Cyclists created the European Union, sort of

British cycle tourists in Norway, c. 1887.
British cycle tourists in Norway, c. 1887.

Who was the first to lobby for – and get – a European agreement for the cross-border free movement of people? Winston Churchill in 1946? The European Coal and Steel Community of 1951? The European Economic Community of 1957? Nope, a bunch of middle-class cyclists in 1897.

Just as cyclists have been written out of motoring’s history (when, in fact, it was cyclists who created and popularised automobiling) so the efforts of fin de siècle cyclists to create a more equitable Europe have also been largely ignored.

While Britain and Germany were steadily preparing to go to war at the end of the 19th Century cycling organisations across Europe were forging friendships, agreeing international treaties and creating a system of international governance.

Well-organised national cycling clubs across Europe – aided and abetted by the League of American Wheelmen – formed bonds to ease the travelling woes of touring cyclists. These clubs included Britain’s Cyclists’ Touring Club, founded in 1878, as well as the Union Vélocipédique de France (1881), the Dansk Cyklisk Forbund (1881), Royale Ligue Vélocipédique de Belge (1882), and the two German clubs, the Dutch Algemene Nederlandse Wielrijders Bond (1883), and the Deutsche Radfahrer Bund (1884). There were also influential national clubs in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Russia.

These clubs issued border permits and permits de circulation for bicycle touring but hated such bureaucratic restrictions on travel. Cycling clubs from Britain, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Russia met in Amsterdam in July 1897 at the invitation of the ANWB, the Dutch cycling organisation. (Today the ANWB is the main motoring and road rescue organisation in the Netherlands but was established in 1883 as a cycling club, the Algemene Nederlandse Wielrijders-bond, or the General Dutch Cyclist Union.) Later the same year the national cycling clubs met in Brussels, and agreed to start an international tourism organisation. This would go on to lobby for the removal of Europe’s borders.

AITThe Ligue Internationale des Associations Touristes, or LIAT, was formally created at the Casino Bourgeois in Luxembourg City in August 1898. This was very much a cycling organisation to begin with but was later swamped by motoring interests. LIAT changed its name to the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT) in 1919, and is now an international federation of motoring organisations created to “represent the interests of national automobile associations and touring clubs.”

The AIT’s website makes no mention of its cycling beginnings.

One of the key campaign goals of the early Ligue Internationale des Associations Touristes was the removal of border tariffs on bicycles. Cycle tourists had to pay customs duties to “import” their machines into each European country they travelled through. This was both expensive and bothersome.

The ANWB pushed for LIAT to embrace two key principles, the “most favoured nation”, an economic trade agreement, and the “principle of reciprocity”, the concept that any favours granted by one state should be also granted to others, the bedrock of international treaties.

In pushing for such pan-European principles the ANWB and the other national cycling organisations were years ahead of nation states. Naturally, there were points of difference between the cycling organisations. The Austrian club used its veto to prevent the Czech cycling organisation from joining LIAT (the Austro-Hungarian Empire was fractured, the “sick man of Europe”), and the Union Vélocipédique de France didn’t want to end the tariff system because, as France was Europe’s most popular destination for cycle tourists, the UVF made a pretty penny from memberships sold to foreign cycle tourists.

Despite these differences, at a LIAT meeting in London in 1899, twelve national clubs (apart from the French one) signed a “principle of reciprocity” agreement.

This agreement isn’t an exact precursor to the European Union but cosmopolitan cyclists were certainly discussing the free international exchange of goods, people, and ideas long before the concepts solidified during the Cold War. At the height of the First World War, the president of the Italian Touring Club remembered the “fruitful international collaboration” between pre-war cycle and motor tourists, and wrote that “touring is a powerful expression of national unity and of solid social concord.”

And it was cyclists who were among the earliest to push for change in Europe because, according to German writer Eduard Bertz in his Philosophy of Bicycles of 1900, cyclists were members of a “great, world-encompassing party of reform.” Cyclists, in short, were agitators. They pushed to change the world – women’s emancipation was partly pedal-powered, for instance – but such agitation is now largely forgotten.

