Friday, 17 September 2010

A Bicycle Parade

Halariously, if you're organising any kind of ambulant gathering in Northern Ireland, you've got to fill out an 8-page application form to hold a parade (two pages of which are dedicated to the list of pipe bands who will be attending, with names and towns on origin). So, in order for a few of us to cycle in opposition to a new dual carriageway and in support of a railway (yeah, we don't have one) this weekend, I had to go to the local police office, fill out the form and have a brief meeting with a sargeant (who also called me later on that day, to make sure we'd be cycling in single file).

This is is typical of Northern Ireland's discomfort with a) activism or political belief outside sectarianism or mainstream politics b) bicycles - not the vehicle as such, but more the idea of riding one along any road where cars are present. Such an odd sight is the bicycle here that today on my rounds in town I spotted not one other cyclist (despite the rare sunshine) and I was also the object of a random scream at close quarters from young men in a car (this happens quite a lot) as well as a surprised word of encouragement from a friendly pedestrian.

Tomorrow's ride will take place along a 27 mile section of the A road soon to be made redundant by a brand new, £840 million dual carriageway to snake along within a stone's throw from the existing road. By cycling, I hope our bicycles, balloons and colourful attire will bring attention to the madness of investing in such a project at this time and highlight the alternatives which do deserve investment: cycling and public transport. An article in the Belfast Telegraph last week displayed some awareness of the country's unhealthy obsession with cars: but didn't go as to as to suggest cancelling existing road projects, which those in the deprived North West consider it is their right to have.

The capacity for bicycles to play a role in environmental activism is huge: they will also be a key part of the solution to travelling when the fossil fuels finally run out. Yes, we will travel shorter distances, and if we want to go far, well then we'll have to set aside a few days, but we'll be happier, fitter... and more in touch with our local communities.

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