Carlton Reid ushers York Cycle Campaign into its second year

At our AGM on Monday 12th November, we voted in a new committee (with several familiar faces), approved a revised pricing structure, and discussed the successes that YCC has had during its first year. This was preceded by a talk by the award-winning journalist, author, and campaigner, Carlton Reid. YCC member Rob Ainsley tells us more about Carlton’s message.

In the 1930s, you didn’t go to the Netherlands to see a government confidently building wide, smooth, segregated new cycle paths alongside new main roads. You went to Britain.

Sadly, our prewar network of many hundreds of kilometres of high-quality bike infrastructure was ignored and forgotten in the postwar car boom. But transport journo and historian Carlton Reid is on a mission to revive it – as he explained in the lively, engaging and revelatory talk he gave to York Cycle Campaign on Mon 12 Nov 2018.

At the grand opening of Britain’s first dedicated cycle track in the 1930s

Carlton and his work are familiar to cycle campaigners and writers. Some of his web pages explain, with clarity, evidence and humour, why cycle licensing will never work, or the folly of the ‘cyclists should pay road tax’ trope, for example. He’s also been the editor at bikebiz.com, the industry website, for ever.

But, having recently won the title of Transport Journalist of the Year 2018 – not just ‘Cycle journalist’, note – he’s also become the ‘cycle correspondent’ for Forbes magazine in the US, gleefully posting online articles to all those high net-worth movers, shakers and influencers about how good old bikes are still the most efficient way of moving people and goods round city centres.

Carlton is reaching a new audience with Forbes, and enjoys presenting them with provocative pieces!

Recently, in his role as researcher, he’s produced crowdfunded books on cycling history: Roads Were Not Built For Cars, and Bike Boom. The latest, about Britain’s lost cycleways, was the basis for the talk. It proved fascinating, absorbing stuff to a packed audience relaxing after a complimentary buffet with wine generously provided by Andy Shrimpton and Cycle Heaven.

Including surprises such as… Which 1930s British town had an 80% modal share of cycling? Bedford! (‘…is your pointless answer’, Richard Osman of the Pointless quiz show might add). What was the most common vehicle plying the northern stretches of the prewar A1? Bikes, of course!

Back when Bedford ran on two wheels

Though Carlton’s clearly spent hours in archives and libraries, he’s spent weeks out on his bike too, riding and photographing the remnants of our once comprehensive infrastructure of smooth nine-foot-wide two-way bike paths, and snaps from his excursions round the country’s A roads illustrated things vividly.

New ones come to light all the time, and though many are now – like post-Beeching branch lines – unrescuable, cut into pieces by modern roads crossing them, up to half could be restored relatively cheaply into useful, safe, car-free routes, such as a long stretch in Sunderland near the Cock of the North.

An early-noughties article from Bike Biz: Carlton has long advocated for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK 

He’ll be appearing soon on BBC1’s The One Show with Chris Boardman in a piece filmed the other day, so watch out for that. (At least we think it will appear – apparently the production team were spooked by the fact that Carlton and Chris refused to wear helmets while trundling along a safe, segregated path!)

There was just time for a few quick questions before Carlton and his Brompton had to scoot off down the almost entirely car-free path along the river to the train station. Here’s two. Why had the paths become so neglected? Council apathy in the face of the car boom, basically. Are the cycleways still rights of way? Most never were, evidently: haste or carelessness meant most never had an official status.

Today, parking for cars is an all-too-common use of 1930s cycle tracks. Local councils often don’t even know what they are

The talk was about infrastructure. But as Carlton was keen to point out, he believes that establishing Dutch cycling levels here, with all the attendant benefits, is about more than just putting in good cycle lanes. It’s about culture change too. As Robyn pointed out in her introduction, politicians tend to think that the views of a certain vocal anti-cycling minority represent some of eternal, unchangeable verity.

By challenging that view with research, energy and persistence, Carlton’s helping us all, as campaigners, to change things for the better.

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