Interview with Daniel Zeichner MP

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 121.

There was another event to celebrate in June – the election of a new MP for Cambridge. We caught up with our newly elected MP, Daniel Zeichner, to find out his plans for cycling during his term in Parliament. We are pleased to see that Daniel is continuing the excellent work of our previous MP, Julian Huppert, and has joined the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. We also asked Julian to look back on his time in Parliament and to share his advice and views on the challenges that lie ahead.

Daniel, congratulations on your election as Cambridge’s Member of Parliament. What is your vision for cycling in Cambridge?

Cambridge is a cycling city – but it still lacks the infrastructure to make cycling the safe, easy option it should be. If we could unlock investment through a vastly improved City Deal, as I have been arguing for in Parliament, we would have the opportunity to really transform the situation.

What do you feel should be the transport priorities for the new government? Is there much likelihood of cycling being taken seriously?

Sadly, the City Deal remains the watered-down version, and the prospects for re-regulation of our bus system remain distant. The Labour city council has taken a strong lead and is working with the county council and bringing forward proposals such as the long-awaited Chisholm Trail, which are welcome, but I fear we will need much more to avoid impending gridlock.

There is still a mentality in some quarters that sees cycling as a fringe activity rather than a key transport solution

You recently announced your membership of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. What role do you think the group will play over the next five years?

I think it will go from strength to strength and build on the good work from previous parliaments. Many parliamentarians joined the annual Parliamentary Bike Ride, which I very much enjoyed, and I think there is real momentum, particularly around issues of safety. There is a growing awareness among MPs of the very real dangers faced by cyclists and an increasing understanding that real change is required to prevent further fatalities and injuries. The group will be high-profile, but the question is the extent to which a cost-cutting Conservative government can be persuaded to invest real resources – the hypothecation of Vehicle Excise Duty funds for road building is not encouraging.

Cambridge has the highest rates of cycling in the UK. What lessons do you think we can share with other cities looking to improve rates of cycling?

I think Cambridge is pretty unique, and it is partly about a long-established culture. I think we have high rates of cycling despite the infrastructure, rather than because of it, and we should be looking elsewhere, probably outside the UK, for lessons, rather than telling others how to do it – but hopefully we can at least inspire others by showing it can be done.

Daniel on Parker’s Piece.
Image as described adjacent

Why do you think that cycling is considered a fringe activity within the DfT, despite the clear cost-benefit ratio?

The forces of small-c conservatism within many parts of the civil service are, I’m afraid, very hard to overcome – and there is still a mentality in some quarters that sees cycling as a fringe activity rather than a key transport solution.

What could we, and indeed others in the cycle advocacy community, do better to advance our cause of getting more people cycling?

It mustn’t be confrontational, we mustn’t set different modes against each other. I have always said I’m a pedestrian, a cyclist, a bus user, a rail traveller and a car driver – they are complementary. I’ve always been impressed by the way Cambridge Cycling Campaign handles these issues, and I think that the argument is gradually being won.

What, for you, are the main reasons for getting more people cycling, more often?

It’s much more efficient as a transport solution, particularly in cities, and should be much more healthy, although exposure to traffic pollution is more harmful than many of us realise.

Do you ride your bicycle often? Where is your favourite place in Cambridge to cycle?

Not nearly often enough – I’m rather attached to a very old bike, and was amazed by the difference a newer model made on the Parliamentary Bike Ride: probably time to replace!

Whether by foot or by bike, it’s hard to beat cycling along the Cam – I live near Jesus Green – along to Fen Ditton!