Volunteer interview: Matthew Danish

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 123.

Tell us about you and your cycling journey.

I have known how to ride a bicycle since childhood but only recently have I viewed it as a primary mode of transport. When I moved to Boston, Massachusetts 7 years ago I decided to sell my car to save money and avoid the headache of having a car in the city. I did not have the space for a bicycle and instead relied on public transport and my own two feet. In May 2014 I was given a small folding bicycle and by August I was cycling so much that I stopped renewing my monthly public transport pass. That year, instead of the usual $900, I spent less than $200 on fares.

Matthew Danish.
Image as described adjacent

When and why did you join Cambridge Cycling Campaign?

I became aware of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign via the Internet before I moved to the UK and so was already a member when I arrived in September. I had volunteered for similar organisations in the Boston area, advocating for better walking, public transport and cycling conditions.

I see this kind of work as a tangible way of helping make life better for people around me. I believe that city infrastructure should be designed to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of wealth or ability. Car-oriented city infrastructure excludes and marginalises anyone who is not riding around inside one. The option of cycling provides an affordable and convenient way to get around that well complements walking, public transport and an accessible, human-scale city.

What volunteer activities have you been involved in?

So far I have helped with the Campaign’s stand at the Milton Park Autumn Festival and given testimony at a Greater Cambridge City Deal Assembly meeting regarding Histon Road.

I have also designed a new format for the Campaign’s bicycle locking survey and conducted several counts. The computer scientist in me wanted to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible so I arranged the survey into a decision tree: when assessing safety of bikes it might be that one is locked to an insecure pole with a good D-lock, and another is locked to a secure Sheffield stand but with a bad cable lock. Both are insecure – just in different ways.

The first question: ‘Is the bicycle locked?’

  • If yes, then ‘Is the stand a proper one (intended for bicycle locking)?’
  • If not proper, then ‘Is it a secure pole?’
  • If yes, then ‘Is it a good lock?’
  • If yes, then ‘Is it used with the correct technique?’

This may seem like a laborious procedure but in practice it is easy to skip many of the steps. I recently surveyed bikes by the Sheffield stands on Hobson Street. All, save one which was unlocked, were therefore on an appropriate stand. 42 of the bicycles achieved ‘Good technique with a good lock’, 5 were classified under ‘Bad technique with a good lock’, and 12 were counted as ‘Bad lock.’ The whole exercise took about ten minutes and was a good excuse for a cappucino and cake at a nearby cafe.

Developing this survey appealed to me because over time I hope we will be able to build a comparable database of behaviour, the data from which could be used in a wide range of ways. It could help inform educational and outreach campaigns, direct limited police and CCTV resources by uncovering patterns related to criminal activity as well as tell us something about the way people perceive the safety of different parts of the city.

What has been the best thing about volunteering with the Campaign?

I would have to say that meeting the other members and listening to their energy, spirit and ideas has been the best thing.

What would you like to happen in the future of the Campaign and cycling in Cambridge?

I am hoping that local authorities will start to involve the Campaign earlier when proposing or designing new bicycle infrastructure. The Histon Road and Milton Road proposals for public consultation show that many problems could be avoided from the outset.

What would you say to others who are considering active involvement with the Campaign?

It’s a chance to make some change for the better, and whatever the outcome, it’s fun, it’s interesting, and you meet lots of nice people along the way.

Sarah Rodger