Cycleways will have “adverse effect on a charity which supports endangered wildlife”

Actor Tom Conti isn’t a happy bunny. He’s also about as knowledgeable as a cute and furry woodland creature on who and what actually pays for roads but let’s hop over that and take a look at his other claims. He believes – like many others on this new petition to stop a Super Cyclehighway in London – that cycleways cause pollution. Getting people on bikes and out of cars will somehow lead to more noxious fumes? OK, he and they mean because of idling engines but that rather ignores the fact that London, like many cities, has long had roads filled with motor vehicles going nowhere fast.

This plan is imbecilic! It will cause frustration and a massive increase in pollution. Cyclists will not stay in the lanes; they never do. They also all travel at different speeds so trying to contain them in lanes will cause huge danger to them … This is a plan to be paid for with money largely from drivers of motor vehicles for the use of those who contribute nothing. The increase of cyclists, because they slow down traffic, causes greater pollution and danger to their own lives … Has the financial loss in parking and congestion charges been calculated, not to mention Londoners abandoning cars altogether thus depriving the chancellor of road tax, insurance tax and huge fuel taxes?
Tom Conti

The petition throws up (in perhaps more ways than one) a whole load of other common “bikelash” themes, although the comment from Roberta Perlman is a new one on me – she said it’s best not to have cycling infrastructure because cycleways upset motorists: “Happy motorists mean safer cycling”, she claimed.

But what’s especially interesting about this particular and perhaps peculiar petition is the fact people seem to be using their real names. These aren’t anonymous rants by online trolls – even the high and mighty are putting their names to the thing. Sir Maurice and Lady Irene Hatter certainly love their exclamation marks.

It is just too ridiculous for words!!!! And nobody thought this through!!!!!!
Sir Maurice & Lady Irene Hatter, London

“I am fed up with these nonsensical proposals; where does Andrew Gilligan live? Why don’t these interfering people leave well alone and consider the needs of the elderly, the infirm and, in general, the population who are not interested in being part of some bicycle ‘utopia’.”
Maxine Libson, London

“This entire scheme is a disgrace environmentely and will be a terrible hazard, health wise, to both young and old. – gas fumes, gas fumes and more gas fumes. I would also like to remind Boris Johnson that we live in London and not Amsterdam and that we have roads, broken down ones but still roads and not canals.”
Wendy Lipton, London.

“This scheme will force motorists onto alternative routes creating snarl-ups in areas poorly equipped to deal with them. Cyclists need to SHARE the road not steal it from motorists.”
Cynthia Kapelus, London

I am livid that these plans do not take into consideration the realities for local people who cannot use cycle routes and rely on automobile transport.
Debra Blair, London

“The plans are total nonsense … The area concerned is a community – this will break it up. Air pollution will worsen as cars ait in tradfic queues and this will badly affect walkers, cyclists and particularly babies in children in buggies, where they sit or lie low down, close to the vehicles as they sit in long queues.”
Vivien Lewis, London

Whoever is authorising and rubber stamping these schemes sure,y has no idea, or has their head in the clouds, to the total carnage they are causing to our roads.
Brad Taylor, South Ockendon

“The air on Prince Albert road is already polluted above legal limit and we cannot open our windows. This scheme would grid-lock the traffic and create a toxic environment.”
Giulia Filippelli, London

My children live in north London – my husband has a disabled badge and I feel that far too much of London is being given over to cyclists. The idea that an ageing population is going to take to their Bikes is ludicrous. Many cycle lanes are quite sparsely used. There are other groups of people who’s needs are being bulldozed by these crazy schemes. The face of London has been much changed in the last 10 years by cycle lanes. The traffic is Far, Far Worse.
Lorraine Esdaile

“This is a punishment for children and old people who live in the area and brithe this very polluted air.”
Victor Loewy, London

London is an amazing city – why try to ruin it with thoughtless, wasteful, selfish schemes that punish the many and benefit very few. I hope that, for once, common sense prevails.
Georgina Isaacs, London

“Too many cyclists already causing congestion on the roads.”
Grace Frankel, London

Who is paying vehicle excise duty to go on a road – drivers or cyclists ? If cyclists wish to use the same roads then they should pay duty as well.
Julian Jakobi, London

“… Cyclists should not be treated preferentially but fairly with other road users.This is not fair as cyclists do not pay vehicle excise tax and so car drivers pay to drive but are banned from driving on roads which cyclists who have paid nothing can ride on for free.That is inequitable.”
Julian Jakobi, London (again!)

