2013 County Council election survey

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 108.

For the last few years, Cambridge Cycling Campaign has sent a survey questionnaire on cycling issues to local election candidates. Before the County elections this year, we wrote to candidates in a total of 27 wards – 14 in the City of Cambridge, plus 9 nearby wards in South Cambridgeshire, and a further 4 represented by a Cambridgeshire Cabinet member, as well as the candidates in a by-election for the City Council in Abbey ward. The survey was tailored to each ward, and contained between 7 and 11 questions (drawn from a total of 35), including some specific to the location.

The response rates were generally high. All four City Council candidates responded. Of the County candidates, 62% replied. This rose to 73% in the Cambridge City area, where, of the two dominant parties in the city, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, all but one candidate from each replied (93%).

Nearly all the respondents were broadly pro-cycling; a notable exception was the UKIP candidate for East Chesterton. His controversial views provoked considerable interest, online and elsewhere; they were reported on the Cambridge News front page, the road.cc cycling news website, and the Guido Fawkes political blog, and were tweeted by the BBC’s Jeremy Vine.

There has been useful feedback on our survey, and we plan to make a few changes next year. In particular, some candidates commented that the number of questions was on the high side – something we agree with. We’ll revert to the usual 7 or 8 next year. Full responses are on the Campaign website, but below are summarised the replies to some selected questions – those sent to a majority of the wards, plus those relating to issues of broad interest such as the Chisholm Trail.

What experience do you have of cycling in the Cambridgeshire area? (All wards)

Nearly all of the respondents said that they cycled either in the present or in the past. Some used a bicycle as their main mode of transport in Cambridge, others only for recreational purposes, and others said that they had been more active in the past, but had stopped because of ill-health. Some said that they cycled with their children, either using a trailer or the children’s bikes. A few said that, whilst they did not use a bike themselves, they felt themselves by observation to be aware of cyclists’ issues.

Cambridge is seeing massive housing growth, with tens of thousands of new journeys into the city expected daily. Given that building tunnels, knocking down houses, or providing new public transport is very expensive, would you agree that creating very high-quality cycling routes to encourage new people to cycle offers by far the best cost-benefit ratio for transport improvements that facilitate growth of the City and surrounding areas? (All wards)

The Lib Dem, Labour and Green candidates all agreed with this, though Labour more often emphasised that public transport was also essential. The Conservatives (and also UKIP) gave a more diverse range of responses – some agreed without reservation, especially those in Cambridge, whilst others felt that the question overemphasised the importance of cycling, and that a balance with other modes of transport was needed, either public transport or the private car, and that it was unhelpful to be ‘nti-motoring’. Interestingly, both Green and UKIP candidates rejected the premise of the question, namely that growth in the Cambridge area is necessary and desirable. One particularly imaginative suggestion was ‘segregated, awning-covered routes to cope with our often inclement weather; perhaps a river-based Park & Sail would be interesting to look at?’

Do you support our view that traffic policing, of all groups of road users (cyclists, drivers, etc), should become a greater police priority, and that this should be evidence-based, namely based on the relative levels of danger presented by each such group? (All wards)

This produced a complex range of responses which were not easily classified on party lines. Many candidates felt that traffic policing should be given higher priority, but even this was not universal (indicating other types of crime, or education as an alternative to enforcement). Some agreed that the level of risk presented by each type of road user was an important consideration (‘not in favour of traffic policing being based upon arbitrary prejudices’) though one commented that ‘evidence-based is not only about the “relative levels of danger presented by each group” but also the “relative levels of danger presented to each group”‘. Others felt that lawbreaking by cyclists created a negative perception of cycling. We were also told that in Oxford ‘cycling without lights; is rare indeed due to effective enforcement policies – there is simply an assumption that one must be organized and kitted out with lights’.

