Greener, cleaner, happier, safer: use your cycling ‘why’ to motivate change

This article was published in 2022, in Magazine 155.

Image as described adjacent
Anna Williams

Ever since the days when it was more commonly known as the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, Camcycle has been clear about its goals. The organisation, which became a charity in 2010, works for more, better and safer cycling for all ages and abilities in and around Cambridge. That’s what we do. How do we do it? Through an ever-changing blend of persistent campaigning, positive events, useful resources and a lot of passionate, hardworking individuals who together make a formidable team.

That’s the how, but what about the why? And why do we need a why, anyway? I discussed this recently as part of a presentation I gave for Cambridge Carbon Footprint’s Net Zero Now programme in collaboration with Cambridge City Council. The training programme aims to build a network of activists who can deliver carbon reduction activities, events and communications and fast-track our region’s move to reduce its carbon emissions. The attendees were enthusiastic and already very knowledgeable; many of them had begun to take action to reduce individual emissions and some were making an impact at an organisational level or campaigning for change as part of a local group.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, wrote anthropologist Margaret Mead. And yet, there are times when even the most thoughtful and committed hit challenges along the road to change. This is when, along with support from others and ways to rest and remotivate yourself, you need a why. The why is the core strength you can draw on even when you are at your lowest ebb, close to giving up on taking action, battling against what seems like the unstoppable force of the status quo. For those working to tackle climate change, a strong why might be a deep love of nature, a determination to work for justice for those suffering the effects of a warming world in the Global South, or a desire to pass on a liveable planet to future generations.
Camcycle’s why is encapsulated in our vision of a thriving sustainable region of healthy, happy people where everyone feels able to enjoy the benefits of cycling, even if they don’t ride themselves. Cycling is more than a mode of transport, more than a part of the climate solution: it’s a timeless answer to modern problems such as isolation, inactivity, inequality, lack of independence for old and young, congestion and air pollution. I personally cycle for environmental reasons but also for joy: nothing beats a sunny ride along the river, stopping to chat to friends along the way.

A lorry passes the ghost bike on Little Wilbraham Road. (Image: Jeremy Peters)

When I was asked during the Net Zero talk about the why that kept me campaigning for cycling though, another motivation rose to the surface. It’s a reason that fills me with grief, anger and a steely determination to do what I can to change things. Too many people are dying on our roads. Earlier in the month, I cycled out to Little Wilbraham Road with a Camcycle volunteer to place a white ‘ghost bike’ memorial to those killed cycling in rural areas at the site of a recent fatal collision. Sometimes people will argue against providing more cycling facilities based on cost, or impact on driver convenience, or even a perceived sense of ‘cyclists getting everything their own way’. But none of that stands up in a world where too many people have to weigh up the risk to their lives before choosing to walk or cycle journeys that should be safe and easy, but only feel that way to the bravest of riders. Everyone should have the choice to leave the car behind sometimes, and all those without a car should not be disadvantaged by it, whether they live in an urban or rural area.

Our society makes a choice to accept the current level of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, but we can choose to change that. The bonus is that the changes we need to make to keep people safe and respect the preciousness of human life will bring plentiful benefits to our communities and planet too. What more motivation do we need to take action? What better time to start than right now?

Anna Williams is the Communications and Community Officer for Camcycle. This article was originally published on 23 March 2022 in the Cambridge Independent, which features a monthly column by a member of the Camcycle team.