We have a dream…

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonIn the same week as the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream‘ speech, the UK government made announcements about the #GetBritainCycling report’s recommendations that caused some people, who would like to see cycling infrastructure improvements, to despair.

It is perhaps fitting, then, to recall parts of MLK’s famous speech with a thought towards not only ending racism – for that struggle continues – but also seeing if some of his words might shine a light on issues faced by people who cycle, and those who campaign for improved cycle infrastructure to encourage more people to experience the joy of cycling.


Martin Luther King Jr (‘MLK’) said,

So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition…

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America that the fierce urgency is now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Governments often will make it seem they are supporting cycling with lofty phrases and speeches that sometimes include the occasional announcement of some funding here or there.

Often, though, the funding to support deeds behind the words isn’t much, and comes gradually, in comparison to what is spent on infrastructure for motorised vehicles; or instead of going on safety measures it is spent on well-intentioned, but ultimately condescending, blame-the-victim ‘education’ or ‘awareness campaigns’, which turn out to be not nice at all.

When talk turns to doing more for safety, more quickly, we sometimes start to hear people refer to the ‘war on the motorist’ or ‘penalising motorists’. This creates a feeling of segregation based on your choice of transport, a pigeon-holing: us motorists, you cyclists.

Let’s be clear: There is no war. What there is, is people. A democracy where some people are living in an elitist place that prioritises transport using a motorised vehicle.

The Minister of Transportation in Ontario put it well when he said at the launch of the #CycleON cycling strategy, “We do not live in a world of cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, wheelchair users and transit riders. We live in a world of people who move…we are people who make choices about how we move.”

Or, as the Beatles sang: “I am he as you are he as you are me / And we are all together”


MLK continued,

It would be fatal for the Nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

Urgency. In terms of cycling campaigning, the urgency arises because of the obesity epidemic. People who would otherwise choose to walk or cycle to their local shops, schools, jobs or friend’s houses don’t. They get in their car. They get fat. You get fat. Then you get ill.

In the UK, it is estimated that £1.6 billion pounds (about US$2.5 billion) could be cut from the UK’s health budget if there was Dutch-style cycling infrastructure in place.

Urgency. For personal and economic health.


MLK continued,

Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will be content will have a rude awakening if the Nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwind of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our Nation until the bright day of Justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever continue our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

There are now so many people cycling! Especially in London after the 2012 Olympics raised the profile of cycling, to say nothing of the back-to-back British wins of the Tour de France; the same goes for places across the USA, Canada, Asia, South America, Africa, and yes! even places in Australia where wearing a helmet is compulsory (which has been shown to suppress uptake of cycling to the detriment of society).

This popularity has caused a growing number of people to voice their demand to improve the real – and perceived – safety on the roads. Not only for them, but for the people who want to cycle but are too afraid to.

In the UK, many people involved in cycling campaigning followed closely the #GetBritainCycling inquiry but then felt let down because so few of its recommendations were acted upon by the Government in its official response. This will be was debated in Parliament on 2 September 2013.

Politicians that continue to ignore the growing number of people who choose to cycle – and the ones who want to but currently feel too scared to – must know that cycling is moving up the political agenda. People will not rest until they have freedom to chose how to travel safely.

There is hope: in this same week, Ontario, Canada revealed its #CycleON cycling strategy which included a focus on road infrastructure; and in Germany the Chancellor said“We have to make sure the right infrastructure exists so that those who want to switch to the bicycle as a mode of transport can do it.”


MLK continued,

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people — for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is inextricably tied up with our destiny.

They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

People who choose to travel by bicycle are in many cases the same people who also sometimes choose to travel by car. The creation of bicycle infrastructure offers people a real choice, where safety is built-in.

People on bicycles take up far less space that people in cars. This means that creating ‘space for cycling’ will simultaneously reduce congestion as people choose to cycle to work, to school, to the shops, and to their friend’s house.


MLK continued,

We cannot walk alone, and as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights: “When will you be satisfied?

No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

When people are killed whilst riding their bicycle, it is often by a person driving a car, truck or lorry. The most common reason for a crash is ‘failed to look’. People are looking, but they are not seeing what may be right in front of them; or perhaps they are looking but at their mobile phone!

The aftermath of a serious or fatal crash is devastating. It is people – a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a wife, a husband, or most sadly of all, a child – that are affected. Do not dismiss people as merely ‘cyclists’ or ‘pedestrians’. We are all people. With families like yours.

What of the justice following a crash? In the UK at least, it often appears that sentences given to people who kill or seriously injure are more lenient if you crash your car into a person on a bicycle than a person in a car. People who damage cars by keying them sometimes get tougher sentences than people who kill a cyclist when driving their car.

Reports of cases also sometimes include references to things the dead person who was riding the bicycle hadn’t done: wear a helmet or have lights turned on. This is blaming the victim.

It is the law in many places that bicycles should be equipped with lights. So far, nowhere requires people walking in the road (or drunks lying in them!) to wear lights – does that mean it is okay to run over them? No.

Don’t fool yourself about the safety helmets give: a helmet isn’t designed to protect you in this kind of crash.

Strict liability would help here: in a nutshell this means that you are considered at fault in a crash if you are the one in the bigger vehicle unless you can prove otherwise. People cycling must take care around people walking. People driving must take care around people cycling and walking.

No, no, we are not satisfied with how the courts in many places treat victims hit by people driving cars. There must be justice.


MLK continued,

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this Nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed–“we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a Nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the conduct of their character.

I have a dream today…

We are seeing, in cycling campaigning, more and more people learning how the Dutch have transformed The Netherlands’ infrastructure to be inclusive.To provide safe, secure ways to cycle.

The dream of ‘space for cycling’ is already a reality in some parts of the world. It can be made a reality where you are. Right now: Copy and paste. The dream is alive. The dream is expanding.


MLK continued,

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted: every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plane, and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

Surely, this part of MLK’s dream would be heaven if you cycle in a town or a village that is hilly – with the train station at the top and your house in the valley!

But this is really about removing obstacles – mostly imagined – that prevent you seeing how the world can be.

Is it really hills that prevent people cycling? No.

Is there really no space for cycling infrastructure? No.

Is there really lots of new legislation required for changing the infrastructure? No.

Is it really costly to build and maintain cycle paths? No.


MLK concludes,

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our Nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood

So let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, We’re Free at Last!

Ring your bicycle bell for the freedom to chose to cycle in a safe environment; To be free of the feeling that you must take the car every time you want to nip out.

We, together, have a dream: Space for Cycling.

Other people who ride bicycles have also been inspired: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy and Bicycling: How Do We Build a Coalition for Bicycle Justice?

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