London’s Mayor has launched plans for proper prioritisation of space for cycling in London, with a 15-mile substantially-segregated route by removing traffic lanes from cars, three ‘mini-Hollands’ and more. Do you and your party support a new London-style bike plan for Cambridgeshire? (All wards)

The Greens and Labour appear to support this as party policy. The Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and UKIP appeared not to have a party view (the Lib Dems and some Conservative and UKIP candidates were individually supportive though). Some support was tentative and some responses emphasised the diversity of the county (‘A solution that would be suitable in Cambridge would not necessarily work in Chatteris’) and that ‘Cambridgeshire may be more suited to a series of town-region plans rather than an overall grand plan’, as well as its difference from London. In retrospect, we could probably have worded this question slightly better to make it clear that we were referring to Cambridge and its immediate surroundings, rather than areas further out.

The County Council now has responsibility for public health. As a member of the Council, how would you address such urgent and diverse issues as air quality, obesity, children’s independence, and the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle? (All wards)

Many commented that this question was too broad to be answered effectively in a limited space. Some gave the obvious answer of promoting cycling, though they also mentioned the importance of diet. Interestingly, some (but certainly not all) Conservatives felt that cycling should be considered as a pure transport issue, and were reluctant to make a connection with health.

Do you believe that Dutch-quality cycle provision, with cycle tracks that are separate both from pedestrians and motor traffic and that have priority over side roads, should a) be included within all new traffic schemes and b) be considered and consulted on for all modifications to existing schemes? (Cambridge wards plus Whittlesey North)

Nearly all respondents were positive about this. As one put it, ‘shared-use cycle paths are a particular bugbear of mine; the behaviour of pedestrians is less predictable than that of motor vehicles (a problem not easily solved unless we start fitting pedestrians with mirrors and indicators)’. The most common reservation was that narrow streets in Cambridge would make this practically difficult (though from the Campaign perspective we would argue that selective removal of some car parking would reveal that many roads are wider than they appear to be). A different comment (from two of the Conservatives) was that they preferred ‘shared-space’ environments to segregation.

Do you support the principle of a considerable improvement for cycling along the inner ring road, in the form of a Newnham to Newmarket (N2N) cycleway? In our view, 2.1m wide cycle tracks could be achieved for much of this while in many places not affecting vehicle capacity. (Abbey, Newnham, Petersfield, Trumpington).

Some respondents were unambiguously positive about this. Others were tentatively supportive, but said that the details of any scheme were important – quite right in our view. One comment was that good evidence (from modelling) was required to justify any claimed benefit, and that there was a risk that improvements in cycling levels would not be great enough to justify a possible reduction in motor vehicle capacity.

Do you support our proposal for ‘The Chisholm Trail’, a cycling and walking linear park that would run roughly along the railway, joining up the Science Park to Addenbrooke’s? More details are in our Cycling Vision 2016 document. This high-profile scheme would cut journey times, give people a genuine, realistic alternative to car use and help the city cope with the population increase which will take place in the coming years. (Abbey, Coleridge, East Chesterton, Petersfield, Romsey, Whittlesey North)

Every Labour, Conservative, Green and Lib Dem candidate replied ‘yes’ to this. The Labour candidates noted that the Stourbridge Common/Ditton Meadows area is environmentally sensitive, and that consultation was needed (presumably this is a party policy position). The Lib Dems stated that their manifesto including an £8m commitment to cycling infrastructure, including the Chisholm Trail, and claimed that Cambridge Labour had opposed this; the Labour response to this was that the Lib Dems’ proposed budget was unrealistic. We are hopeful that any residual party politics on this can be left aside so that there remains cross-party support for this valuable scheme that will benefit so many people.

Do you have any other general cycling-related comments or points? And what support have you given for cycling and walking, or sustainable transport more generally, in the recent past? (All wards)

As might be expected, this produced a very diverse range of responses. Many described their own work as councillors or activists, or expressed general support for the Campaign or for cycling or sustainable lifestyles in general. Others described their own experiences of cycling, or commented on the survey itself (some that they’d enjoyed it, while others gave constructive criticism). A notable answer was that ‘We need to be honest about road use in Cambridge, stop trying to please everybody and focus on what sort of a place we want our city centre to be.’ One thing that certainly emerges from this survey is that we as a Campaign need to be clearer about our aim of helping more people to start cycling (rather than merely improving the safety of people who already cycle), which would give a clearer justification for reallocating road space.

Neil Spenley