Cyclenation conference

Martin Lucas-Smith attended the Cyclenation conference in Leeds in early October and reports on the event.

Carlton Reid spoke about his forthcoming book, Roads were not built for cars, and its historical context, with respect to the recent Get Britain Cycling report. The first half of his talk demonstrated how it was cyclists who campaigned for road-building, in the 1890s. After showing pictures of London’s congested Embankment of the early 1900s he compared this to the current proposal for the same area, saying that he thought this was going to be built, along with other Transport for London (TfL) proposals, but the TfL budget cannot cover the full range of what people are asking for. He seemed to think that this would not matter so much in 10-20 years anyway because we will have driverless cars, projected to appear on the market in 2018 (the Google driverless car is already being tested in three American states) and that this would make cycling massively safer. He said that the stock of cars is renewed about every 15 years, so in 20 years, virtually all cars on the road would be driverless. He sees these as ‘the next big thing’ for car manufacturers. I made the case to him afterwards that even if this pie-in-the-sky vision of technology comes to pass, it will still not mean a pleasant environment for cycling – people would not want to cycle amongst traffic even if that traffic were somehow magically safe.

Roger Geffen gave an overview of Get Britain Cycling over the last year. He basically said what I covered in our last newsletter at www.camcycle.org.uk/newsletters/110/article1.html. He welcomed the increases in government funding, especially as the Prime Minister had seemingly accepted the general principle of £10/head, but obviously the fact this was only in eight cities is a disappointment. Roger was perhaps a little more upbeat about the current national situation. He said a Cycling Delivery Plan is being is developed by DfT, and he outlined things CTC would like to see in it, e.g. ‘cycleproofing’ – which seems to be a new favourite word – and new design standards, as the current ones (i.e. Cycle Infrastructure Design) were too easy to ignore. On the Dutch infrastructure debate, CTC’s position seemed to be that segregation is good as long as it is to Dutch standards and as long as there is proper handling of junctions; the problem is that in the past local authorities have interpreted ‘segregated provision’ as ‘shareduse’.

Explaining quality infrastructure

I attended a workshop on ‘Explaining quality infrastructure’ led by Adrian Lord. He was formerly one of the Cycling England team, and worked for Arup consultants; he now works for British Cycling who are increasingly getting into advocacy work as a result of interest from Chris Boardman, who is, it seems to me, an increasingly effective cycle campaigner. Adrian’s talk was a run-down of how the Dutch do various pieces of infrastructure. He said that some drivers did not understand the markings; but then again, they are new, and we have to start somewhere. This was the part of the day when there seemed to be much more developed discussion and enthusiasm.

After lunch there was a short talk from the local MP, who clearly ‘gets’ cycling. This was followed by a local councillor who gave the impression that there were positive things happening.

Road Justice Campaign

Chris Peck, CTC’s excellent campaigner, then went on to talk about the Road Justice Campaign they are running (www.roadjustice.org.uk) which brings together cyclist reports to back up new campaigning on road justice issues. He said there has been a ‘catastrophic decline’ in the number of traffic police – even as police numbers have increased overall. There are real problems with Crown Prosecution Service guidance (and its use by prosecutors) on the distinction between careless driving and dangerous driving – the former is used more often because it is easer to get a conviction, even though the latter is often actually more appropriate to the crime. He also said that jurors often do not convict because they empathise with a driver’s circumstances (e.g. losing their job), rather than properly taking into account the effect on the victim. He said the Sentencing Guidelines Council is willing to review the sentencing guidelines on careless/dangerous driving. The DfT are also in favour (not least since civil servants want to avoid changes to the law, as that always brings a lot of work and complications, and because by doing so they push the blame onto people involved in sentencing rather than the DfT).

The CTC view is (probably quite rightly) that it is best to get the guidelines right rather than campaigning to change the laws, since the laws were probably already appropriate, but not being used effectively in the courts. The Road Justice campaign is focusing on improving the criminal justice system rather than the civil system. The proportionate liability issue is seen as a longer-term rather than an immediate goal. Because the tabloid and local newspaper reporters exploit it the prospects for actual legal change are small. In terms of sentences handed out, Chris said that driving bans were something the courts ought to be using much more than jailing, as that would be a better deterrent. But the rate of handing out of driving bans (I think he was actually referring to any kind of sentencing, rather than just driving bans) is falling much faster than the rate of deaths and collisions. In general, I was impressed by the work CTC are doing here.

I missed the infrastructure tour, as I was giving a Cyclescape talk. However, I did a bit of walking around Leeds and came across some good efforts to provide contraflows through junctions, plus one bit of segregated infrastructure. In general though it is clearly a city that suffers from the blight of the 1970s big roads craze.

A closing comment is that the gender and age balance of the meeting were noticeably both very poor, something that groups around the country need to be aware of, ourselves included.

Martin Lucas-Smith