Rihanna, Cycling, Birmingham and You

The times they are a crazy. 

When you wake up to hear that the leader of the world’s most powerful nation is remindingthe leader of the world’s most unstable nation that ‘we are not your enemy’ you know you are living in crazy times. Your initial suspicions might further be confirmed when the twittersphere blames car centric congestion on cyclist at the same time as bringing to your attention the truly bizarre view that removing speed bumps might somehow help anything at all. The times they are a crazy!

In the midst of such crazyness there is obviously also an abundance of good news worthy of much celebration. The cycling legend that is Chris Boardman has been appointed as cycling czar (cycling and walking commissioner) for the city of Manchester, Sadiq Kahn appears committed to take on the car lobby and further increase London’s spend on cycle infrastructure and even China, that wicked coal burning dystopia, is experiencing a huge surge of people choosing to commute by bike! 

Of course if you’re a brummie, or if, for now, you reside in the place they call BirmingHAM this good news might all feel a long way from your daily urban experience. 

Cycling progress in the second city is slow, very slow, at best. I recently over heard a fellow cyclist describe the current position as having come to a ‘stand still’. Sadly I suspect being at a stand still is not in fact possible. 

Every day an increasing and depressing number of citizens choose the motor car as their primary mode of transport. For many the passing of one’s driving test is of the sacramental significance previous generations had reserved for first communion, barmithspha’s and hadj. Every day an increasing number of children observe that walking or cycling to school are 'too unsafe’ and so the numbers of children developing childhood obesity rises. Every day the quality of air within our urban spaces reduces life expectancy for thousands of people. Every day there’s a close pass and another person deterred from cycling more. 

Standing still is not an option. We are only ever moving in one of two directions. That is why the appointment of Chris Boardman is of such significance. Chris is not only an iconic figure within the cycling community but a man who has not been backward in coming forward with his views on all of the above. We’ve long been urging Chris to stand for public office for one simple reason; opinions, however well founded are cheap and ultimately account for diddle squat zilch. When we leave this mortal coil our contribution to the place we call home will not be measured by the verocity of our opinions but by the course of our actions. Appointing Boardman was a genius move because itpositions him as needing to facilitate and enable real, demonstrable change. Something must change or Chris will simply move on and that would be the most regressive kind of something changing. 

As a Brummie this observation leaves me too easily frustrated. My soul screams “Birmingham City Council up your bloody game!!” and then I hear the echo chamber of reality yell back ‘you too’!! 

To state the obvious Boardman is not a road or a piece of infrastucture but a person of profound influence. If you’re a parent, sibling, friend, colleague, neighbor then the same is surely true of you. If you think you are of no influence then your sheer humility probably makes you of more influence than most. The great cultural revivals of our time do not begin with infrastructure but with the brilliance of human beings who can neither be contained by regression nor distracted from that which gives joy to the universe.

I’m waaaay too old to claim the credibility of being a fan of someone the youth know as ‘Rihanna’. I am not however too old to appreciate the significance of this multiple grammy award winning women and her influence upon her millions of fans. Note then my joy when I stumble across an article informing me that said pop icon has teemed up with cycle share platform ofo subsequently providing bikes to ‘help hundreds of girls in Malawi get to school safer and quicker’, And as if that wasn’t enough ofo are then providing scholarships for said girls to study sustainability and environmentalism at college in the US. What a bunch of freaking legends! 

In the midst of their stardust don’t miss the point. People helping people to make a better place for people, that’s the point, the only point. 

As a lost and confused PhD student I remember meeting a twentieth century theologian whose work I found utterly compelling. As I sat in awe of his every word he leant across an old coffee table, pointed his finger in my direction and demanded “Andi, do what only you can do and do it well”. 

The point of Rihanna, Chris Boardman and Sadiq Kahn is not to disempower us but to be our call to action. What's made cycling in NYC safer? Simply more people cycling, 

  • If you’re running an event how can you encourage and incentivise people to cycle to it?
  • Run a company big or small how could you help your staff make positive decision to live and travel well?
  • Got neighbors? How can you help them cycle more? 
  • Colleagues bored and frustrated by a commute stuck in traffic? How can you help them break that misserable cycle? 

As I walk through my local park I come across two women of south asian descent, dressed in traditional clothing and straddling their bikes while reading a map (upside down) in desperate search of the foggiest clue where they are going; my hope is once again restored. We soon strike up conversation and these incredible women tell me how, twice a week, they take up to 20 local women, mainly first generation immigrants of Pakistani origin on a variety of rides in and around this great city. 

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We need infrastructure but more than that we need wonderful people like these and we have them in abundance. 

Crazy times, good times, hopeful times, no time for standing still.