Change is the hardest thing

There is a rumour that our new council may introduce every-three-week pickups for non-recyclable household waste, instead of the fortnightly collection we have at the moment. This is a bit of a worry; it’s a struggle to get the wheely bin lid closed even now, so our current way of living is definitely not compatible with an extra week of waste to store. We’ll have to change how we do things, how we buy things, and change is always hard work. Much easier to stay in the rut.

On reflection, though, it’s a little sickening that a fairly small family like ours produces 240 litres of landfill every 14 days. We have separate containers for glass, tin, plastic, cardboard and compostable waste, so this really is just stuff that’s going to be buried underground and remain there forever more. Not only that, but all this stuff has to be produced in the first place, transported to somewhere where we buy it, brought home, then collected and driven to landfill. Our world and its climate is already changing irreversibly because of the developed world’s addiction to consumption – is it really harder to buy things a little more sensibly now, than have to face my children in twenty years time and say “yeah, about these continuous storms and floods…”. Enforced change is never easy, but sometimes we need the shove to make us do the right thing.

We’re seeing the same thing with the Bears Way cycleway in East Dumbartonshire. After decades of subsidised motoring and one-track-mind street design, councils are finally realising that the private car is the cause of massive problems rather than a solution. As a community, a country, and a world; we need more people to walk and cycle to reduce congestion and air pollution, protect local businesses, ameliorate lifestyle diseases, and cut injuries and deaths from vehicle collisions. The logic is obvious, and yet we remain umbilically attached to our cars.

One way to bring about the change is to add quality cycle and pedestrian infrastructure at the expense of the space that for the last 60 years has been the playground of the driver. If active transport is seen as a safe, convenient and quick option – particularly by people sat morning after morning in stationary traffic – more people will choose to leave the car on the driveway. A minority of locals complain at the personal inconvenience, missing the point that the disruption to their established lifestyle is the whole point. We don’t want you to drive ten minutes to the shops. If the only way to persuade you not to do that is to make the journey take twice as long, then so be it.

The problem is that councils are influenced, informed, directed, impeded and undermined by political folk; people who rely on popular favour to stay in their jobs. When councillors attack award-winning active infrastructure, we need councils to be brave and stick to their plans. The objectives of someone trying to be re-elected on popular opinion and of someone trying to allow children to safely cycle to school are unfortunately opposed – kids can’t vote, after all.

What can help is solid, quality local media reporting that enables informed discussion. The Milngavie and Bearsden Herald which I’ve linked to throughout swings wildly between sensible, balanced articles about Bears Way and frothing clickbait. The latter was neatly demonstrated this week by a diatribe which blamed a cyclist on Bears Way for causing a driver to crash into a pedestrian crossing; a conclusion which had no backing evidence, directly contradicted the police statement, and which was quietly removed after it became clear that the cyclist involved was a passer-by who stopped to help out.

Companies have to sell papers. I get that, and I also don’t want the Herald to magically become a pro-cycling mouthpiece to the exclusion of all other viewpoints. There is a lot of anger about Bears Way (a petition to rip it out reached 2000 signatures remarkably quickly), and if the local media doesn’t represent that opinion then the debate won’t happen. All we can hope is that the editors review everything they’re about to publish and ask: does this add something to the discussion? Or is it just an easy way to get a few adverts clicked on.

Active transport has to be a big part of a future, even if a minority of entrenched car drivers refuse to be a part of it. News outlets can come along on the journey, or remain stuck in a cloud of exhaust and road rage.

PS: Photo at the top from the Friends of Bears Way.

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