Co-ordinator’s comment

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 109.

‘The most common objection against cycling is the weather. But that is easy to disprove. You will only get wet 10 or 12 times a year, statistically, in Cambridge, if that.’

Fluently, a scientist, he explains the benefits of cycling in Cambridge. The West Campus will be connected to the Addenbrooke’s site, there is a lot of potential to make it better, but we must make sure that the routes do not bypass the historical centre, else it will become deserted. This local bicycle planner knows his stuff. His name is Leszek Borysiewicz. He is also the Vice Chancellor of the University. Why would you drive a car when you can cycle? There is nothing foreign, Danish or Dutch about it, it is just simply the better way to get around.

Good to know that these doors are wide open. Good to know that the University can be counted on to pull its weight when it comes to the massive new developments in North Cambridge and around Addenbrooke’s. But suddenly I whisper to myself in obscure grammar: Would only! Utinam. Would only that rain (or snow) were the main obstacle to getting more people onto their bikes more often. Our scientist is a big man who has little patience for the fears and anxieties others experience, or imagine, or even passively provoke, when sharing the road with cars, lorries and taxis. Indeed, no degree of fine weather and fair wind could induce Pamela or Tine (and Susan and Carol and Mary) to take the cycle lane across Hills Road Bridge. But if you closed the bridge to car traffic, even Pamela and Tine would give it a try. You bet!

Leszek, we have news for you. The bad weather is not rain or snow, the bad weather is fast-moving cars, encouraged, by inequitable road design, to intrude into the personal space that cyclists of all genders claim as their own. To improve the cycling weather, we need to get the traffic planners into the room and make some truly innovative decisions about how to divide the available road space more effectively. If anywhere, Cambridge is the place for this. Being the national leader in bike trips, we have the unique opportunity to radically change our roads to make life better for everybody in and around Cambridge.

Other places have done this long ago. A group of local campaigners organised a study tour of Oldenburg in May, to see what the future of active transport could look like. We invited planners, public health professionals and politicians to join us. Sadly, none could find the time. This is why this Newsletter contains a report entitled: Oldenburg: City of the Future. It offers many important lessons for Cambridge. Big Lesson 1 (Equity): Consider all modes on an equal basis right from the start. Big Lesson 2 (Children): Design it so that your 12-year-old daughter can ride her bike to school. A planning framework which really caters for all modes can save a lot of frustrating and expensive work, continually re-adjusting a road infrastructure which should have been planned with equity for all modes in mind. And make sure you pass the simple school test: is it good enough to get our children to school? Politicians, planners and public health officials who were unable to join the tour, please contact us as we are more than happy to give you a fuller presentation.

One final note. For more than a year I have had the co-ordinator’s privilege of adding a few words to each newsletter. Taking on this role strangely changed my experience of cycling. Waiting at a red traffic light became a moment of inspiration and connection. I looked, I counted, I celebrated, I blessed, and yes, I spoke to some of you. It will be different back in Los Angeles, where I shall be returning soon. There I used to know half the cyclists I encountered by name. But things are moving ahead pretty fast there too. I shall look forward to being your occasional foreign correspondent from California.

Michael Cahn