#58: EXTREMISTS NEVER HAVE GOOD IDEAS. Extremists are best ignored, whether they’re utopians, communists, anarchists, free-marketers, nationalists, religious fanatics, anti-cyclists or... militant cyclists.
The problem with extremism is that it is usually based solely on emotion – a sense of resentment or burning injustice that’s so strong that reason withers under its heat, and compromise (the rational weighing up of competing agendas) becomes impossible.
We live in an age of increasing extremism. The outlandish opinions of columnists sell newspapers; immoderate campaigners shout the loudest and get heard; even the internet, that alleged bastion of free and enlightened conversation, is fragmented into online silos where people tend to interact with people they agree with, and radicalise each other in the process.
There are cycling extremists in London who are so resentful of petroleum, they are advocating a ridiculous, irrational, confrontational policy of focussing cycle development on main roads. These are the main roads, remember, where buses and lorries trundle their necessary way through the city, ferrying enough goods and personnel to sustain a thriving economy comprising tens of millions of hungry Londoners. While it is reasonable to suggest that cycle lanes should be added to such roads wherever possible, it is nonsense – extreme, ideological nonsense – to suggest that cycle lanes should be embedded in such roads as a rule.
Alas, it is seductive nonsense. If you’ve ever felt a spark of rage at a lorry barrelling past you as you cycle, you might be reassured that there are cycling campaigners calling for a change to the status quo on main roads. But don’t be too hasty. There is a better alternative: a decent map and system of signage for the London Cycle Network would carry cyclists onto superbly provisioned backstreets and out of harm’s way. This is an affordable policy that would be immediately effective. And, above all, it is moderate and rational. It recognises the necessity of establishing an entente cordiale between cycling development and London’s current road infrastructure needs.
Let me be clear: in the long run, we should create cycle routes on as many roads as possible - including main roads - wherever it’s practical to do so; some of the routes on the London Cycle Map could even, over time, be diverted onto main roads; and, inevitably, many more cyclists would trickle onto main roads once the London Cycle Map was implemented. But cycling extremism has got its priorities all wrong in the capital. The confrontational policy of focussing cycling development on main roads will only succeed in getting campaigners into the headlines. It won’t achieve its aim of turning London’s main roads over to cycling.