Letter from York

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 33.

Having spent the last five years in Cambridge, moving to York this summer has brought a few changes to my travelling habits – new routes, new topography, a new cycling campaign, not to mention a new car! Probably the most difficult of these to get used to has been the hill. People in York claim that the reason so many cycle here is that it is a flat city. This isn’t quite true compared to Cambridge, and my route to work has what must be the steepest hill within the city boundaries: a climb about twice as steep as Castle Hill onto the University campus. As my department is right at the bottom on the other side, I have to repeat the climb on the way home. But my legs are gradually getting used to the change.

York’s cycle facilities were studied by Cambridge Cycling Campaign members on a fact finding mission here a couple of years ago (see Newsletter 21, December 1998). The first thing that struck me as different when I arrived was the cycle lanes being green rather than Cambridge’s red. My impression so far is that there isn’t the same concentration of cyclists as Cambridge. Nevertheless, there are still a lot, especially in the city centre and during rush hour. Cycle lanes are quite plentiful, as are cycle racks, and advanced stop lines were apparently invented here. But things aren’t perfect . On one part of my daily route, I use some cycle lanes which are very narrow, have a broken rather than a solid line, and which traverse kerbsides that seem to accumulate more than their fair share of puddles, even before the floods hit us. So top marks to the planners here for combining three problems in one!

One of the most interesting bits of cycle infrastructure I have ever seen is a set of experimental cycle lanes on a roundabout just near where I live. Dotted lanes guide the cyclist right around the roundabout, with separate lanes feeding you off to the left or straight ahead-a bit like the lanes on a motorway roundabout. I find myself torn between thinking it may help less confident cyclists stand their ground, and worrying that motorists might now expect us to stay within the boundaries of the lane. One could imagine a legal test case if a cyclist were hit on the roundabout.

I have, of course, joined York Cycle Campaign, and realise just how privileged Cambridge is to have so many cyclists keen to be active campaigners. York’s campaign membership can be counted in tens rather than hundreds, and consequently has a much less visible profile and less varied activities than Cambridge. That said, the current incarnation of the campaign was launched at the instigation of the City Council’s Cycling Officer, which means that its voice is listened to seriously by the planners. I have always appreciated the way that Cambridge Cycling Campaign provides the opportunity to keep involved without attending meetings. (I lost my tolerance for meetings through belonging to too many campaigns a few years ago.) In Cambridge, you can deliver newsletters or staff the stall without setting foot in the Friends’ Meeting House. That said, while the York campaign remains so much smaller, a monthly meeting with half a dozen others in a quiet pub back room isn’t such a bad experience.

Paul Rosen