Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Legal Aid Reforms - Creating Victims Twice Over

It's bad enough being seriously injured as a result of someone else's negligence. It's doubly bad if you then cannot be properly compensated for a life that is permanently altered for the worse through no fault of your own
Yet that's the prospect for future road collision and accident victims under the government's shakeup of legal aid. Victims are the furthest thing from the government's mind - their first priority is saving money - £350M/year to be exact - and their second objective is likely reducing motor insurance premiums, because that's where the votes are.

According to The Observer, legal aid 'reforms' will abolish the success fee paid by the defendent's insurer, and will cap legal fees at a level that will make it no longer worthwhile for solicitors to take on complex cases. Simple then - don't have a complex accident.

The proposal is typical of a lot of legislation being rushed through by the present government, in that there's not enough thought given to the consequences. If injured people can't claim compensation, it's the taxpayer that will be picking up the bill in the form of NHS treatment and disability benefit. Except of course they're abolishing disability benefit for anyone who can make mist on a mirror, so the answer is even simpler - don't have an accident.

Actually, I'm only being half-ironic. If the government were serious about reducing the costs of legal aid to injury victims, the logical place to start would be to reduce the number of injuries. Yet they're doing the opposite - reducing the funding for road safety, doing their level best to discourage speed cameras (the most effective tool in reducing collisions), and jeopardizing traffic law enforcement through police cutbacks. About the only good thing that's happening at the moment for road safety is that drivers in general - and in particular the most dangerous drivers - are being forced off the road by high costs. If the effect of legal aid changes is to make motor insurance cheaper, then this will both make the roads more dangerous (by pricing dangerous drivers back onto the roads) and make life more difficult and expensive for the victims.

The other really significant change the government should make to reduce the legal aid burden is to make compensation claims simpler. Currently, there is no presumed liability in road collisions, so as an injured party it's up to you to prove your case - often tricky, as witnesses are not always available and the police spend little time investigating many road collisions. Strict liability would reduce the need for complex legal cases to be made, and would reduce the legal aid bill. Even without strict liability, there is plenty that could be done to coerce insurance companies to settle claims out of court, and to simplify the legal process. Additionally, all costs - compensation, NHS and disability benefits - should be reclaimed from the liable party. If it's wrong for the banking industry to be bailed out with taxpayer funds when things go wrong, the same applies to the motor transport industry, who are currently - as did the banks - making private profits while socializing the risks they create.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Breath of Foul Air

Funny how quickly the politicians react to riots compared to their torpidity in respect of air pollution, which kills far more people but in a way that doesn't grab the headlines or TV screens. TfL have proudly unveiled their "innovative measures" to tackle pollution, in response to the looming threat of EU fines, so let's take a quick gander at exactly what they are.

What they very definitely don't do much of is reducing the pollutants being emitted. Boris has been backsliding on cleaning up black cab emissions and on the central Low Emission Zone for a while, so these are in fact measures that Boris has delayed rather than anything he can claim credit for (even though Kulveer Ranger tries).

There is a new Clean Air Fund which will be spent initially on three measures: dust suppressant, which sticks particulates to road surfaces, an anti-idling campaign, and planters.

Dust suppressants are only effective on roads where they are applied, and clearly the cost of treating large numbers of roads would be considerable. The manufacture of the dust suppressant and the process of applying it causes pollution. And according to TfL, it only yields a 10% - 14% reduction in PM10 concentrations and has no effect on other pollutants such as NOx.

The anti-idling campaign involves employing 'eco-marshals' to ask drivers - mainly taxi drivers - not to leave their engines idling. It's not having much effect so far, as every single taxi at the rank on The Strand had its engine running last time I walked past (while holding my breath). Without fining drivers, it is difficult to imagine this having much effect. "The eco-marshals are existing TfL staff on secondment, two of whom are licensed London taxi drivers," boasts the press release. You can just imagine the banter, can't you, between the marshals and the taxi drivers who don't want to wear out their starter motors by stopping and starting their engines more than once a day. I wonder if the marshals will be using bikes to get around?

Planters are simply 6-ft high towers of pot plants by the side of roads, which have some effect in absorbing PM10s. Now let me guess: these planters will be about the width of a cycle path, which there isn't enough room for in a crowded city like London. I wonder if these planters will be in the road, or on the pavement? Here's an idea: why not turn Park Lane into a park? That should get rid of a few PM10s.

