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If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Guest article by writer and cyclist Carlton Reid

Take a long hard look at the photograph above. That’s your future. Can’t see yourself as one of those on a bicycle? In that case you’ll be the one stuck behind them in your car.

Cities are back in fashion and pretty much all of the experts agree that most people on this finite planet of ours will be living cheek by city jowl with many others within a generation. The urban motorway, like Watney’s Red Barrel, is a relic of the 1970s. There will be no new roads bulldozed through any British city. We’ve got to sweat the existing assets and that means squeezing a growing number of people down the same highways. No city on earth believes the answer to future mobility is more cars. Whether you like it or not, the future will see ever greater restrictions on the use of privately owned motor cars in central business districts.

Using a car to get into the centre of a British city is like using a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut. It wouldn’t be so bad if the one-tonne SUVs tootling around were carrying the seven people they’re designed to carry but more often than not they’re transporting just a solo driver. This is an enormous waste of precious resources. Petrol might be getting cheaper but city rents aren’t. Land is scarce making it expensive, yet so much of it has been given over to slow-moving lumps of metal that take up inordinate amounts of costly city space per human traveller. Now, this is a motoring website, so where’s the twist? There isn’t one. Consider this a reality check. In your future, and in mine too, there will be fewer facilities for travelling everywhere by car. The nooks and crannies are already slowly being closed off to motor cars, and the generous number of carriageways will also be slowly reduced. Roadspace reallocation will be done stealthily – just as frogs don’t jump out of water boiled from cold, you may not notice until it’s too late. In fact, such “filtered permeability” for users other than private motor cars has been happening for some years but at such an under-the-radar level it may have passed you by.

Cities are in the business of prosperity and, with expanding populations, it will become clearer and clearer that the most efficient ways of getting around the city are also the most profitable ways. Look at Manchester and Edinburgh – they’ve reintroduced trams, taking space away from motorists. Look at London, it’s got a £1bn plan to create dedicated space for cyclists, taking space away from motorists. To move masses of people cities are recognising they need new ways of thinking. The future may eventually drip with high-tech but it’s probably not driverless-cars high tech, the real saviours of city mobility will be ultra-efficient public transport, buses, trains and trams, and ultra-efficient private transport – the bicycle.

I’ll be discussing all of this in a new book, Bike Boom. This is currently blowing past its funding goal on Kickstarter (cycling is booming, see). Granted, not everybody has a bicycle-shaped future but today’s motorists still have every incentive to encourage cycling. Bicycle advocates have an ungrammatical, but pithy, phrase for this: One Less Car. For every person who ditches the car for travelling to work/school/college and gets on a bicycle instead there’s more room on the road for those motorists remaining. Instead of demonising cyclists, or shouting “get off the road” at them, motorists should be love-bombing them with as much infrastructure as they can eat.

Want to climb out of the boiling water but don’t want to ditch the car completely? Buy a folding bike and keep it in the boot. Park on the outskirts of the city and cycle the rest of the way in. You’ll save a fortune in parking charges, burn off a spare tyre’s worth of blubber, and get to appointments on time for a change.


Carlton Reid is the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, a history book about motoring and cycling. It has been #1 in the automotive category on’s Kindle store.

It's a no-brainer to me. Would that BMW driver prefer to be stuck behind two dozen bikes, or two dozen cars?He should be encouraging bikes. When he gets to his destination he will have a parking spot. If he encourages others to drive the two dozen cars in front of him will have grabbed the parking.

Another excellent article.Using a car for short journeys is like using a chainsaw to slice cheese.

thought this was supposed to be a motoring site FFs!! I gave up riding bikes when I was 5! Kinda moved on to big boys toys now, like cars!!

This article obviously focussed on cyclists is also a very real view of what is happening in our major cities, and the effects it will have on motorists in the future so it's very relevant to any road user...Chris Green co founder of

Wonderful! Real men get about by their own muscle power, not by sitting in some glorified wheelchair.

Bikes should stay in the shed where they belong!

I haven't owned a car since 1976 but have had a few bikes since then. It hasn't stopped me driving cars, trucks, whatever, and I enjoy the opportunity to always be driving a smart near-new car with low emissions and great fuel economy. Last trip cost me under 25p/mile, and because I only pay for the cars when I use them I'm around 3000/year better off. The everage car sits idle for 96% of the time whilst you pay for it and the parking permits etc all the time. I look outside at a parked car and see the money running away. A big advantage for those out to impress too, you can hire a Lamborghini for the day if you want to look good - far cheaper than trying to own one....

PS I have takewn to checking the costs of parking and land. To squeeze in 30 more spaces at Penrith Station cost 2.5m - or 83,000 per space. If you get a multi-lvel car park for less than 12,000/space you are very lucky, and you'll either need to subsidise the costs, or chareg the full economic prices...One West London Company HQ reckons to save 9000/year for every employee who does not require a parking space, and one unitary council has cut thier staff travel costs budget by 400,000/year simply by changing the way they buy the car use. This actually benefits the motor industry as car hire companies have an annual buying plan and present as a single customer buying hundreds of cars per month, on a steady basis.

@Comment on not using a bike since the age of 5? Think about it ... if all cyclists stopped using their bikes and started to drive cars (like you), you'd be about 20 cars further down the road and looking for car parking 20 bays down - if you're lucky to find one. I guess you're still using age 5 mental processing for this article. Stop moaning and be grateful there's less car congestion with more drivers leaving their car at home and cycle instead - most people have a car and bike, it's not one or the other.

Not on bikes as we know them now, our weather just doesn't allow it and commuters can't even get seats without carrying bikes. Don't know what the answer will be but it won't be bikes.

The photo perfectly proves the point of Carlton's article. Cycles are the quickest, healthiest and cheapest way to travel and they create cities that are more attractive places to live. Welcome to the future!

This is a very London biased article in my opinion, but every other city I drive round Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, York the car is still very much King. I also feel there is not enough done in this country to separate cars trucks etc from Bikes. Look at Amsterdam for example Bikes are everywhere and they have their own Dedicated Tracks to get around safe from Cars etc. A Lot More work needs to be done to make Cycling safer before it becomes popular in this country..

Electric trams.

In the photograph around 30 people on bikes are taking up the space that would be occupied by three cars. Yet we still frequently hear the argument that our roads don't have enough space to safely accommodate cars and bikes. So why do we insist on foregrounding the transport mode that takes up the most space per road user? Instead of making roads wider, it's much more sensible to make traffic narrower. Also: chapeau to the editors of this site for their far-sightedness in publishing this piece. Cars will continue to have a use, but we desperately need a shift away from the overkill (quite literally) of private motor traffic in today's city. Well done, chaps.

Id say bikes as we know are pretty suitable for the UK's relatively mild climate. Deep snow is rarity, and even sub zero temperatures during the day are pretty infrequent. True we get a lot of rain, but its just a case of wearing the right clothes, often a problem for drivers is how wet they get walking from their distant parking place to their destination, because often they dont dress appropriately for the weather conditions. Bikes are the best solution for many.