It was 7:15am on a glorious Wednesday morning. As the sun rose over Birmingham’s iconic skyline business leaders and cycle enthusiasts had gathered to hear more on the City’s Cycling Ambition. While there was a notable absence of some of the big players grey suits were none the less abounding, their blandness broken only by the horrific yet strangely acceptable sight of middle aged men in lycra.
As we gathered in the city library our shared breakfast room looked out on a city so unconcerned by low carbon mobility that it’s brutalist architecture causes grave problems for even the most experienced cyclist aim simply to cross from one side of the city to the other. We however were concerned with greater things than our less than aspirational past, namely breakfast. Wine glasses and orange juice, coffee cups and corporate filter coffee, bacon baps and sausages were abounding. No. I promise you heard me right. ‘Bacon Baps and Sausages’ were the only choice of breakfast. In a city on the brink of an obesity epidemic, where over a fifth of the population eat only Halal and a rising number of it’s young and environmentally conscious citizens are entirely meat free a gathering designed to celebrate the progress of the city’s largest arbitrator had only sausages and bacon to offer.
As we moved from one conference room to another and transitioned from social gathering to formal presentation, coffee cups were replaced by corporate pens and unholy huddles for ordered rows. Cllr James McKay welcomed those gathered and promptly reminded us that the city council are of course committed to cycling and cyclist. It is the most boring thing in the world to hear! Saying other wise would be akin to inviting the city’s faith representatives to a declaration of atheistic convictions or reminding thousands of female pensioners that you couldn’t care less about the gross injustice of their historical underpayment. Politicians have a strange way of expecting our jubilation as they state only the blindingly obvious. My heart is soon screaming out:
“Please, let us move beyond pleasantries and towards substance”.
My commute across town is not the treacherous race for life it so often feels to be because our politicians lack hyperbole, nor do we have air quality so poor that it registers on and international level because our elected officials have ran out of niceties, we do not enslave those on minimum wage to spend an eighth of their wage on mobility because no politician can find sufficient words of bland encouragement. Revolutions are evidenced in actions.
The ever polite Richard Lennard then outlines the ‘plan’ followed by a few polite questions. Except I am absolutely sure I heard all of this over 18 months ago. There’s repeated pictures of the same stretch of resurfaced canal but in terms of actual delivery that’s it. Delivery is in fact noticeable only by its absence an absence topped only by the absence of anything other than an overwhelmingly white middle aged demography. Which takes me back to those Bacon butties.
In one of Britain’s most diverse cities what is surely lacking is not pictures illustrating green paint on tarmac (although that wouldn’t go a miss) but a clear outline as to how the city council will better arbitrate it’s resources to encourage the development of cycling amongst its ethnically diverse population. I cycle not because the roads are great because they are not, not because it pleases our political leaders because I couldn’t care less, not because it benefits my health although it does, but simply because it’s a possibility gifted to me by my dad. somebody introduced me to something so utterly brilliant for me I haven't stopped since. Take that away and I would never have cycled.
We do not have a single vegetarian option at our breakfast because no body thought of it and that’s the problem!
The people best placed to think and act as if to build a cycling revolution will never be council officials but ordinary people with a contagious enthusiasm for a very good thing. It is the office worker and her broad and eclectic set of friends, the chef and his diverse team, the teacher and her staff room full of meaningful relationships which might just make a revolution possible.
Maybe no one thought about breakfast because institutions don’t think they arbitrate. They do their bit, they pay people to dig up tow paths and splash paint on roads, they arbitrate a few resources here and there but not much more. Maybe if we expect any more of them than that we’re just abdicating our own responsibility.
The council will invariably solve the problem of breakfast with a ‘Food, Diversity and Culture’ policy while the rest of us learn to share the things we love with the people we care about, in a way which makes sense for them. Whether that’s breakfast or cycling the action required for a revolution begins and ends not with council officials but with revolutionaries like you and me. To that end it was a valuable meeting.