Volunteer interview: Heather Coleman

This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 125.

Heather’s trusty steed.
Image as described adjacent

Tell us about you and your cycling journey.

Even though my parents have always walked and cycled for daily utility journeys in the smallish town where I grew up, reserving the car for holidays and days out, I only started riding a bike at the age of nine and it took me several years to work out how to balance the darned thing! In Cambridge as a student, however, it became part of my body.

I kept cycling when I moved to north London as I was living about two miles from where I was doing post-graduate study. My bike was stolen just before I moved to Reading and the hideous road system of my new home didn’t inspire me to buy a new one. I was living only about three miles from work but the obvious route to cycle there would have been a suicide-wish. . . if only I’d had access to Cyclestreets I might well have found a quick, convenient and safe route (which would have saved me money and time since parking a car on campus was a nightmare).

I came back to Cambridge for a job on the Addenbrooke’s campus a bit over twenty years ago. Immediately I was desperate to get another bicycle as I knew how much easier cycling would make my life.

When and why did you join Cambridge Cycling Campaign?

There was some kind of Cycle to Work Week and I think the Campaign were offering free breakfasts at the Tesco cafĂ© opposite where I lived. I’m never one to turn down free food, especially bacon. It was around the same time that there was a mad-cap scheme to do to Hills Road what had been done to Milton Road many years earlier. I’d used Milton Road once or twice and thought it utter cycling hell, dodging pedestrians and cars coming out of driveways from behind six-foot-tall hedges. I depended on cycling on Hills Road for all of my social and out-of-work activities and the people from the Campaign who I spoke to appeared to be actively fighting this terrible proposal, plus it was cheap to join, so why not?

What volunteer activities have you been involved in?

I try to help out when I can or if it’s an issue I feel particularly strongly about, such as the awful, totally inadequate cycle parking at Addenbrooke’s.

I’ve done a couple of planning objections on behalf of the Campaign and I’ve taken part in a few surveys, such as at the Adrian Way/Long Road junction and on Nuffield Road. I think gathering data to demonstrate a problem is vital for campaigning. I contribute to the Newsletter when I can, with something that I feel has been overlooked or to give others food for thought. I also deliver the Newsletters in my village. I contribute ideas to Cyclescape discussions even if I don’t have the time to draw up any final required document.

I wish I had time to get more involved but there are only so many hours in the day and days in the week. That’s why it’s useful if there are lots of people doing little things, as all those littles do add up.

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

Getting to meet other people who actually get ‘it’. Where ‘it’ is that using a bicycle as part of your repertoire of transport choices is an obvious solution. And that bicycles are therefore bona fide traffic and should be catered for as such.

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

I think we just have to continue chipping away, firstly at things that really need fixing and secondly making sure that anything new doesn’t actually make something worse. Cycling in Cambridge is not a fringe leisure activity, but a part of everyday life for a large proportion of the population; why on earth should it be shoved out of the way on pavements, forced to use winding back streets and the like? Cycling in Cambridge makes a major contribution to the economy, and we need to be making sure that those who don’t seem to understand this are made to understand it.

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

There are always things you can do, as and when you have the time or the need arises. If there’s a bad junction in your area or a piece of totally substandard infrastructure, start an issue or thread on Cyclescape. Discussions can lead to a sub-campaign which may well result in real change, benefitting the whole of the local cycling community. One thing I suspect the Campaign needs are people to review what might be a long Cyclescape discussion into concise summary. This would be really helpful as it could then form the basis for an out-of-the blue letter to the council about something we have spotted, or, probably more importantly, a formal Campaign response to a consultation or planning application.

Sarah Rodger