy stolen? Obviously, we can’t afford to wait, and we need to limit theft as much as possible. The data for June this year showed a 50% spike in theft compared to the same month in 2020, near the end of the first wave of covid. Utility trips (and therefore bikes locked up) dipped by 20% in 2020, and even though it will have picked back up in the second quarter of this year, it wouldn’t have accounted for that huge uptick in thefts. It seems more likely that the demand for bikes and the manufacturing shortage has lead thieves to up their game in terms of organisation and “professionalism”. With highly skilled thieves taking advantage of the lack of secure parking, authorities have to move while we wait for the Utrecht style bike parks to come to fruition.

Smaller scale secure parking can be introduced quickly in residential and commercial urban streets, for example. And it’s also possible for existing buildings to introduce new or improve existing bike parking facilities for staff or customers. We’ve seen train stations introduce swipe card entry and CCTV to existing bike storage rooms for example. And I think folding bikes are going to play a big role in urban areas. They are always a great idea, and with the lack of secure parking, they’re essential to the growth of cycling in the next several years especially.

Cargo bikes are going to be increasingly huge in terms of the transport mix as we go forward, and they will also present a security challenge. However, their sheer size and weight will help deter thieves, and the most recent models often come with immobiliser type functions where they won’t roll unless they’ve been unlocked by the owner. I also think commercial cargo bikes won’t be effected due to them being either in constant use, or stored at the business premises. Cargo bikes for individuals and families will be more of a challenge in the short term; but as mentioned above, they are much less appealing to thieves than regular bikes. And let’s not forget, you can (and should) insure them like you would insure a car, except it’s a lot less expensive. Even if the worst was to happen, you could just get another one, and it would still be far cheaper than owning and running a car.

Bike hoops outside SpashPoint Leisure Centre in Worthing

But what we really need to get away from is shit bike parking. Don’t get me wrong; bike hoops are clearly the least bad of the options, but they’re not great; especially when they’re uncovered. Front or rear wheel racks are basically useless and they are not designed for all of the different tyre widths you see. No new (or relatively recent) development should have uncovered racks of any sort. SplashPoint Leisure Centre (pictured above) is the most egregious example where I live. They installed quite a few hoops, to their credit. But could you really not afford to at the very least cover them up?

When I was in Cambridge a couple of years ago, I visited a new station north of the city. It had hundreds of bike loops, and they were covered by a large roof, to at least keep the rain off. At that time, I remember being astounded that they would do anything that cycling friendly at a medium sized train station in the UK. That’s what living in West Sussex does to your expectations. But from now on, I think it is the absolute bare minimum we should expect to see at transport hubs.

And then there’s the other local destinations. Convenience stores, doctors surgeries, dentists, libraries etc. So many of these places have rusty old bike racks that hold maybe 4 or 5 bikes if you’re lucky, but they also have a car park for 20 or 30 cars. If we somehow did wake up from our climate slumber tomorrow and decide to ban cars, you’d have all sorts of problems with bike parking at these locations, 1 or 2 miles from home.

We clearly need a two pronged approach to this critical problem. Small, covered, sometimes secure parking in residential areas and local amenities, and massive investment in Utrecht style parking for tens of thousands of bikes in urban centres. We can’t wait any longer for this change. Cycling rates will stay relatively stagnant until something happens to show people that cycling really is respected as a form of transport, like it is elsewhere.