Cycling in the year 2040


The future of cycling (image courtesy of CTC)

In 2040 I will be 92 and one year older than my father when he finally became too old to cycle. That is 27 years from now. Possibly, given that life expectancy in the western world is on the increase, I will still be cycling maybe ten miles per day. 27 years ago is about when I bought my Peugeot Black Mamba ATB and began cycling regularly again after a break that goes back to my schooldays. So... my cycling days are only half way through. For me, this is an encouraging piece of information. If the bike restoration project is a success (it depends on building a shed) I might even be riding the Peugeot.

Less encouraging is how cycling hasn't changed much during the past quarter of a century. I enjoy it of course but only yesterday I heard how my niece was knocked off her bike when a taxi driver performed a 'left hook' and not long before that how her boyfriend was knocked off his. They are both ok. They are young, they bounce. Cycling pensioners bounce much less and I could have been hurt (broken my hip or something – it was a sideways flop that ended my father's cycling days). I am careful. I do not pelt down hills, I never ride in the door zone, I never undertake, I don't thump people's bonnets or swipe their wing mirrors etc etc.

If you believe what you read you will know that things are improving for cyclists in the UK. More people are on their bikes than at any time since the 1950s including the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London. Last year British sportsmen and women won more cycling medals than ever before. Sir Wiggo won the Tour de France. All this, together with the fact that everybody now agrees on the environmental and health benefits of riding bikes, is causing an upsurge and things are happening: the Get Britain Cycling initiative for example, and the CTC's Cycletopia (illustrated above). The Times launched a public campaign and manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists, like in Holland, and the London Cycling Campaign – Love London, Go Dutch – is gathering pace. The CTC has even conceded that proper cycling infrastructure might be a good thing after all and money is being set aside for cycle routes and safer junctions. By 2040 – a quarter of a century from now – British towns and cities will be much more like Dutch ones: no cars, just ordinary people shopping and going to work on bicycles. Sustrans agrees it's already happening in communities all over the UK and by 2020 they want four out of five local journeys to be made by bike, foot or public transport. That's double the current figure just six years from now.

I'm sceptical but not cynical. Perhaps the current generation of decision-makers mean what they say and by the time I am 90 I will notice a difference. It will be possible to cycle through a roundabout in safety and there will be a continuous cycle route from my house into town and I'll be able to leave my bike somewhere. The western economies will have been back on their feet since ages and everything will be as affordable as in the 1950s. Cyclists will not be squashed by motorists suddenly turning left because we'll have our own roads to ride on. There will be far fewer cars with combustion engines and a healthier population, not to mention the reversal of carbon emissions. Incidentally I watched 'Chasing Ice' the other day (a film) and no-one should doubt we have a climate problem that will really bite within a few decades. You come out of the cinema into a street full of cars and it does seem crazy.

Margaret Thatcher apparently remarked how politicians believe their own speeches, or words along those lines. They think because they've made a speech about something it is actually happening. That is reason for scepticism. If you are involved in something, it seems important and you forget that to everyone else it is irrelevant. I am sceptical because I know how expensive and disruptive it would be to universally reconfigure our urban streets to accommodate bicycles Dutch-style and I know how unlike Holland the UK actually is. Half measures are no good and I doubt there is public support for a complete transformation of British towns and cities to make them really better for bicycles when the idea of cycling somewhere does not even occur to 95% of the population. I am sceptical because nothing much has changed for the past 25 years except a few steps forward and a few steps back.

To avoid disappointment I'm going to assume that cycling in 2040 will be like cycling in 2013 (and 1986). I won't be disappointed either. Point my bike in the other direction. There is no place like the English countryside and thousands of miles of gorgeous lanes to ride in, not to mention the bridleways and upland tracks by which we have access to some of the loveliest landscapes on earth. Nope, I won't be disappointed!

4 comments on “Cycling in the year 2040”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Ah, Patrick, you conjure up a whole raft of comments with this one.

    Margaret Thatcher: the death of no single individual in memory has evoked such a volume of commentary. The depth of feeling and extremes of opinion have been striking. There is no middle ground. An office colleague (British) villainizes her for the privatization of council housing and subsequent loss of sense of community. Your vision of 2040 would redress, in part, that wrong (assuming the wrong was Lady Thatcher's) and, who knows, maybe even help reestablish Ye Olde Authentique English Pub.

    It is always instructive to look to the past. Consider the following.

    Under the present suburban regime, every urban function follows the example of the motor road: it devours space and consumes time with increasing friction and frustration, while, under the plausible pretext of increasing range of speed and communication, it actually obstructs it and denies the possibility of easy meetings and encounters by scattering the fragments of a city at random over a whole region.
    (Lewis Mumford, 1961)

    Not much changes. I'm with you. For cycling pleasure I'll head for the hills.

  2. Dan wrote:

    Is it just me – or are cyclists a freer-thinking, more resourceful, more liberated and more creative bunch than the rest of us? This would explain the feel-good effects of riding somewhere rather than being trapped in a more restricted, rigid system of motorised commuting, traffic signals, tailbacks and car parks... and makes me quite prepared to believe that whatever happens to our road networks within or outside our urban landscapes in the next century and more, The Enlightened will still be able to find ways to escape and enjoy this noble pursuit of ours, even if in novel or altered ways. The more you channel or trammel a river that wants to flow, the more it will find its own course.

    'Course, this may well also explain our view of the Dutch 😀 – but, as with the chicken and egg, does cycling make you freer-minded, or is it the freer-minded who choose to ride?

  3. Patrick wrote:

    Hmmm, well... to misquote (or paraphrase): "there is no such thing as cyclists," just people who happen to be on a bicycle at a point in their day. I don't think it signifies a particular way of thinking. I would agree though that there is such a thing as an enlightened society even if Maggie would not. Actually I think she would but it seems to be fun misquoting politicians (poor old "on yer bike" Tebbit – apparently he has said it again).

    'The Lady' would probably have disregarded cycling as worth much discussion unless Raleigh had been receiving public subsidy. I suspect she would not have pretended to be pro-cycling just to gain extra votes. In that sense she was not a politician in the modern media-obsessed meaning of the word. As for the All Party Cycling Group's 'inquiry'... pah!

    Good quote from Lewis Mumford.

  4. Hilary wrote:

    I'll be 80 in 2040. We will shortly have 3 octagenarian Wayfarers and quite a few others who can't be far off so there is a fair chance that I will still be cycling!
    I can't really see sufficient amounts of public money being spent to improve the urban cyclists lot. Best hope for improvement in that direction seems to me to be if people can't afford to drive so much!
    Whatever, I'll be out on my bike enjoying the countryside.

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