This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 120.
In June the Campaign will be twenty years old. What were you doing twenty years ago?
For some of our readers the question will be impossible to answer because they weren’t even born twenty years ago. For me, I had just married and was about to start an adventure of living in a different country. I wasn’t living in Cambridge and wasn’t cycling to work every day.
For some people in Cambridge, twenty years ago saw an increasing amount of frustration. The recipe today would look pretty simple. You start with a hostile road environment around the city centre, then add in a dose of restrictions on cycling, and politicians who don’t understand the benefits of cycling. Those politicians banned cycling through the city centre, forcing everybody to skirt around the edge. The Campaign was formed initially to try to overturn that ban.
Remember, twenty years ago there was no comprehensive core traffic scheme, and the growth of car traffic was an accepted reality. Just twenty years before that, Elizabeth Way Bridge had cut its way through the middle of housing to link the north and south banks of the river, East Road was going to be widened to at least four lanes, and traffic lights at the Lensfield Road/Fen Causeway junction had been shown to impede the flow of cars, even though the consequences were that it is still the worst junction in the city for people walking or cycling.
Twenty years ago, there was no Jane Coston Bridge. Jane was still campaigning for the vital link that now allows hundreds of people to cross the A14 every day. Gilbert Road was a hostile obstacle course of cars parked in the narrow advisory cycle lanes.
When I first moved to Cambridge fifteen years ago, I walked to work every day. The exercise was good for me, and the distance not particularly great. Within six months we had moved to one of the necklace villages and I started to drive or be driven to work. Conversations quickly moved to discussing if we could afford to buy a second car. We couldn’t, but did buy a motorbike.
Motorbiking to work was reasonable, but I didn’t trust myself to be sensible all the time. I knew I had to do something different, and a few people who lived just around the corner from me and who worked at the same company cycled, so I thought I’d give it a go. I bought a new bicycle, my existing one being a $100 special from Walmart, and started to ride to work. I enjoyed the cycling, but didn’t enjoy the traffic.
The catalyst to my change was the proposal to create a cycleway from my village to the next village. I joined the Campaign, sent in consultation responses, and watched eagerly as the new cycleway was built. I then started cycling the new longer way to work every day along this new cycleway. Then the Busway was built, and that again transformed the experience.
I’m just one person. I joined the Campaign because individually I couldn’t change the world, but together with thousands of others I knew I could. Together we can make a difference. We can campaign for better and safer cycleways. We can campaign for linking up the villages to help solve traffic problems. We can campaign to make space for cycling on the major roads, and help transform the city.
There is a still a lot to do. If you are reading this and are not a member, then I would suggest that you join. Just like me, it could transform your life, your commutes, or just your ability to be active. Cycling has improved my life. I’m fitter and healthier. I’ve had fantastic cycling holidays. And I know a lot more amazing people through the Campaign than I ever would have done by just sitting in a car.
Together, we can create a Cambridge that in twenty years’ time will be as different and as good for cycling as Cambridge today is, when compared to twenty years ago.