This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 114.
The Campaign sometimes struggles to keep up with the number of consultations and planning applications in and around Cambridge. It can feel like we’re only reacting, rather than setting a direction.
Obviously the Chisholm Trail is a notable exception, a long time in the making. The vision of Jim Chisholm is to connect the Science Park, an area of high employment in the city, with Cambridge station. After 15 years of campaigning, this route now has broad political support, is included in the new draft Local Plan for Cambridge, and has a high priority for funding from the Cambridge City Deal.
Though the Chisholm Trail is now almost reality, it shows how much long- term effort sometimes needs to be put in to achieve anything as a campaigning organisation, with no guarantee of success. It requires volunteers giving up their free time over a long period, and it requires persistence, and alertness to opportunities to make the vision reality.
It was one frequent criticism of the recent Hills Road and Huntingdon Road consultations that these routes are ‘not that bad’ for cycling, and should not be a priority for spending. I would argue that a main road route that I may find ‘not that bad’, as an existing regular bike user, is still not a route I would cycle with my mother, or my niece and nephews. A road which excludes the most vulnerable people on bikes is not adequate as a cycling route.
However, while I do take the point that they may not have been people’s highest priority for change, I can understand why the council chose them: the roads are wider than many in Cambridge, so fewer tough choices and compromises were foreseen on the way to providing a high- quality example for the rest of the city. The money from the national Cycle City Ambition grant has to be spent by 2015, and protracted public debate on more controversial routes would almost certainly have seen the money going to waste, or being spent on very compromised facilities that please no- one.
What this does highlight is that we need to campaign for what we want in advance of money being available. Pots of government money for cycling are often available at short notice, with tight time limits for spending. The argument for any given piece of infrastructure needs to be already won. These have been referred to as ‘shovel-ready’ schemes.
- So what do you, as a member of the Campaign, think should be our priority?
- Should we be asking for cycling infrastructure on the most hostile roads?
- Or should we be looking to join up some existing sections into high- quality routes, even if they are currently ‘okay’?
- Should we be working on big junctions, or is it pointless to improve these in isolation?
- Do we work where there are currently low rates of cycling, or do we try to improve numbers on already well-used routes with proven support?
- Should we be concentrating on routes to schools?
- Is it time to revisit Gilbert Road? Is it too soon to ask for connections to the Hills Road and Huntingdon Road routes? Do we need provision on busy roads such as Milton Road and Newmarket Road, or should we bypass the need to use them?
All of this is dependent on volunteer time, the limit on all of our campaigning. It makes it difficult to fit strategic thinking around urgent responses to consultations and planning proposals, which threaten to make cycling in Cambridge worse. Just as one consultation closes, another opens. With more active volunteers we could be involved with more projects, or pursue existing ones more consistently and effectively. We still have three committee vacancies, but you don’t have to be on the committee to get involved. Our online forum Cyclescape is where we discuss all our campaigning work, and some important issues suffer from a lack of local knowledge in the right place, or someone who would feel the benefit of a change and drive it forward while there are competing calls on volunteer time.
The next time a pot of money like the Cycle City Ambition funding comes up, where will we shout that it should be spent? Mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas on specific roads, junctions and routes that you think should be improved. We will collect the ideas, and then consult further with the membership to narrow these down to manageable priorities.