I believe that cyclists, who have a right to safe and pleasurable cycling, will not benefit from a scheme that causes motorists to be frustrated and delayed. On the contrary: they could be at greater risk. Happy motorists mean safer cycling.
Roberta Perlman, London

“I think the congestion caused … will be detrimental to my children’s health.”
Tamara Craig, London

It is totally ridiculous … I will be unable to get any where … we will become prisoners in our own homes
Tracy Grabiner, London

“This would appear completely unfit for purpose causing harm to residents, tourists, visitors, elderly & young witout any thought whatsoever.”
John Libson, London

why do cyclists seem to have a divine right what about the tax paying motorist which clever local councillor/politician thought this one up.
John Lawson, London

“My sons school is around there and it’s a lovely leafy part of London and should not be changed.”
Paula Morris, London

I am totally opposed to this proposal
Zilda Collins, Boca Raton, FL. Yes, Florida!

“The transformation of the Outer Circle into a ‘cycle superhighway’ is an appalling idea which will forever change the benign and bucolic atmosphere of Regents Park. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the numbers of faux-Chris Hoys and faux-Bradley Wiggins using that stretch of roadway as a race track, some reaching speeds of 30mph and beyond, overtaking cars, while giving no leeway to pedestrians and dog walkers attempting to cross the road. Many shoot the traffic lights on red. There is absolutely no doubt that if the Outer Circle is designated as a cycle superhighway, it will be a magnet for aggressive, speeding cyclists and the pedestrian will be at far greater risk than from motorists, who generally appear to be law abiding and keeping within the speed limit. The ‘cycle superhighway’ will, as TFL knows, create huge traffic congestion in the heart of the West End of London — already virtually at a standstill — and is indicative of a politically-driven agenda by TFL, the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, to rid London of the car and force its citizens onto public transport and the bicycle.”
Miles Tim, London

cyclists can be dangerous to car drivers
Zara Ruth Glatman, London

“… The proposal will make it impossible for people to visit London Zoo with families as it is awkward to get to by public transport anyway. This will have an adverse effect on an excellent charity which supports endangered wildlife throughout the world … I urge you to reconsider the proposal which is an unreasonable preference for cycle users who make no contribution to road maintenance as they pay no road tax and do not purchase petrol.”
Tamara Rabin, London

Walk on a road? You’re a jaywalker and deserve to die

George and Vera Maskell were killed in 2014 when they were struck by a 7.5-tonne recycling-truck driven by Darren Sanders. The elderly couple were walking across a service road in Sunbury when they were struck. This road has a 5mph speed limit and has a give-way triangle at the end of it. 44-year-old Sanders, who is blind in one eye, was driving at up to 12mph and failed to stop at the give-way sign. Newspaper reports say that George, 81, and Vera, 80, froze as the truck was driven into them.


Sanders was prosecuted for dangerous driving, and acquitted by a jury. Last week the judge gave him a suspended sentence for “careless driving”, and banned him from driving for 18-months. So far so normal – such cases are all too common, with killer-motorists routinely walking free from court, often because of the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I reluctance of judges and juries to punish fellow motorists for so-called “accidents”.

What makes this particular case unusual is the public intervention of the 44-year-old driver, and his 23-year-old daughter. Both have recently contributed to the comments section of a news report of the trial. If these are genuine comments, and there’s no way to prove this, they shine a sickening spotlight on how some motorists believe they have greater rights than other road-users. Roads, these drivers feel, belong to motorists; pedestrians – and cyclists – shouldn’t be on them, and when they get hit they share the blame with any motorists who hit them. It also highlights why the media and judges are deeply wrong to call such collisions “accidents”.

“EKSanders”, posting on the Standard website saying she’s the daughter of Darren Sanders, wrote this about Mr and Mrs Maskell being killed by her father:

“Accidents happen. It’s why they’re called accidents.”