Of course, this Clean Air Fund is coming out of general taxation - no 'polluter pays' principle here. TfLs own figures claim that taxis are responsible for 25% of PM10 emissions in central London. But taxis aren't paying 25% of the Clean Air Fund. They'd rather someone else paid to clean up their mess.

What else are TfL doing to promote clean air? "An expanded bike hire scheme." Ah yes - that'll be the scheme that has singularly failed to get people out of cars. An expanded bike hire scheme has the potential to positively affect air pollution if people switched from taxis to bikes, but the traffic-choked, car-centric roads of central London, devoid as they are of segregated paths or even usable quiet routes are hardly welcoming for the novice cyclist.

The plain fact of the matter is this. There is only one sure-fire way of reducing emissions in London, and that is to reduce motor traffic. And that is the one thing that TfL isn't doing. In fact, with schemes like the Blackfriars Bridge northern junction, they're increasing motor traffic capacity at the expense of non-polluting transport modes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

North Road, SW19

North Road, SW19 is one of the few places in Merton where you can park without restriction. As it's a few minutes walk from Colliers Woood tube station, you can guess what happens: commuters double-park down a large stretch of it. Or they did until now. Merton have now introduced a residents parking/pay-and-display scheme, and as a result, the area is now pretty empty of parked cars. That's good news for residents because there will be less traffic along their streets. There's a small benefit for cyclists as well - the volume of parked cars used to narrow the street to the extent that it was difficult for a cyclist and a vehicle to pass each other safely, whereas now that conflict is considerably reduced. What would have been better if they'd allowed parking on one side only, but in practice there seems to be so little demand that in practice it's not a problem.

Unhappy Birthday London Cycle Hire

It's been a while since I had the pleasure of a trip on one of Boris's blue barges, but an evening appointment pointed to the hire bike as the best option one day last week. I tried to pick up a bike in the morning, but got the red light from all three bikes in the dock. The terminal said 'Your key cannot be read at this time'. No clue as to why. So I phoned the call centre. They said my credit card had expired. Which it had, although they hadn't thought to send me an email notifying me that my account was unusable. So, I located a computer and checked my account. No clue on any of the screens that my credit card had expired, or that anything was less than tickety-boo with my account. Undeterred, I tried to enter my new card details. Three times, without success. So I phoned the call centre again. It turned out that attempting to use my key had resulted in my account being suspended, and when it's suspended, you can't enter a new credit card number. So you're screwed.

So let's summarize. When your credit card expires, as it will, you will get no warning from TfL. That event will silently render your account unusable, although you won't find this out from the self-care website. And you cannot rectify the situation - not without phoning the call-centre, anyway. I wonder how many people think it's the bikes or docking stations that don't work, and give cycle hire up as unreliable?

Oh, and here's the punchline. Because I'd tried unsuccessfully to enter a credit card number three times, each of those attempts resulted in an access fee being charged to my account - so I've been wrongly billed to boot. But at least my account now works, and that evening, I picked up a mount from just off The Strand. I've developed a technique of squeezing the tyres and spinning the wheels to check for obvious faults, and after rejecting four bikes with binding brakes or soft tyres, I picked a straight-looking bike. Unfortunately that proved after a couple of hundred metres of riding to have a bent left-hand pedal axle, and more worryingly, a totally ineffective front brake (a very common fault).

Meanwhile, over the water in Dublin, there's a happier picture with their cycle hire. They've had over 2000 journeys per bike, compared with 1000 for London (in the first year). The secret? "The quality of the service delivered by JC Decaux", according to a Dublin City Council spokesman. He also said that
development of cycle lanes will be part of the dublinbikes expansion. The council is in the process of developing a strategic approach for an integrated cycle network.

A strategic, integrated cycle network? Now there's a strange idea. Trust the Irish...

The Moral Collapse of Society

If you're already sick of people moralizing about the riots, you can skip to my next post now.

It was a bit of a dilemma which way to choose to ride home on 'Riot Tuesday'. I'd heard rumours of youths gathering in large groups on Wandsworth Common, my usual route, but on the other hand, a route with lots of loot-able shops like the A24 might not be a wise selection either. Eventually I elected for the A24, on the basis that I could probably see trouble ahead before I reached it and could easily do a '180' if needs be. While you are undoubtedly more vulnerable on a bike, you're also more manoeuvrable, and perhaps less of a target (although at least one cyclist was mugged in the riots).

