Working with others

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 105.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign is obviously not alone in the UK in working for better, safer and more cycling, and we try to work with other groups, to learn from each others’ experiences and ensure that nationally we all speak with a common voice. In Bristol this October a joint CTC/Cyclenation conference was held, which I attended, along with Martin Lucas-Smith who was there to present Cyclescape and also to represent the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Cyclenation is the umbrella group for all cycling campaign groups. Over the years it has done much good work funded by a small levy on member groups. It has promoted Bike Week, and has a seat at the table of the UK Cycling Alliance, which includes Sustrans, CTC and British Cycling. CTC is of course one of those TLAs (three letter abbreviation) that isn’t a TLA for Cycle Touring Club, but is The National Cycling Charity.

So what about Bristol and the conference?

Bristol is an area where, even before designation as a Cycling City, and despite its hills, cycling was growing in popularity. As in Cambridge and many thriving towns and cities, congestion means that cycling is the quickest and most reliable mode even for many trips of over five miles, and many are realising the benefit, to both their pocket and their health, of cycling regularly.

For the conference we actually started off with a choice of rides, and I went on the ‘Shared Space’ themed one. We cycled a part of the very first ‘Railway Path’, that being the Bristol to Bath route that predated ‘Sustrans’, which is lit and paved, and has even been ‘duplicated’ in areas close to the city.

What was interesting was the UK’s first ever ‘home zone’ where the streets have no footways (pavements), and cars clearly take third place to those on bikes or on foot. We also crossed some shared spaces at the rear of a major shopping centre. Although there was some residential car parking for adjacent flats and access required for goods vehicles, the area lacked formal ‘divisions’, with all modes sharing the same space. With reduced traffic could not Hobson St and King St be treated like this?

We had a series of round-table brainstorming workshops covering such issues as using the media, building alliances, infrastructure street interventions, and developing strategy. Key points are now available on the Cyclenation website.

Both the ride and the workshops, not forgetting the coffee breaks and lunch, gave good opportunities to meet and talk to others from different campaigns, and those with different views.

The afternoon was taken up with more formal updates from CTC and Cyclenation and included the soft launch of Cyclescape.

We also had a very interesting keynote talk about health reforms. Changes in the NHS, including the transfer of public health from the NHS to local authorities (Health and Wellbeing Boards), and the realisation that exercise and changes in lifestyle can save huge amounts of future money by reducing ill-health, mean that encouraging active travel is a very cost-effective policy.

Such conferences are good morale-boosters for tired campaigners, enabling us to better see what we have achieved, and how we can learn from the ideas and achievements of others. Philip Darnton, formerly of Cycling England, did an excellent job of chairing the whole proceedings.

I’ve also waved the flag by talking to several other cycle campaign groups in the past year. Clearly every group in the UK is envious about the numbers of bikes we have in and around Cambridge, but that is not to say that they don’t beat us with some specifics. For instance, St Albans Station now has more bike stands (over 1,000 spaces) than we have at Cambridge Station, and in Birmingham they have an extensive network of traffic-free paths on canal towpaths (remember: Birmingham has more canals than Venice!).

Incidentally one of the consequences of this work has been not only that I may have spent less time on our local campaigns, but also that I’ve now been co-opted onto the board of Cyclenation. It is important not just that we help to support other cycling campaigners, and spread the word about ideas that work in Cambridge, but that we also learn from the experiences and ideas of others.

Jim Chisholm