This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 119.
Two footway build-outs each with racks for parking up to eight bikes have been created in this street of Victorian terraced houses off Mill Road. Media attention focused on the ‘loss’ of two car parking spaces, and fear of being branded ‘anti-car’ is why I think councillors picked over this issue extremely carefully and took two years to reach a final decision.
At the end of 2012 the Campaign was contacted by a resident of the street asking for cycle parking outside her house. A sentence in her email foreshadowed the lengthy process:
If I could, I would get them installed tomorrow, but I’m sure that there must be some kind of bureaucratic process I should be following, but don’t know where to start!
She’d seen the image I’d made of the space outside the front of our own house showing a mock-up of cycle racks in the parking bays and which appeared on the front of the Campaign’s Cycle Parking Guide (produced in 2008). I’d dithered for a long time, but we too had now got rid of our own car after my wife decided she no longer needed it, and so I started work on this project in January 2013.
I raised the matter with my local councillors: all replied saying they supported the idea in principle, but it was more difficult to get them to commit to a specific proposal. The county’s cycling project team helped arrange an experiment in which two sets of temporary cycle racks were sited in the street for a fortnight in September 2013 (details are in Newsletter 111). Feedback on that was invited only from properties nearby.
One opponent organised a petition against the scheme which received eight signatures, but despite that the total of 30 responses was fairly evenly balanced between those in favour and those against the idea. Our local county councillor said this was not strong enough and so he organised a new and thorough survey of the whole street in which questionnaires were hand-delivered and then collected later that same evening. This yielded a clear enough steer to win support at an East Area Committee meeting in February 2014. That decision amounted to a commitment to allocate approximately £1,000 to advertise the scheme using a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).
The TRO advertised only for objections, and eight were received. The relevant decision-making authority turned out to be the nascent Cambridge Joint Area Committee, and their first decision in September 2014 was unanimously to support the proposals for the conversion of two car parking spaces in the street to cycle parking. But an objector (the same original petition-organising opponent) had not been informed about the meeting despite a written promise from a senior council official.
So the decision was held over and returned to another meeting in January. This time the opponent gave a three-minute speech and delivered a printed submission. Her main points were that:
- racks already exist within a five-minute walk
- cycle parking would attract petty crime
- bikes should be kept in back gardens
- the bikes-blocking-footways argument was not as big a problem as had been made out
- the bike racks would be an obstacle to vehicles and create dead space.
These points were essentially the same arguments that were rejected when the decision was made to advertise the TRO. She also claimed that her petition had now reached 114 signatures, but because that had not been submitted in the time frame allowed by the TRO process it had not been subject to any official scrutiny and was almost completely ignored in the ensuing discussion.
In my three-minute speech I said that what lay at the heart of the opponents’ arguments was an unwillingness to acknowledge the diversity of lifestyles in the street. The Campaign’s liaison officer highlighted how much time per square metre had been spent on discussing the two car parking spaces and how ridiculous that was considering that much bigger schemes go ahead with comparatively little attention.
The committee debated for about ten more minutes and then ruled unanimously to go ahead.
I went into this project with the expectation that it would be easy, because I assumed the arguments were clear and strong. For instance, the starting position was obviously unfair – all of the available parking resource was for motor vehicles but there was nowhere to park bikes securely without causing an obstruction. There was clearly a need because of the numbers of bikes along the whole street attached to lampposts and drainpipes.
I also thought I could make the argument that there would be no loss of car parking capacity because the households that were making the request did not have cars themselves. But that only irked councillors who are sick of listening to residents laying claim to the bit of the highway in front of their houses.
Strong though these arguments seemed to us, they held little weight with councillors who seek to represent all their constituents, and I had to get used to the idea that there had been objections. So I sat back and waited while our local county councillor organised the thorough survey of the whole street. The survey asked residents if they owned bicycles and/or cars, whether they supported the cycle parking proposals and to give any reasons.
Out of the 112 responses 61% were in favour and 36% against. The councillor said it was the fact that almost half the motorists were in favour that gave him the confidence to go ahead. He was in a stronger political position because of this mandate, but was at pains to emphasise that he was not willing to accept residents’ cycle parking as a new policy but would deal with each application on a case-by-case basis. That view was expressed by one other member of the committee, but two others said they’d like to see more such applications coming forward.
As I write the installation is almost complete, needing only a final layer of tarmac to make a neat finish. It has taken three days, and work started two days late, so the final touches will be made after the weekend and for now they remain tantalisingly taped off from public use. I have found it has been quite distracting and exciting watching them going in. I’ve been making tea for the workmen and getting involved with setting the final position for the racks. I’ll follow up in a future newsletter and let you know how well they’ve been received.