Saturday 20 September 2014

Bristol: cycling discriminates against the obese and the unfit

There's a bit of an upset in Birmingham currently, where (conservative) councillor came out and accused cycling of being discriminatory on race and gender, and that the £23 M could be better spent on things like parking spaces. And that it is also biased against women who want to wear modest clothing.

Well, we agree, in Bristol it is a discriminatory form of transport too. But not on race or gender.

No, in Bristol, Cycling discriminates against obese people with no legs and a lifestyle focused on fry-ups rather than hill climbs. These are people who suffer in our city.

Take this scene here, a mature Bristolian rastafarian working his way up Bridge Valley road. He's very much not a young white man -but to get up the hill on a road bike he has to be fit. A large proportion of our population —especially the residents of the suburbs, are significantly overweight, smoke, and generally live an unhealthy lifestyle.

These are the people that our city cycling project discriminates against —and no amount of cash on cycling infrastructure will fix that, unless the infrastructure involves lifts and escalators.

These are also the people that the city's expanding RPZ project discriminates: people to unfit to walk more than 15 metres to their destination. Removing all the free parking penalises those people who are too unfit to walk or cycle anywhere, by forcing them to pay.

The only person who cares for those people's needs is Eric Pickles –because he is the only politician who understands what it is like to obese and unfit. This is why his "short stops on double yellow lines" proposal is targeted at them: now they will be able to stop outside the newsagent to buy a packet of fags, then drive on to the chip shop to buy the evening meal.

Segregated cycling facilities will make this worse by removing short-stay parking opportunities, discriminating against the obese and the unfit merely by their very presence.

Returning to Birmingham, gateway to the M6, the councillor's colleague, Councillor Hutchings came out with the other part of the story, when he said “he feared hoards” of cyclists would have “a severe impact on pedestrians and motorists”. That's the other way a cycling program penalises the obese and the unfit. If you aren't fit enough to cycle round the city, driving is all you can do. The more cyclists there are, the more you get held up.

This is why the very presence of cycling infrastructure and increased cycling is so discriminatory against overweight suburbanites who will be hit by the triple whammy of cycling infrastructure removing main-road short stay options, the RPZ removing back road long stay parking, and finally cyclists themselves being in the way. Oh, and of course there's the 20 mph zone slowing down the journeys from their houses to the chip shops.

This is why it is critical that the Birmingham councillors recognise that cycling doesn't discriminate against gender or ethnic groups —if that city doesn't get the funding then it could come Bristol's way, and things would only get worse!

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