I'd also heard that Wimbledon shops were closing early so I took a quick turn round the Broadway one-way system to see what was occurring. There were a few young people hanging around, but no more than you'd expect on a sunny day in the summer holidays, and everyone was behaving pretty normally. There were I think four police outside the station, and most of the shops were closed.

When you ride a bicycle on the streets of the UK, you regularly come into contact with drivers who have little concern or respect for your right to go about your lawful business, no concern for your personal safety, and for reasons of selfishness, hatred or sheer bloody-mindedness are prepared to flout the law just because they can and because they believe they won't get caught. In other words, it's brought home to you regularly how much you depend on civilized, considerate behaviour and respect for the law, and how vulnerable you are when that breaks down. Maybe therefore, the riots are more of a shock for people who spend all their time in houses in nice neighbourhoods, or in the secure surroundings offered by cars and shopping malls.

I wonder what the aftermath of the riots will be. I prefer not to call them 'riots', because that word has a political overtone. There's nothing political for the most part about these disturbances; it's just amoral organized crime. But condemning the criminality doesn't give any insight into how it came about, what's wrong with society, and how such large numbers of people have such weak personal integrity and so little fear of the consequences of their actions. Maybe there's something marbled through the whole of society that leads to this. I can exclusively reveal that something is: Crap parenting/culture of impunity/elf 'n' safety/inequality/rap music/classical music/the X factor/lack of respect (respec?) for authority other than Simon Cowell/footballers/unemployment/immigration/'me too' culture of entitlement/illiteracy. Delete one or more according to preference.

Cameron has called for a 'new moral army'. Unfortunately when the establishment talk about morals, they usually mean other people's. Consideration, restraint and respect for the law have to be core values at the top of society as well as the bottom. Cameron's near-neigbour Jeremy Clarkson has praised the burning-out of speed cameras and advocated running down cyclists. Maybe his comments were just a bit of harmless fun (he's such a wag), but harmless fun is what some of the rioters seem to think about the riots. I wonder where they got that idea that law-breaking and arson are harmless fun? I wonder what Clarkson has to say about rioters burning stuff or running people down? For the middle classes, motoring law is an inconvenience that can be ignored; speeding fines are just taxes, and taxes are there to be dodged; expense claims are just part of your remuneration and there to be inflated with moat-cleaning and duck houses. Phones and computers can be hacked if it sells papers. If the rich and the media regard parts of the law as optional, irresponsible behaviour as 'a bit of a larf', and the only crime is getting caught, it's a bit much to expect the poor not to do likewise.

Morality is not just about the absolute red line of the law. It is also about the distinction between good and bad behaviour. Hard work, prudence, restraint, conservation of finite resources and the environment, and a healthy lifestyle are some of the values that should be promoted. But this is a Government that hitherto has set its face against intervention to promote 'good' behaviours. It's refused to use any of the levers of government to encourage healthy eating or responsible drinking; the Tory London Assembly members have refused to countenance a road user hierarchy that promotes a shift to healthy, active travel from car use. You can't go straight from being a libertarian to being a paternalist - surely even that is too much of a U-turn for Cameron to perform.

So what are our core values as a society?

It's four years ago that looting for personal gain (by the bankers) led to businesses being destroyed and livelihoods being lost. Then there was much talk of 'moral hazard'. Now, while the bonuses are back for the bankers, in contrast many young people languish on the dole queues while their more academically able and 'fortunate' peers face a lifetime of debt paying off student loans. Meanwhile, we have a culture of individualism, and one that doesn't disapprove of or condemn selfishness. The wealthy burn oil without consideration of the consequences for generations to come, and the media are happy to indulge their short-sighted folly by offering denial of the science that predicts those consequences.

What kind of people do we celebrate? There are plenty of people who put just as much back into society as they take out, and plenty of people who don't flaunt their weath. There are plenty of people whose artistic, sporting, charitable, intellectual and business achievements should serve as a good example to society. But those things aren't in the main celebrated in the media.  'Celebrity' has become little more than a synonyn for ostentatious consumption, for undeserved wealth, for self-indulgence, for offensiveness, aberrant behaviour and moral bankruptcy.

Profligacy too is endemic. The promotion of easy credit means being in possession of desirable goods you do not own and maybe won't ever be able to pay for is valued more highly than running your life sustainably and planning for the future. Being in debt used to be shameful: not any more. In fact it's promoted by governments desperate for economic growth and the material consumption that's supposedly necessary to achieve it. Meanwhile, governments are racking up unsustainable debts of their own because they lack the leadership to make the tough choices necessary to balance the budget. The waste isn't confined to money: there's a long commercial chain of transactions that keeps us blissfully ignorant of the consequences of our purchases, in terms of the natural resources consumed and the dangerous and inhumane conditions in third-world factories.

