Turning back the clock to 1948

Today, in an evidence session before Parliament, Chris Boardman said Britain’s 2012 Olympic legacy should be a return to the levels of cycling last seen in 1948, the previous time Britain hosted the Olympic Games. It’s an appealing proposition, and more so if accompanied by a return to 1948 style on two wheels. Check out Eileen Sheridan, a star cyclist of the time, in action:

Apart from being more stylish, what was cycling like back in 1948? A couple of graphs tell the story very well. 1948 was one of the final years in which British people rode more miles by bike than they drove by car:

Cycling v motoring in Britain, 1949-2010

Not so long after 1948 began the great extinction of cycling in Britain, in tandem (excuse the pun) with the nation’s blossoming love affair with the motor car:

Cycling v motoring in Britain, 1949-2010

The two trends cannot be separated. The more cars there are on the roads, the less viable those roads are for everyday cycling. We’ll never construct a whole parallel network of cycling-only, but taking away carriageway space on busier roads and setting it aside for cyclists is an essential step towards a rehabilitation of two-wheeled travel, as is reducing speeds and volumes of motorised traffic wherever this can be done. Encouraging cycling is a hopeless task without taking serious steps to tame the car. And that’s what’s needed if we’re to turn the clocks back to 1948.

  • David Easley

    The second graph is also interesting because of the significant up-tick in cycling from the mid 70′s before falling back again after the mid 80′s. I wonder what accounts for that.

    • ubercurmudgeon

      Then, as now, a combination of oil price rises and fear of terrorism on public transport. A classic example of how human societies will only ever get up off their collective fat arses for two reasons: the evil actions of others, or when the consequence of their own laziness catches up with them.

      • bergerandfries

        Here! Here! Well said. There was a genuine spark of enjoying the bicycle at the time too, but it started just as the curmedgeon states. Oil and terrorism came first with the joy of cycling a secondary spark adding to the uptick.