08 December 2013

Better together Part 2

With thanks to Chris Hill for the image from an old
Pedestrians' Association publication.
It's not often that I get to call on my professional skills in cycle blogging, but what strikes me in thinking about the differences of pedestrian v. cycling campaigning is that the differences in tone and style don't just reflect their historical positions or cultures, but also correlate to their institutional positions and material ties. 

That is, cycling organizations include those like Sustrans and Cycling Scotland, who entirely or mainly rely on funding from Transport Scotland for their salaries and projects. But other organizations -- like Spokes and Go-Bike historically and now Pedal on Parliament -- exist without these financial ties because they are volunteer run. Down south, the London Cycling Campaign is a good example of a 'professional' organization that still avoids government funding (to the best of my knowledge).  Is it a coincidence that these groups push a little harder and speak somewhat more critically?  To a large extent groups like Sustrans and Cycling Scotland are basically just sub-contractors for government projects, although they also provide expertise, administer groups like the Cross-Party group on cycling, and are often cited in support of government policy (confusingly, some of the volunteer groups also sit on their boards).

However, pedestrians have a rather different structure as far as I can tell, with Living Streets - the successor to the Pedestrians' Association - combining both roles.  So Living Streets has in recent years received funding from the state, while also running local groups and forums.  Doubtless this has raised their profile, and injected new energy into their operations. The recent '3 seconds' campaign was very impressive in terms of generating public support and media presence.

These different structures suggest to me that #militantpedestrians are going to find it difficult to mount a more radical, critical movement from within LS - that's not a criticism of anyone within the organisation, or of their aims, but a simple organizational analysis drawing on Robert Michel's classic 'iron law of oligarchy' first developed in his 1911 study of the German SPD, and my own research on NGOs in Zimbabwe (I'll resist throwing in any Gramsci or Gaventa).

It's not impossible of course, but my analysis suggests that this organizational imbalance will further impede efforts to build alliances between pedestrians and cyclists. Regrettable, because those ties are needed, but not easily resolved. 

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