Having consumerism as UK society's main aspiration may have been workable in the days of high employment and rising disposable incomes, when consumer goods were getting cheaper every year. But today, particularly for many young people, the consumerist dream of the designer wardrobe and i-gadgets is not only out of reach but receding every year as inflation, unemployment and economic stagnation conspire with cuts to education maintenance allowances and tuition fee increases.

Now don't get me wrong. Getting Clarkson to shut up isn't going to change anything. But could cycling could play a part in changing society for the better? Maybe. Unfulfilled aspirations are dangerous, and certainly played a part in motivating the looting. Car ownership is in many ways the most damaging aspiration because it is the most expensive to fulfill as well as being the most environmentally harmful. The aspiration is reinforced not only by advertising, but also by the fact that the roads are so clearly designed around motorists, reinforcing the perception that motorists are at the top of the social tree...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tragic Road Accident in Birmingham

This tragic accident in Birmingham couldn't be prevented. The driver probably fainted, or perhaps was distracted by a spider, or perhaps just didn't see the three men. Whatever the cause, it's a great shame but it's just one of those things. There's no point in charging the driver with murder, because this kind of thing could happen to any of us after a moment in which we were distracted by the lure of free consumer goods.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cycle Hire Washout

The Craven Street docking station near Charing Cross Station was a touch damp after last week's heavy rain:

Barriers to Cycling Removed?

I did a double-take walking down the passage between the Tramlink and Dorset Road in SW19 the other day. There used to be a metal barrier at the end of the passage which was designed to stop cyclists from colliding with pedestrians (see below).

The barrier likely caused as much conflict as it prevented, by forcing cyclists and pedestrians into a narrow gap and setting cyclists up at the wrong angle as they emerge from the path to be able to see pedestrians on the Dorset Road pavement. Anyway - the barrier's gone! And it's not been replaced with anything. On the photo below you can just see two or three patches of tarmac which mark its grave.

I hate to be a cynic, but I have a nasty feeling that something worse will take its place. I do hope Merton Council prove me wrong. (There's a first time for everything.)

Maiden Lane, Westminster

Westminster Council have been digging up Maiden Lane for months now, and laying very expensive-looking granite setts. Below you can see the state it's been in:

On the plus side, the road's been closed to traffic so it's been more peaceful than usual. So what difference has this makeover achieved? Will we see cafe tables out on that widened pavement? Will the road be closed to through traffic, with just the odd bicycle trundling past? Will it be made 2-way for cycles?

Above you can see the old signage hasn't been changed, so cycling west is still prohibited (although interestingly, there is no one-way signs at the other end, so in theory you could walk your bike past the no-entry sign and then cycle west. However I'm sure this is not what Westminster Council intended).

Above you can see that all that incredibly expensive granite sett paving has been used for car parking. So you can't even see where all you're money's gone...except...

...someone's spilt something oily on it thus ruining the natural stone appearance and making it look like an East-End car repair shop, and to boot they've put some makeshift access cover, filled around with tarmac, thus making it a total eyesore.

On the plus side, there's not much traffic going down there yet, but that's because the taxis and van drivers haven't discovered that it's been re-opened yet.

So in summary, Westminster Council have taken a narrow, pedestrian- and cycling-hostile central London rat-run and transformed it into...a narrow, pedestrian- and cycling-hostile central London rat-run. And the cost of this? Well, I can only guess, but they've been working on it for some months so it could be well into 6 figures.

Friday, August 5, 2011

2011 Q1 Road Casualty Statistics

Well, the road casualty stats are out again. Good news if you travel by car, as serious casualties are down 9% year-on-year. If you ride a motorcycle, you were 6% less likely to suffer a KSI (killed or seriously injured). Not such good news if you're a pedestrian - only a 3% reduction for pavement-pounders. The wooden spoon however goes to - guess who - cyclists, with a 10% INCREASE in KSIs.

The Quarter 1 results are even more pronounced: comparing Quarter 1 2011 with Quarter 1 2010, there was a 7% reduction in car-occupant KSIs, but a 4% increase for motorcyclists, 16% increase for pedestrians and a massive 26% increase for cyclists. You can't take one quarter in isolation and extrapolate because there are factors like poor weather that distort the trend, but nevertheless it's alarming and real people did die and were injured - these are not just statistics.

