Leeds cycling conference

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 114.

The start of May saw cycle planning professionals, cycle campaigners, and companies selling all things cycle infrastructure head to Leeds for the large Cycle City conference. In only its second year, it has quickly established itself as the main annual cycle planning conference.

And the conference organisers (Landor) did not disappoint. An excellent range of workshops and speakers, with a good exhibition, was arranged. I attended, wearing two hats, first as Chair of our Campaign – helping launch our new Making Space for Cycling document, and second as one of the developers of the CycleStreets journey planner (a spin-off of the Campaign), giving a talk for that organisation.

The keynote opening plenary was given by Robert Goodwill MP, Minister for Transport, and chaired by the only person who one should ever pick for these conferences, the esteemed Philip Darnton (former Chair of Cycling England, and Executive Director of the Bicycle Association).

The most junior of the four transport ministers, Goodwill is a cyclist, and expressed his pride at Leeds ‘starting role’ in the Tour de France. He made some of the right noises on cycling policy to the assembled delegates, though reading a speech from a piece of paper undermined this somewhat. In questions, one speaker called for the reinstatement of Cycling England (a matter we ourselves ran a campaign on – see www.savecyclingengland.org), with a clear cry of agreement from the audience. The minister responded that he would look further into this, i.e. ‘no’.

Darnton then launched the new Making Space for Cycling document which we created for Cyclenation (the federation of cycle campaign groups), presenting it to the minister. We look forward to hearing what the minister’s views are on it.

The minister claimed the government was putting more money into cycling than ever before, some £278m. However, he was subsequently accused from on stage of what might be called ‘creative accounting’, including in the figure spent by government on cycling the money given to Cycling England by the previous government. He announced a consultation on a revised set of Traffic Signs Regulations, which feature some positive improvements for cycling, such as low-level signals, new crossing types, and dedicated ‘cycle streets’ where overtaking of cyclists will be banned.

Two of the next speakers, both from abroad, emphasised the need for UK authorities to ‘get on with making improvements’ and look abroad for best practice. Another speaker, the Head of Delivery Planning at Transport for London, spoke about the London Mayor’s ‘Vision for Cycling’. I was picked to put a question, and asked when delivery is likely to start happening in London, so that Local Authorities around the UK like our own can than draw on the best practice that is proposed there. Having London get on with its more radical schemes will make campaigning much easier around the UK, not least in Cambridge where councillors often remain reluctant to allocate proper space to cycling.

The rest of the two-day conference was in a breakout format.

I attended a discussion on resources for cycle professionals, which discussed the challenge of how Local Authority officers can keep up what is and isn’t legally possible in terms of street design, and how they can keep abreast of changes in the national dialogue on cycle infrastructure.

One point raised was the proliferation of guidance, something to which we are arguably a guilty party. However, the point was raised that this is the inevitable result of the government failing to produce any proper guidance of its own that truly advocates – and requires – best practice. The need for a single set of high quality, national standards and a much more positive mindset on how cycle infrastructure should be designed were clearly both very much needed, and we hope our own Making Space for Cycling guide is a positive contribution towards that.

The second day saw more workshops. Cycling journalist (and friend of the Campaign), Carlton Reid, opened a breakfast briefing asking ‘Grow some – will we ever get Dutch-style politicians?’ His opening slide was emblazoned with the key point ‘political will’. He gave the example of our 15-year campaign to remove parking from Gilbert Road – pointing out the extreme difficulty of achieving such an obvious safety improvement even in a place like Cambridge. He cited the timidity of local councillors, in this example taking so long to tackle vested interests, namely the 30 or so property owners who saw the space outside their property as an extension of it for storing an extra vehicle.

Roger Geffen followed with an excellent overview on the theme of ‘Space for Cycling’, with CTC much more clearly expressing a need for quality infrastructure than hitherto, very helpfully.

The session on cycle mapping and wayfinding then followed, featuring my presentation for CycleStreets. After this came an interesting session on ‘bike share’ schemes around the world, with arguably the UK’s academic authority on bike share data analysis, Oliver O’Brien of UCL, summarising the state of play. There are now hundreds of such schemes around the world (of which the London Cycle Hire scheme is one of the largest).

The afternoon saw more sessions on cycle infrastructure. Cambridgeshire County Council cycling officer, and indeed former Committee member of Cambridge Cycling Campaign, Vanessa Kelly, gave a presentation on her unusual case of ‘Campaigner to Cycle officer’. This was followed by talks from officers in Scotland and elsewhere on various promotion work in their own areas.

All in all, this was a useful conference, with our Making Space for Cycling document mentioned in a number of talks and discussions.

We (and the organisers) hope that Cycle City might come to Cambridge next year. The main thing needed is a company or organisation to offer or sponsor the hire of a suitable venue that can hold 500 delegates. Any suggestions?

Martin Lucas-Smith