Next Slide Please: Sir Chris Whitty, Dutch Children And Italy

It’s been a great week to be a commuting cyclist. I actually filled the car up with petrol on Wednesday evening, at about 5.45pm. As I drove down to the local Morrison’s I was listening to the radio and to how people were eagerly waiting to do what I was about to do until 6pm when the 5 pence reduction in the price of petrol came into effect. Spotters around the country were keeping their eyes trained upon the electronic boards outside service stations to observe the drop take place as if it were the ball falling in Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Strewth. I couldn’t be bothered to wait, parked up and filled up. ยฃ65 if I remember rightly. Perhaps I’m not that fussed. Not that I’m a rich man. Far from it. But having returned to the life of a commuting cyclist recently, it just seems a little less important than it might have done a few months ago…

In response to the Chancellor’s decision on fuel duty, Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore made the following comments:

“โ€œNowโ€™s the time to plan for the future, to invest in our towns and cities in ways which will unlock our car dependency. Cars have their place, but when 68% of journeys under five miles are currently driven โ€“ distances easily cycled or in some cases walked โ€“ itโ€™s clear there has been a failure to provide suitable transport alternatives.โ€

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK

Quite. Duncan was responding to not just Rishi Sunak’s mini-budget announcement but also in the context of a speech delivered by Sir Chris Whitty to the (brace yourself for a snappy, exciting conference title) Local Government Association / Association of Directors of Public Health Annual Public Health Conference 2022 in which Sir Chris made the following comments:

“During the last two years, obesity, particularly in children has got significantly worse… One of the things that is the most effective ways of improving health โ€“ whether itโ€™s cardiovascular, cancer or mental health โ€“ is physical exercise…. And active transport is a particularly important way to do this because it builds it into peopleโ€™s normal routines of daily life, rather than being seen as something that is separate… I think thereโ€™s often a feeling that itโ€™s going to be very hard work to get people to, for example, take up cycling (but) if you went back to the โ€™50s and โ€™60s there were extremely high rates of people cycling for work as well as recreationally across the country and then they fell away.โ€

Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England

Below is one of Sir Chris’ slides. (In your mind you can hopefully hear him say ‘next slide please…’)

Now you might say ‘1,190? That’s not many!’. On some days during the height of the COVID pandemic the government were reporting that number of deaths per day. But it’s not just about preventing early deaths; it’s also about maintaining healthy lifestyles when we are living, no? That surely impacts upon far more people. Or rather would if more people adopted an active travel lifestyle.

Scrolling down the list of speakers at the (here we go again…) Local Government Association / Association of Directors of Public Health Annual Public Health Conference 2022, there are three who talked specifically about cycling. Chris Boardman – find his presentation here – Dr Janet Atherton, Chair of Cycling UK – find her presentation here and a chap called Chris Bruntlett, Marketing and Communications Manager of the Dutch Cycling Embassy. Find his presentation, err… here! Yes, right here on

It’s a familiar tale of which most people reading this are fully aware, but it’s worth repeating. Why are Dutch kids the happiest in the world? No shit Sherlock… It’s not rocket science. (Any more clichรฉs?)

From slide 12 of Chris’ presentation:

  • 66% of Dutch kids walk or cycle to school; 75% of secondary students
  • 80% of Dutch teens cycle to places (school, park, shop, friendโ€™s house) at least three days per week
  • Rates do not differ between males and females; each of whom cycle an average of 150 minutes per week
  • The 12-17 group cycles more than any other demographic, with nearly 60% of all journeys made by bicycle
  • Dutch teens cycle an average of 2,000 kilometers per year

Brace yourself (again). I work in a school at which around 1,800 students arrive each morning. The small bike rack – there’s just the one – is… empty. Empty. Yes, empty. I’ll do the maths for you. (Give me a moment…) 0% of children who attend the school where I work cycle to school. We are not isolated from the population we serve, far from it! Houses surround the school. The majority of our pupils live in the local vicinity of the school or the surrounding villages. But none of them cycle… A small (very small…) positive upon which to end; many of them do cycle as they tell me about their exploits outside of school. But none choose to make it a regular part of their daily routine and embed that habit in their psyche for later in life. (The sixth formers even drive! Their cars are strewn along the road – they are not allowed to use the car park – clogging up the road in the process…). Oh, and lest anyone think that schools should focus on education and not indoctrinate their kids with dangerous, lefty, hippy cycling nonsense:

I’d better get to the Italian connection. Well, it’s only connected in that I received the email this week and I’m a sucker for the posters… Here’s another beauty from the graphic designers charged with publicising the Eroica events. It’s a nice way to finish my rant… More details here.

P.S. I continue to be delighted with the Ribble hybrid bike I purchased a month or so ago. (More details here.) Highly recommended for that daily commute! Here is Ronnie – yes, the brother of Reggie… – at the end of his first non-commuting ride last weekend. Sound up for the birds…

Visit the dedicated Baltic Sea Cycle Route / EuroVelo 10 page of to discover more about the planned cycle around Europeโ€™s other big sea.

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2 replies »

  1. Unfortunately where I live (central Worcestershire) has seen an explosion in house-building. We have had a massive number of new-builds go up – literally tens of thousands – and averaging it out that has put an extra two cars on the road per new home. Not only are the main roads clogged up but the back lanes are used as rat runs by those who don’t fancy queueing at junctions. On top of that the Worcestershire councillor with responsibility for transport has a passionate hatred for cyclists. Cycling is neither safe nor enjoyable round here.

  2. “No shit Sherlock” – indeed. When I was a lad (queue the Hovis soundtrack) we all walked or cycled to school. You were only driven to school when you’d had to go to the doctors with a touch of consumption. Then the other kids would make fun of you for the rest of the day.

    Why now do parents see the need to buy an armoured, polluting truck to drive five minutes to drop their healthy kids to school?

What do you think?