Most people would remember the neighbourhood of their childhood being cut by something unusual. The neighbourhood in which I grew up had a 4 feet diameter steel pipeline running right through it. I remember laying on it, hugging it, pressing my ear to steel that always stayed cold no matter how hot the sun was, wondering how something so colossal as the water supply to my whole city could be gushing under my torso, yet not make a sound.
The lives of most kids revolved around that water pipe easement. On BMX bikes or 70s dragsters we rode on the actual pipe or just beside it, to the shops, to the back entrance of our local primary school, to the creek where we built dirt jumps and secret enclosures, and to all of our friend’s houses. Kids whose houses weren’t on our pipe-line, formed other gangs, around whatever unusual thing cut a slice through their part of town.
In planned British new towns like Milton Keynes, as many greenways (or “redways”) were provided as there were roads. By design, the material substance of every road had an equal portion of dark matter in the form of a bike path, somewhere, for balance. But planned routes for bikes are burdened with high expectations. No demands were put on our pipe easement. I almost died there from alcohol poisoning when I was 13, and have never levelled blame at the pipeline. I saw an 11 year old girl pinned down and dry humped by a gang of my 11 year old classmates, centre frame in the photo above, and would blame them, not the pipeline. I saw a new kid run for his life from a mob who didn’t like his long hair, all in this easement, that in and of itself is benign. Whenever newspapers learn of offences like these on the redways of Milton Keynes, conservatives decry the whole idea as a disaster, never to be repeated elsewhere. Never mind that adolescents aren’t only dry-humped but killed by cars on the road. Cars are of the establishment. They’re allowed to kill children.
As for cycling, that’s the black man with his eye on their daughters. It’s the pest they can’t poison or trap. The establishment says cycling is juvenile, and delinquent, and will never countenance routes being left for it. The makers of cars, heart medications, hospitals, and hearses, have a script they would like us to stick to, and not skid mark with our bicycle tires. The establishment is too invested in machines to afford not to fight to the end to discredit cheap green shortcuts to mobility, such as our bikes, or non-vehicular paths crossing cities.
So there is something to be said, I believe, for us making cycling a cult thing at first. Sure, I would love to see cycling becoming mainstream, just not by decree or design. It doesn’t have to be Stock Aitken Waterman’s new number one hit, based on a formula lifted from Holland. It can be like REM, who spent years just being an awesome underground band, before all my brainless contemporaries got on the bandwagon.