She added:

“If they had used the path that was created for pedestrians rather than jaywalking then this wouldn’t have happened. My dad and the couple were both in the wrong.”

This is amazing, frightening and gut-wrenching. Were the fatal injuries inflicted on Mr and Mrs Maskell to have been done with a blunt instrument it’s unlikely the killer’s daughter would feel able to defend her father on an online forum. Furthermore, were the couple to have been bludgeoned to death on this service road with a club wielded “accidentally” it’s unlikely the punishment would have been so light.

Mr and Mrs Maskell were crossing a service road, pulling a shopping trolley, after shopping in a Tesco store. They were heading for their own car, left in a multi-storey car-park.

Rule 170 in the Highway Code states: “Watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way.” Few motorists (or cyclists) know this rule exists, and pedestrians have to meekly scuttle out of the way, or risk being flattened, as happened with Mr and Mrs Maskell.

Sanders – if it really is him on the Standard’s website – clearly doesn’t know Rule 170 of the Highway Code. He wrote:

“im not trying to say im [sic] a victim and never will, but read the highway code and then go and sit near where it happen and watch.”

I haven’t sat near the spot in question but with Google Streetview I can go there virtually. From photographs on other news reports it’s possible to work out the exact place where the elderly couple were so brutally killed. They were crossing a road, and Sanders should have stopped at the give-way sign.

Sanders did not give this elderly couple priority because he says he did not see them. If he was paying attention he would not have hit Mr and Mrs Maskell – by not paying attention he was clearly driving dangerously but courts seemingly find it hard to convict motorists of “driving dangerously” which is why prosecutors often prefer to charge killer motorists with the lesser offence of “driving carelessly”.

“dsanders” wrote on the Standard website: “i see in the paper that they didnt put i only had 2.5 seconds to see them and i wasnt speeding , you should get your facts right before judging anyone and are you saying you never done anything wrong whilst driving, i bet you have answered your phone, or pulled out without looking.”

This is not a driver who appears to be showing remorse for the result of his actions. His daughter is looking forward to the ending of his driving ban.

“After his ban is up I will feel safe in the car with him again because I know he is a careful driver. He would NEVER hurt anyone intentionally.”

Darren Sanders won’t even have to do community service as per his sentence. Why? Because his ophthalmologist said his vision would not be good enough. Good enough to drive, apparently, but not good enough to do community service.

“My dad was happy to do community service,” wrote EKSanders. “He’d take his punishment because he’s a decent man. It was his eye doctor who advised not to. She never advised him not to drive.”

At Sanders’ sentencing hearing, the Common Sergeant of London, Richard Marks QC, told him: “The real cause of this accident was not in reality speed, nor indeed your failure to observe the ‘Give Way’ sign, but the fact that you simply didn’t see them in front of you.

“Had you been looking ahead of you and paying proper attention as you should have been, then you would have seen them.

“This incident was wholly out of character and can properly be described as having been a tragic accident.”

Despite what the judge said, this was not an accident.

During his trial Sanders said that “It’s narrow and it’s a service road, as I approached I slowed down until I could see the road – when I knew nothing was coming I looked to the right then I started to accelerate.”

By his own admission Sanders was looking for other motor vehicles, not pedestrians, and was accelerating when he should not have been accelerating . According to his daughter pedestrians who walk across this road are “jaywalkers”.

George and Vera Maskell were not “jaywalkers”, they were crossing a service road where there are very few motor vehicles. To apportion any blame whatsoever for their deaths is sick.

As Peter Norton has shown in his book about the erosion of pedestrians’ rights in the early 20th century*, motorists didn’t monopolise the streets overnight, but had to fight to suppress the road rights of slower users, and this fight proved to be essential for the success of motoring. “The street,” said Norton, “was a place to walk, a place to play. In this traditional construction of the city street, motorists could never escape suspicion as dangerous intruders. While this perception prevailed, the motor age could not come to the … city.”

Pedestrians – and cyclists – can be forced aside, unthinkingly, by nurses, nuns and White Van Man alike. Motor vehicles are deemed, by many, to have priority on roads. Might, it seems, is right. On a bicycle, or when crossing a road as a pedestrian, you often don’t register on retinas. This results in SMIDSY – “sorry, mate I didn’t see you” – a phrase commonly heard by upended cyclists (and motorcyclists).