What's more alarming is the trend over the last couple of years. The number of pedal cyclists killed increased by 7 per cent from 104 in 2009 to 111 in 2010. The number seriously injured in accidents reported to the police increased by 2 per cent to 2,660.

If there were a 10% increase in cyclists KSIs every year, and a 10% reduction in KSIs overall every year, it would take about 10 years for the number of cycle casualties to overtake casualties for all other transport modes. Is that unlikely? Perhaps, but if cycling increases in popularity significantly and nothing is done to improve cyclist safety, maybe not.

Some might suggest the 'safety in numbers' effect should reduce the casualty rate per mile cycled. If so, that effect should already be operating in central London, so there may be no further gain to be had. In the countryside however, cyclists are still rarer than spotted zebras, and the roads have people like Rowan Atkinson crashing their cars into trees at high speed, blissfully unaware that there might be a cyclist round the next blind corner.

There's one conclusion that can safely be drawn. Britain's road system (and many of the drivers on it) is woefully under-prepared for an increase in cycling, and it is a national disgrace that the Government is prepared to stand idly by and allow a transfer of risk from the least vulnerable to the most vulnerable road users. It's time to get angry.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cycling e-petition?

From the Governments re-launched 'e-petitions' website:

e-petitions is an easy way for you to influence government policy in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons.

Of course, e-petitions don't guarantee action, but they do guarantee a certain amount of publicity. If your petition gets over the 100,000 threshold, it goes to a cross-party committee which decides whether it is worthy of debate.

Most of the petitions on the website so far are the usual hang 'em and flog 'em type of thing, with a few oddball and niche items mixed in.

This could be a good opportunity to generate some debate and publicity around cycling. I daresay there are 100,000 people interested in cycling who would be prepared to sign a petition. So it is a question of formulating a petition that has broad enough appeal to attract enough signatories, and is likely to get past the cross-party committee. Maybe the LCC leadership can think of something?

Cavendish Road Fatality

A 49-year-old woman is the 11th cyclist to die on London’s streets this year. A van collided with her bicycle at around 11am on Sunday 31st July, on Cavendish Road in Clapham, part of the South Circular near Clapham Common.

Few reliable details have emerged, but it has been the subject of considerable discussion on various internet forums. The collision seems to have occurred near the junction between Cavendish Road and Poynders Road. The van was travelling south-east away from Clapham Common, but it’s unclear whether the cyclist was travelling in the same direction.

Witnesses writing on the forums give harrowing accounts:

“I am still in severe shock ... I keep thinking about her poor family.”

“To look at his [the driver's] face and see the horror of what he had just did will stay with me, his first reaction was to cover her modesty, by taking off his tshirt and putting it over her, I was touched by this. He looked sooo lost, tears come to my eyes just remembering his moments, some kind lady was sitting down with him and talking to him”

“i was taken in to a house after about 5 mins as i passed out from the shock”

“What we saw will stay with us forever.”

I’m not going to speculate on what happened but as a regular user of this cycle route, I do know that it is hostile for cyclists and there are many hazards. However, this particular stretch, unusually for London, does have an off-carriageway alternative in the form of a cycle path on the north-east pavement between Abbeville Road and the Poynders Road junction. Unfortunately, it’s not very obvious. Approaching from the south you could quite easily cycle past without knowing it was there. From the other direction, there’s a ‘shared path’ sign on the pavement but nothing more obvious. There are a number of separate crossings to negotiate at the Poynders Road junction to get back onto the carriageway, so staying on-carriageway is quite likely quicker and easier in many respects.

A couple of final thoughts:

Just reading the witness accounts is profoundly disturbing, and really brings home the horror of a fatal collision. I wish that Boris Johnson and TfL would read the testimony and perhaps they’d give more thought to whether a couple of seconds on journey times are a worthwhile tradeoff for compromised safety and its inevitable consequence: more bereavement, more wrecked lives, more traumatized witnesses. It’s also worth sparing a thought for the paramedics and police who, unlike the witnesses, have to deal with this kind of scene on a regular basis.

Do bear in mind though that any death is a terrible trauma. There are on average only around 120 fatal cycle collisions every year in the UK, whereas there are 111,000 heart attacks (not all fatal, but those that aren't  often have life-altering consequences). By cycling, you are massively reducing some of the biggest risks you face (fatal illness as a result of a sedentary lifestyle) and only marginally increasing your chance of dying on the roads.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#1 Hero and Hardman of Cycling

Eddy Merckx? Bernard Hinault?

