This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 153.
Jo Beale, Transport Coordinator at the University of Cambridge, provides an update on the Let’s Talk Transport campaign.
During the Easter term, the Sustainability Team ran an engagement campaign called Let’s Talk Transport. We wanted our staff to come and talk to us about what they find hard about travelling to, from and for work sustainably. We also wanted to know what needs to change to allow them to make greener travel choices.
As part of the campaign we gave some webinars showing some of the schemes we have been working on and explained the approach we take when working with partner organisations to move forward with the sustainable transport agenda both at the University and across the region.
The talks covered the autonomous vehicle trials hosted on our West Cambridge site, as well as a ‘safari’ of sustainable transport initiatives enabling members of our University community to come and meet the companies we use to run schemes like Dr Bike, cycle training, personalised travel planning and Borrow a Bike. We also had an expression of interest form open during this stage of the campaign that allowed members of staff to tell us which transport topics they would like to discuss further with us.
Open and inclusive transport discussions
The next stage of the campaign involved a set of focus groups based around issues highlighted in the expressions of interest. We ran three workshop sessions focused on public transport and cycling, last mile solutions and long-distance commuting including multimodal journeys. We also had a set of surgery sessions where people with more confidential issues could talk to a member of our team one-on-one.
We designed the sessions with advisors from the University’s Disability Resource Centre (DRC). That meant the sessions were as inclusive as possible for disabled people from the outset. All the sessions were also attended by DRC advisors who made sure that the voice of disabled people was heard as part of the main discussion and not side-lined into a separate discussion about access for specific groups.
While this led us to lots of conclusions, in this article I will concentrate on the findings related to cycling. The key themes to come out of the listening exercise are given below.
Everyone who came to the cycling workshop was at least an occasional cyclist, although not all choose to cycle to work, or in Cambridge. When asked about their likes and dislikes the main themes were that segregated cycle lanes were preferable, but not when they lose priority at driveways and side roads. Shared footway/cycleway spaces were widely disliked, except for the Busway route. Other participants expressed the need for better multimodal integration, with improved provision for bikes on trains and buses.
The main risks participants identified when cycling in Cambridge were:
1) Lack of infrastructure
Participants identified a lack of segregated cycleways on busy routes with many saying that segregated routes would give them the confidence to cycle to work. Junctions which aren’t designed to facilitate safe cycle movement in all directions were also identified as a major deterrent to cycling to work. Participants felt that one problem intersection on their route is enough to make them prefer another way of travelling.
2) Demand management
Participants felt that lots of roads within Cambridge were too busy for safe cycling and that there was a need to reduce the level of car traffic on main routes to allow for safer cycling and reduce conflict between cyclists and drivers.
3) Behaviour change and education
Many of our participants identified driver behaviour towards cyclists as a reason they don’t cycle to work. This was either based on personal experience or anecdotal stories from other cyclists. They identified driver training as a way of encouraging more considerate driving, especially for bus and taxi drivers. They also wanted enforcement of driving rules around passing cyclists safely as well as cycle training to improve safe cycling skills, particularly at difficult intersections.
The session identified both the security of bikes and personal security when using cycle parking as issues that reduce the likelihood of staff cycling to work. Improved cycle parking and other measures to reduce cycle theft were important to respondents, as was the positioning and condition of cycle parking.
During our long-distance commuting workshop, the need for improved cycling routes from locations such as Ely and Newmarket was identified. As we move into a more hybrid working model, cycling longer distances to work may become more feasible as people commute less frequently. Participants also identified the need for improved capacity at Park & Ride sites. This would allow people who currently drive to switch to cycling or bus for the last section of the journey to their workplace.
While this exercise may not have told us anything we hadn’t already guessed, it gives us a solid evidence base to work from. We now know where we need to collect more data and we have added questions based on the findings of this campaign to our annual travel survey. As a direct result of this campaign, we have made immediate changes to the services we offer staff: registering bikes on Bike Register has been added to our Dr Bike contract, and we have updated the cycle training contract we have with Outspoken to include location-specific training and training related to cycling with children if requested by staff. We are also continuing with our project to upgrade and expand cycle parking across our estate to improve security.
We hope that this campaign will also mark the beginning of a pattern of improving engagement with our staff. We would like the provision of services to be based on an ongoing conversation with staff about transport so that as the situation changes we can modify what we offer to suit the requirements of everyone in our community.
Camcycle’s guide to cycling to work
- Choose a cycle that works for your journey
Road bikes can be good for a longer commute, while an upright bike works well for shorter trips. A cargo bike can be used to combine the school run with a cycle to work and an e-bike is ideal for some help up hills or over a long distance.
- Save money with a cycle-to-work scheme
Investigate whether your workplace offers cycle purchases via the government-backed cycle-to-work scheme. This allows you to buy a cycle tax-free and can save you a lot of money. Some workplaces also offer membership schemes which allow you to rent rather than buy a cycle.
- Add the right accessories
You are legally required to have a rear red light and white front light, plus red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors. A good strong lock is essential to keep your bike safe. Mudguards and puncture-resistant tyres are practical investments and you may wish to carry a pump and puncture repair kit.
- Wear clothes that keep you comfortable
Try to dress in layers because you often warm up while cycling. Don’t forget a waterproof coat (and possibly trousers) in case of rain, and avoid anything that might get caught in the chain. You may choose to cycle in sports or cycle kit and change at work. This is a great option if you have a long commute or to avoid your work clothes getting dirty.
- Select a way to carry your baggage
Your choice may depend on the length of your journey and the type of cycle you ride. Rucksacks are safe and convenient but may become heavy or make you sweat. Panniers mean that the weight is carried by your bike. If you choose a basket, a cover will protect the contents. Saddlebags and handlebar bags may work for those travelling light.
- Test your route
Your route may vary depending on the time of day and year so try some test rides to help you become confident with the route and journey time. If you take the train, make sure you know the rules on types of cycle carried at peak and off-peak times.
- Build your confidence
Cycling in a busy city can be intimidating so find someone at work who already cycles and ask their advice. You could even go for a test ride together. Also consider getting cycle training to boost your knowledge and confidence cycling on the road.
- Maintain your cycle
For smooth, enjoyable rides, it’s important to keep your bike in good working order. Check your brakes are working and your tyres are pumped up. You should get your bike serviced at least once a year.
Read more at camcycle.org.uk/cyclingtowork