When motorists do notice cyclists and pedestrians it’s often because they are perceived to be “getting in the way.”** Motorists sometimes articulate that cyclists “slow down” what they consider to be the only legitimate road users. More normally, what slows down motorists is fellow motorists but it’s human nature to scapegoat the “other”.

A small minority of motorists believe they should inform the non-motorised what modern roads are for – the use of cars as weapons is well documented***. Far more motorists blithely accept that roads are for motor vehicles alone, which is why the family of Mr and Mrs Maskell – like millions of other bereaved families down the years – did not get justice.


*Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter D. Norton, MIT Press, 2008.

** Dr. Miles Elsden, the deputy chief scientific advisor at the UK’s Department for Transport, told horrified delegates at an active travel conference in July 2013 that cyclists were guilty of a number of sins including “getting in the way.” Shifting Gears, University of the West of England, July 2nd, 2013.

***Driven to Kill: Vehicles as Weapons, J. Peter Rothem University of Alberta Press, 2008. “Violence and the car”, Helmut Holzapfel, World Transport Policy & Practice, Vol. 1 No. 1, 1995.

Roads are not just about movement says London’s Transport Commissioner

London’s transport commissioner Mike Brown said last night that roads were not just for cars but for people, too. Roads have “place” and “movement” functions, he said. Pointedly, and in his first major pronouncement on cycling since becoming commissioner last year, he also had a strong message for those individuals and groups who wish to see fewer people on bikes, not more.

“I am a huge defender of our Cycle Superhighways,” he told an assembled audience of the great and good in transport and design. Prominent developers were in the audience as were leading architects and important people from the City. And just so none of those present could be in any doubt about his strength of commitment to “our” cycling infrastructure he stressed that those opposed to providing more protection for cyclists in London were “wrong”.

“Although [the Cycle Superhighways] may reduce some road space for motorised vehicles I have to tell you, to avoid a single death or serious injury for cyclists makes all that investment worthwhile,” said commissioner Brown.

“Those who are critical of it, I have to tell you, I think you’re wrong.”

A long stretch of Cycle Superhighway at Blackfriars  is already open for business
A long stretch of Cycle Superhighway at Blackfriars is already open for business

To perhaps the consternation of some, he added: “Cycling will continue to grow.”

Brown was giving the keynote speech at the opening of Streets Ahead, a month-long exhibition on the future of London’s roads staged by New London Architecture, an influential think-forum and research organisation. The exhibition is being held in NLA’s posh London HQ. Last night was the preview evening; Brown joked that nobody should mention anything about the exhibition until it was officially opened by Boris Johnson this weekend. At least I hope it was a joke because I tweeted madly from the event, spurning the Italian wine and beer.


I tweeted some pix, and below I’ve embedded a whole load more. As you can see, cycling plays a prominent role in the exhibition which comes as no surprise really as the chair of New London Architecture is architectural writer Peter Murray, a not-at-all-secret cyclist. (At a meeting we both attended at the Department for Transport the day before the Streets Ahead opening I learned that Murray had done what I did at the Velocity conference in Nantes last year, and that’s count the number of active-travel proponents riding on the expo’s escalators rather than bounding up.)

Peter Murray (left), Mike Brown and Ashok Sinha.
Peter Murray (left), Mike Brown and Ashok Sinha.

Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, told me it was “massively heartening” to hear commissioner Brown be so positive about the future of cycling in London.

“We have a crunch coming,” said Sinha. “There’s predicted to be a huge growth London’s population, and cycling is one of the ways we’ll be able to keep this city moving. The new infrastructure isn’t just about safety, it’s about planning our city for the future.”

