It seemed to start with the excellent ibikelondon blog here, and moved onto Carlton Reid's blog here, with notable inputs from other blogs including freewheelers crap waltham forest blog and the lofidelity bicycle club.
The essence of the debate is how the cycling establishment such as CTC and LCC go about trying to get decent infrastructure. Most of the blogs want these organisations to be agressively advovating Dutch or Danish like infrastructure whilst Carlton Reid feels we should be realistic on what may be achieved and how to go about it. His view is that "In such a car-centric society as the UK it is politically naive to believe meaningful space will be taken away from cars".
What I find dispiriting about the debate is that implementation of pretty much anything above a very local level (opening up a closed road here and there) is probably unachievable. "Strict liability" seems to be favoured as a way of taming the car culture by the cycling establishment - yet even this has no realistic chance of being implemented in the current climate. Even on a local level the cycling infrastructure "victories" such as opening up some one way streets to two way cycle traffic are normally more than offset by road changes which makes things more hostile to cyclists.
At the moment we are losing the battle, and by how much is utterly depressing.
The LCC say that cycling in London has increased by 80%, but starting from such a low base, 80% is hardly a success. Modal share is still at less than 2%, and has barely shifted in 10 years. Modal share of even 15% is an utter pipe dream with things as they are. To indicate the scale of cycling's decline, I found that the stats linked to on Carlton Reid's Blog very telling. Despite his blog being optimistic about the slight increase in recent years, the numbers don't seem to indicate that cycling is undergoing a revival, or even really reached any kind of inflection point. To illustrate this, I have taken the data linked to here and drawn some simple graphs
The data is Billion vehicle km, and goes from 1949 to 2008. Apologies for the image quality, but I think it is clear what it shows. Car use has rocketed, whilst cycling has slumped. The "upturn" that is so talked about looks like a slight increase from the absolute bottom of 4 bn km in 1998 travelled to 4.7 bn km in 2008. 10 years before the bottom, in 1988, the number of kms travelled was actually 5.2 - so the cycling revolution hasn't even turned the clock back to 1988, less still before the 1970's.
This is the product of years of tempering cyclists' needs with realism. It is years of accepting the ecofluff from councils as something positive for cycling when in actual fact it just lets them off the hook of actually doing something positive. It is years of everyone fooling themselves that cycling can significantly increase in popularity as a mode of transport without investing anything in it.
The only proven way to get cycling modal share up to Dutch or Danish levels is to do what they did. Which is provide segregated, convenient cycle paths on major roads - facilities which give cyclists at least level priority with motor vehicles, and on minor roads for design to be such as to tame the motor car by blocking off rat-runs and keeping speeds low. What is required for cycling to increase are exactly the facilities in the video on Carlton Reid's blog.
Carlton Reid, and the LCC and CTC believe that one can increase cycling by not implementing these types of measures, and that cycling is increasing without resorting to these more expensive facilities. But as shown by the data on Carlton's blog, the increase is so small as to be barely able to be registered. It is not true that large numbers of people are taking up cycling without these facilities, the vast majority of people don't cycle, and have no intention of doing so. And universally the reason that is stated is that cycling in traffic on roads with no consideration for cyclists is too dangerous.
Instead of implementing infrastructure that allows novice cyclists to go where they need to go in safety, the best that currently seems to be suggested for "newbies" is what Carlton Reid says on his blog - stick to minor roads with less traffic. This is the advice given out by cycling organisations and councils. Except that the traffic on these roads are normally rat-running, the roads are narrower so close passes are more frequent, minor roads often don't go where you need to go, and anyway they intersect major roads at which point the "newbie" cyclist is left stranded. All of this means that many "newbie" cyclists will simply give up and leave the bicycle rusting in the shed.
Organisations such as the LCC and CTC do a good job in trying to make the most of the scant money that is available, to lobby disinterested councils to think about cyclists on their roads and to try to protect the interests of current cyclists. But none of this is going to persuade people who don't already cycle to get on their bike and to do so in the numbers needed for a "cycling revolution" which increases modal share to even 10% less still the 20%+ in some European cities.
For that to happen we need the infrastructure that Carlton Reid believes is pie-in-the-sky. And if it is pie-in-the-sky (which, I agree is probably is) then talk by TfL and local councils about encouraging cycling and a cycling revolution is just bullshit, and all the strategy documents, adverts and marketing initiatives isn't going to change that.
Dutch or Danish style cycle infrastructure may be a naive pipe-dream, but in that case so is any aspiration to bring about a significant change in cycle modal share. Talking about significantly increasing modal share whilst not grasping the thorny issue of giving space back to cyclists on our roads is the thing that is actually pie-in-the-sky.