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Opinions will be divided on how best to ride out the storm

The sun has been shining and that can mean just one thing - I have been cycling to work. Yes, I proudly admit to being a “fair- weather cyclist”.

Out there on the busy streets of London I am very easy to spot. Among the cycling hardcore, and the fixed wheel track bike lunatics, I am the one without lycra-based clothing, cycling at a pace to ensure I don’t reach the office in a sweaty mess.

As my neighbour said to me the other morning from astride his carbon fibre race-commuting machine, “you’re not a cyclist, you’re a man on a bike”.

To be honest I took it as a compliment.

You see for me, cycling to work is not a vocation - it’s simply a transport option. It’s not about exercising (although despite my pace it probably does do that), and it’s not even about convenience as I can, and often do, motorbike around town more quickly.

And the decision to take up the option is based largely on the weather. Am I going to get wet? Am I going to get blown off?

It has nothing to do with the availability of cycle paths or my judgement of how much traffic there is likely to be on my chosen route that day. Investment in segregated cycling routes is not a priority for public spending in my view.

Yet judging from the correspondence received recently from NCE readers in response to last week’s question about where we should best invest £20bn in infrastructure, not everyone agrees.
In fact, investment in a better and more comprehensive cycle path network across the UK is seen by many as a huge priority.

As we have heard over the last few days, the impending cuts in public spending will be severe. Prime minister David Cameron has been working hard to prepare us all for bad news and the reality that life changing “pain” is on its way.

“If something as uncontroversial as cycling can set up such a polarity of view regarding public investment, there will surely be a chaotic spectrum of opinion when it comes to the really important stuff”

But interestingly, we are all going to be consulted on what we think we can live without.

Quite what happens to the results of this consultation is unclear, as I imagine that this could lead to some divergence of opinion across the nation.

If something as uncontroversial as cycling can set up such a polarity of view regarding public investment, there will surely be a chaotic spectrum of opinion when it comes to the really important stuff.

But engage we must.

As civil engineers we do have unrivalled expertise with which to guide the government when it comes to the key areas of infrastructure investment policy such as transport, energy, water supply, the public realm and maintaining the environment, and we must make sure that this expertise is recognised.

We will certainly never agree on everything. But in the same way I accept that, while not on my radar, better cycle lanes might help others to join me as fair-weather cyclists, we must also assess the UK’s infrastructure investment options with an open yet informed mind about how best each serves the nation.

» Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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