Cycling is prominently featured at Streets Ahead
Cycling is prominently featured at Streets Ahead
The NLA's HQ has a permanent 1:2000 scale model of London. The model is 12.5 metres-long and represents 85 square kilometres of London
The NLA’s HQ has a permanent 1:2000 scale model of London. The model is 12.5 metres-long and represents 85 square kilometres of London
The 1960s Buchanan Report warned of the dangers of mass motorisation ...
The 1960s Buchanan Report warned of the dangers of mass motorisation …
Bridges to somewhere
Bridges to somewhere
Infra innovation
Infra innovation
Walthamstow's "mini Holland" is featured in Streets Ahead
Walthamstow’s “mini Holland” is featured in Streets Ahead
Minority? What minority?
Minority? What minority?
London is expanding fast
London is expanding fast
Road definitions
“Street types”
Street types matrix
Street types matrix


Thanks to Peter Murray for introducing me to Mike Brown – I was introduced as the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, the predecessor to Bike Boom. When Brown said he was interested in the history of London’s roads (which also features as part of Streets Ahead) I gave him a copy of the book which he asked me to sign. I have no idea whether commissioner Brown is a cyclist so instead of writing “Keep pedalling” as I often do when signing books, I wrote “Keep rolling”, which covers most transport modes.


Streets Ahead: The future of London’s roads
Thursday 28 January – Wednesday 24 February 2016

As part of Streets Ahead NLA is staging lunchtime soapbox talks every Friday in February. The discussion on 12th February is on the future of cycling.

Toilet humour


Roads are a little like toilets. You might have a house with two toilets but, if you have a large family or a number of flatmates, both of the toilets might be occupied when you need to “go”.

At the point of your most need you think it would be a fine idea to, sometime soon, add another facility. Later, after the building work has been completed and now with three toilets, you think you’re bound to have enough evacuation-infrastructure to satisfy demand.

And most of the time you most certainly would. But then you order in, and consume, a dodgy vindaloo, shared with the whole household. This leads to simultaneous urges, and not even three toilets can now cope with the inevitable (bum) rush.

You realise that the only way you could guarantee a space on the privy council for every member of the household would be to have one porcelain throne per person. To build such facilities would require either converting some existing rooms or erecting an extension, but let’s say local planning laws prevent you from adding rooms to your house. In which case, for the first extra toilet, one of the spare bedrooms has to go the journey. For the second extra toilet you’re forced to reduce the size of the kitchen. But no worries, at least everybody in the household won’t have to squeeze their legs tight ever again.

Except you then throw a party, and fifty people show up, and they too are inflicted with food poisoning (very possibly because of your poor kitchen hygiene since downsizing it). All of a sudden not even five toilets are enough – in every spare corner of your house there are people with desperate need to get someplace shiny.

Naturally, as a kind host you never wish for such a faux pas to ever happen again and you partition your house until there’s no living space left – once spacious, it’s now merely commodious; every room is the littlest one. Flushed with success you know that, finally, you can meet every possible domestic sanitation eventuality. But, really, you’re just living in a sewer.


We have plenty of roads to go around, it’s when we all want to use the roads at the exact same time that’s the problem. Building more roads doesn’t fulfil demand, it just induces it.

Who was campaigning for separated cycleways in the 1970s?

Dutch people, of course, but also plenty of Brits. In fact, the British bicycle industry had a ten year long PR campaign that had separation-from-motor-traffic right at the top of its shopping list. Most folks have forgotten about this now, and it’s assumed – and too often written – that there was no real push for separated cycling infrastructure in Britain until sometime after 2006.

Below are some newspaper cuttings and extracts from a couple of mid-1970s leaflets from the British Cycling Bureau, a PR outfit paid for by the Bicycle Association of Great Britain, and which successfully plugged cycling in the mass media of the day.

What the BCB didn’t get were the separated cycleways it pushed for most of all. Why? Motor-centrism. The only successful insertion of cycling in the 1978 Transport Bill was a lonely mention of bicycle parking. I’ll be discussing this and much more at a talk for the Oxford cycle campaign tonight. I’m digging up lots of these nuggets, many of which will make it into my Bike Boom book, due out next year.

Cycling and the Environment, British Cycling Bureau, 1977

Cycling and Traffic, British Cycling Bureau, 1977

Special byways for cyclists to segregate them from motor vehicles, Daily Telegraph, 1974

National Plan For Cycling, British Cycling Bureau, mid-1970s



Benton Bridge Cottage
Jesmond Dene
Newcastle upon Tyne
United Kingdom