No, it's Arturas Zuokas.

The Mayor of Vilnius. In Lithuania.

Cycalogical salutes you!
Norman Baker is telling Londoners to ‘travel differently’ during next year’s Olympics, by which he means walking and cycling (and in London, cycling really is different). Why this sudden love affair with sustainable transport? The tubes and trains will be chock full of sports fans. The roads will be totally unable to cope, their capacity being reduced by the ‘Zil lanes’ which will ferry corporate sponsors and assorted 'big cheeses' and expense-account Games hangers-on from their five-star central London hotels. And of course the buses will crawling along on those super-saturated roads trying to handle the overspill from other forms of transport.

It’s a shame that this Government and its predecessor didn’t start to get the sustainable options into some sort of usable (let alone attractive) state so that asking people to use them wouldn’t come as such a shock. For the majority of people – people who can cross the road safely and drive a car, but aren’t skilled in the arcane arts of vehicular cycling - asking them to cycle to work in London is like asking them to eat cabbage soup. They may know it’s good for them but it doesn’t look very appealing and if you try it, it can leave a nasty taste in the mouth. In fact it can be so unpleasant that it can put you off for life.

So what are the Government going to do to make cycling attractive during the Olympics. Are they going to set up special ‘Olympic cycle lanes’ so that people can get through central London with confidence, knowing they aren’t going to be battling with HGVs and aggressive motorists to get round Piccadilly Circus, Parliament Square or Trafalgar Square? No, thought not. They're just going to allow the other options on the transport menu to be so unpalatable that cabbage soup is the most appealing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt, Deficit, Pensions, Tuition Fees and Other Stuff

The US Government has finally agreed to lift the federal debt ceiling. All over the developed world, the recovery is looking more and more anaemic. Historically, countries have been able to run a deficit in perpetuity on the basis that economic growth would keep the total sovereign debt at a manageable proportion of GDP. Is that about to change?

Note that despite the increasingly pessimistic growth forecasts for western economies, and despite the IEA's release of emergency oil reserves, after a brief dip the (Brent crude) oil price is hovering near the $120/bbl level again.

The big problem with economic growth is that it's linked to increased energy - and therefore oil - consumption. Increased oil consumption will feed through to an increased oil price, which will act as a brake on economic growth. This negative feedback loop that means that economic growth is unsustainable without a major shift towards renewables - that's without considering the imperative of addressing climate change. Meanwhile in China and India, a middle class is developing that aspires to own cars, air conditioners and all manner of energy-consuming appliances, adding to the upward pressure on oil prices.

Meanwhile in the UK, we have a generation of young people who will be entering the world of work with a £80,000 student debt on their shoulders. They'll also be paying top whack for housing. If they do get on the housing ladder it looks unlikely they'll be enjoying the kind of house price growth we've seen over the past couple of decades. Then they'll be supporting an increasing population of older people. On top of all that, they'll have to save for their retirement, and unlike previous generations, their savings won't be growing unless the economy does - which right now it ain't, and it doesn't look like it will for some time.

It may be a message no-one wants to hear, but it seems increasingly likely that we've seen the peak of living standards in this country. We've been on a decade-long consumer binge, running up our private and state credit cards and using up the oil. Now, quite literally, it's payback time - unfortunately the generation who had been drinking champagne all night have left their children with the bar tab.

What has all this musing about economics and the 'jilted generation' got to do with cycling? Well, if we don't 'green' the economy, there won't be any growth. Without growth, fewer and fewer people, particularly of the younger generation, will be able to afford to run cars. If we do 'green' the economy, a switch from private motor transport has to be a part of that process. So either way, cycling being the cheapest and greenest form of transport, has to figure pretty large.

On the face of it, we don't need to invest a penny in cycling. That's the marvellous thing about it - cycling can take place on existing infrastructure that was designed for motor vehicles. However, the danger is that while the current barriers to cycling exist - mainly fear of traffic - people will have to get pretty desperate before they try it. And while people stay in their cars, we'll be stuck with an economy that will function a little worse every year as an escalating oil price eats into disposable incomes, business margins and competetiveness.

That's not to say that cycling is going to save the economy. It's only a small part of a massive program that has to involve energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles, public transport, a switch from air travel to surface transport, and lots of other shifts. But I suspect that the day the Government finally acknowleges cycling as a transport mode will be the day it finally accepts there's a new economic paradigm and lets go of the idea that we can simply carry on as we did before.