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Cycling: four wheels good, two wheels better?

September 2014

IET CommunitiesMark Birbeck, Gabriele Schliwa, Helen Nugent and Nick Vaughan introduced a discussion on improving the road experience for all, chaired by Keith McCabe


Mark BirbeckHaving a bicycle for a child was often a precursor to travelling beyond the physical confines of your neighbourhood, and the first steps to adolescent freedom. Getting on your bike and visiting friends without needing a lift from mum and dad, or being able to cycle to the countryside away from the watchful eyes of adults has long been a rite of passage for teenagers. Though older generations may have known bicycles as their only mode of transport for going to work, most people now have access to a car yet many commuters are frustrated by congestion, and a plethora of impediments on the road. A return to the bicycle as a realistic form of transport is being publicly promoted, so what are we to make of such campaigns to get us on our bike again?


Gabriele SchliwaMuch is made of the health benefits of getting the nation out of cars and back on two wheels; indeed the government has designed tax schemes to incentivise us to buy a bike. Are we to believe they want us to experience that freedom we did as kids to whizz down a hill with our feet off the peddles, for no other reason than to feel the wind in your hair? That's clearly stretching things, but there's definitely a social trend to emphasise cycling as a modern and desired form of transport, well exemplified by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, taking every opportunity to promote it. Manchester may not yet have the cycle hire infrastructure of London, but the introduction of many more cycle lanes on main arterial routes, and the Tour de France visiting the region is a step in that direction.


Helen NugentPerhaps the trend toward an increase in cycling comes from it being one of the few unregulated activities in British life - as you don’t need a license, to pass a test, and provided you have a brake and some lights you’re good to go. Its promotion through government and non-governmental campaigns would indicate that there's an attempt though to address a wider scope of social problems beyond just transport issues. Will this attention begin to impact on it being seen as simply an enjoyable pursuit we could take or leave? Do campaigns that declare we’d be healthier and slimmer if we cycled more just load too much onto an otherwise rather mundane activity? Will introducing new priority lanes or junctions for cyclists result in creating an illusion of order and safety that may actually make things more problematic for cyclists and pedestrians alike?


Nick VaughanAdvocates of increasing cycling say it must be made safer, with new cycle paths and perhaps even compulsory helmet wearing; but would we then risk over-complicating this most straightforward of activities? Do cycle paths do more harm than good by shunting cyclists to one side and causing friction with car drivers? And how best to manage existing tensions between cyclists jumping red lights, cycling on pavements and other road and pavement users? With a new generation of children often discouraged from walking or cycling to school by parents who take them in their car, should Local Authorities be advising parents and kids to get on their bikes instead or is that too patronising?


Some background readings

Velocity 2025: A cycling plan for 2025 and beyond, Transport for Greater Manchester

Cycling in London - a crisis of progress, by Felix Denton, spiked 18 November 2013

A Cycle Strategy for Greater Manchester, CILT meeting write-up, Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester 24 November 2013

Bike ride saboteurs sprinkle DRAWING PINS on peaceful New Forest road after local villagers complain about scourge of cyclists in otherwise 'tranquil' area, by Leon Watson, Daily Mail 15 April 2014

Hundreds take to Manchester streets for naked bike ride – pictures and video, by Jennifer Williams, Manchester Evening News 06 June 2014

New Forest officials criticised for turning down bike scheme funding, by Peter Walker, The Guardian 15 August 2014

Gear we go! Thousands expected to saddle-up for Cycle to Work day in Manchester, by Charlotte Cox, Manchester Evening News 3 September 2014

Video of the Battle of Ideas 2013 discussion entitled 'Free riders: cycle helmets and health and safety' which touches on some key issues.


Watch video of the speaker and audience comments below. Thanks to Dan Clayton the documentary filmmaker from Leeds for this.

Discussion Sponsored and Partnered by

Institution Engineering TechnologyThis Salon discussion is generously partnered and sponsored by the Manchester Network of the IET, one of the largest and most active outside London, stemming from the amalgamation of the Northern Society of Electrical Engineers, founded in 1893, with the Institution of Electrical Engineers in March 1900. Aiming to retain the high standards are maintained into the future the IET Manchester Network has six technical groups covering a wide range of special interests: Communications, broadcasting and multimedia technical group (CBM); Computing, control and automation technical group (CCA); Engineering, management and manufacturing technical group (EMM); Multi technical group (MTG); Power technical group (PTG) and Transport technical group (TTG). They also organise two other groups: Young Professionals (YP) and Retired Members (RM).


Northern SoulNorthern Soul is a webzine based in the North of England. Its mission is to celebrate all things Northern, from theatre, music, authors and art to heritage, small businesses, food and leading figures, as well as everything inbetween. The 35-strong team of professional journalists, photographers and specialists talk to the people who work, rest and play in our part of the world and scour the region for interesting stories, histories, ambitions and events.


Responding to the unacceptable number of cycling deaths and serious injuries in the North of England, Northern Soul is launching a major cycling campaign called Cycle for Change. Wanting to raise the profile of cycling safety in the region, Northern Soul is campaigning to overcome any lack of political will by pressing for change.

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