National Cycle Campaigning Conference, Edinburgh – a report

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 18.

Twice a year, cycle campaigners from all over Britain get together to compare experiences and discuss the latest developments in cycling. This May the National Cycling Campaigning Conference was held over a long weekend in Edinburgh, and was hosted by Spokes, the local campaign there. Three members of the Cambridge campaign went along.

The focus of the conference was the forthcoming Government White Paper on Transport, which is due in June and which is the subject of much eager anticipation. We heard a captivating presentation by local councillor David Begg, who besides being a professor in Aberdeen and chairman of the transport committee of the City of Edinburgh Council is also one of John Prescott’s ‘wise men’, advising him on what to put in the White Paper. The conference chairman described him as a potential future minister of transport in the Scottish parliament, and we soon found out why: in a style which can only be described as evangelical he explained how the White Paper would be every bit as radical as we had hoped and that transport in Britain would never be the same again.

David Begg’s talk was followed by one by Don Mathew, cycle campaigning adviser to the CTC. Don’s task was to speculate about what would be in the white paper, but as he was standing a few feet away from David Begg who really did know what would be in it, but couldn’t officially tell us, we were treated to the hilarious sight of Don working through his list of what might be in the white paper, with David Begg nodding vigorously in confirmation at each item.

Don also warned that the White paper will cause an absolute outcry from the road lobby and that it is essential that campaign groups such as ours take part in the national debate that will follow it and give the White Paper as much support as possible. The Cambridge Cycling campaign is standing by!

Although the signals about the White Paper are encouraging, we also heard an interesting and probably timely intervention by CTC Chairman Tom Lamb, who warned that although cycling was very important to us, there was a danger that it would get overlooked by the government and ‘squeezed’ between support for buses on the one hand and for pedestrians on the other.

The conference also had a number of workshop sessions, including one on ‘How Spokes Runs a Cycle Campaign’ which was keenly attended by our co-ordinator. There was also a useful session on ‘Cycle Map Making for Local Groups’, which gave us information that our maps subgroup will find useful back in Cambridge.

An essential part of any visit to a cycle campaigning conference is the opportunity to cycle round the host city and discover what conditions there are like for cyclists. Edinburgh has a good number of cycle facilities, mostly consisting of cycle lanes with advance stop lines at junctions. We also saw a few routes across parks with cycle crossings over main roads. There was also a number of off-road cycle paths constructed along former railway lines. One of these went through a tunnel over a quarter of a mile long.

There were things to criticise. Many streets in the centre, for example, are cobbled, forcing cyclists to ride along the gully at the edge of the road. However, what struck me most about cycling in Edinburgh (apart from the hills) was that when cycle facilities were provided they were of a high standard. Cycle lanes were always at least 1.5 m wide (wider than many in Cambridge) and were always surfaced in red (in contrast to Cambridge, where red surfacing is used only rarely). Nowhere did I see cyclists expected to share a pavement with pedestrians. And cycle paths across parks were far wider than any such paths in Cambridge. In comparison, provision for cyclists in Cambridge, though widespread, seemed somewhat low in quality.

The next national cycle campaigning conference is in the autumn in London.

Nigel Deakin