Address to Committee

It was serendipity that meant that the meeting of the Environment and Transport Committee at which we were allowed to present our petition (see Newsletter 12) was during National Bike Week. As well as the nice coincidence, this also meant that I was able to give it more time, since I was not at work that week.

Three minutes is all that petitioners are allowed, and it is a very short time to make a point. On the other hand, it does concentrate the mind. At June’s Campaign Meeting we had a brainstorming session to decide on the approach.

  • The change of administration at the May elections was an important consideration. Because of that I wanted to stress the late Conservative Government’s recent positive policies towards cycling – let’s see the new Council’s own party’s policies put into action.
  • I followed through some of the things we had been saying in our representations on the Package Bid (see last newsletter) and on Road Danger Reduction.
  • I wanted to make the link between safety and convenience. It’s not just about casualty reduction, important though that is.

Here is the end result. The remarks about the Royal Cambridge Hotel turned out to be particularly important (see separate article). Each councillor received an accompanying pack, including the speech and extracts from the documents I refer to.

The Text of the Address

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address the Committee. It is an appropriate time to be here, as this week is National Bike Week.

The petition was signed by people who approached our stall in the Market Square, who said they currently drive, but would cycle if only it were safer and more convenient.

The context for cycling has changed enormously over the last five years.

The National Cycling Strategy, which was adopted and promoted by the Conservative Government last year, sets a target of doubling cycle use by 2002. In Cambridge that is ambitious. But, please don’t just dismiss it as unachievable. Concerted effort in some European cities has achieved this kind of change.

The Road Traffic Reduction Act, also passed with all party support, puts a duty on you to set targets to reduce motor traffic.

To achieve even the targets of the Council’s own Cycling Strategy means further emphasising both convenience and safety in policy making. When nearly every junction on the ring road is a roundabout, it is not surprising that this barrier daunts people unused to cycling. And so long as the A14 roundabouts have to be negotiated on the footway, new cyclists will be put off by the slip road crossings carrying fast traffic. Existing cyclists will continue to moan about the sharp turns, the bumpy surface, the angles of vision and the difficulty of finding a safe gap in the traffic.

There is much evidence, locally and nationally, that roundabouts and cyclists do not mix. That’s why, Mr Chairman, we were worried to see that the scheduled work on the Royal Cambridge Hotel junction has not started.

I must acknowledge the work that has already been done. For example, the cycle bridge at the station, the Mill Road-Gonville Place junction, and more recently, forward stop lines and the Bridge Street changes.

Cycle Friendly Infrastructure, another Conservative Government endorsed publication, promotes a hierarchy of measures to make cycling safer and more convenient. It puts a greater emphasis on making the whole road environment more cycle friendly, through, in this order,

  • traffic reduction,
  • traffic calming,
  • junction treatment,
  • traffic management,
  • carriageway redistribution, and
  • cycle lanes and tracks.

Quality of construction, both in attention to detail and on key indicators such as width and surface finish are very important for cyclists. There is a legacy in Cambridge of cyclists and pedestrians being thrown together into the same limited space, and neither group is comfortable with this arrangement.

Finally, I would like to ask you to consider your approach to road safety promotion. In particular, we would like to commend to you the Road Danger Reduction Charter, now adopted by 40 Local Authorities, which moves away from a victim-centred approach to one of controlling the principal sources of threat. We would like to see a greater emphasis on enforcement on the road (and I have no reason to exclude cyclists from that). We would like to see more speed cameras and speed restrictions, considering that the key difference in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian at 20 and 40 mph is between slight injury and death.

I hope, Mr Chairman, that we will be able to see the hundreds of people who signed this petition confident to use their bikes. Let me exhort you to follow the lead the Conservative Government started.