Decisions, decisions

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 39.

We need to reconsider both how we tell our local Councils what we think and how we arrive at our views. Far too often our criticisms or suggestions are sidelined before they reach councillors, especially County Councillors.

Although occasionally we can be unequivocally enthusiastic, time after time we see road schemes and cycle facilities being constructed which are of disappointingly low quality, mediocre, make no difference, or are entirely detrimental to cyclists. The last year has seen a rash of these. For example, a shared-use path alongside the airport on Newmarket Road, rebuilt at high cost, made no significant improvement. Or consider the cycle lane on Trumpington Road that was built too close to the parking bays, or the continued obsession with pavement build-outs.

The extent to which our representations about Coldham’s Lane bridge (see separate article) have been comprehensively ignored, is breathtaking. This is supposed to be a major scheme, specifically for the benefit of cyclists. The dismissal of our formal objection to the recent build-out on Queen’s Road, (see article) simply because of the form of words we used in our letter, was outrageous. Sometimes, we encounter a ‘can’t do’ attitude that actively seeks out reasons why something can’t be done, rather than how it might be possible.

Strengthening campaigning

These, and other recent absurdities, are making us think carefully about the way in which we communicate with (especially) the County Council. For example, simply writing letters in response to consultations is not having the desired effect. Of course this is still essential, but we need to find ways to make our campaigning more effective.

‘Can’t do’ attitudes actively seek reasons why something can’t be done, rather than how it might be possible.

In responding to consultations, we are often under tight time pressure. Nevertheless, we think we can strengthen our campaigning activities by involving more of you in discussions about the streets and areas in which you have a particular interest. Whilst we know your home addresses, it’s hard to know the areas you regularly travel through. We propose to ask you shortly. We are also considering how we can help you support our campaigning by backing up our formal responses with your own individual ones.

At the same time, we are aware that there is a wide range of opinions amongst cyclists, whether Campaign members or not, about what is desirable and what is not. This often reflects the experience and confidence of the cyclist – for example, whether roundabouts are a problem – and the varying weight we each place on ‘better’ (more convenient) versus ‘safer’ (or at least perceived safer) cycling.

We will be including a wide-ranging questionnaire in the next newsletter. A motion at this year’s AGM also specifically asked us to find out about your experiences of harassment on the road.

Developing strategy

Whenever time allows we bring details of consultations to our monthly meetings which, as you all know, are on the first Tuesday of each month at the Friends Meeting House in Jesus Lane. More formal motions can be proposed and debated at the AGM. We have also held several ‘strategy days’ where we have looked at our general direction and focus. It is too easy to always be involved in the minutiae of particular schemes while neglecting bigger aims and objectives as, for example, expressed in the Campaign’s manifesto.

We aren’t the only ones under time pressure. Councillors also have an extraordinarily difficult job on the Area Joint Committee that takes most of the decisions that affect us. For example, the agenda for the most recent meeting ran to more than 120 pages, and councillors received it a mere five days before the meeting. In a four-hour meeting, there was a score of items that called for detailed, informed decisions. Councillors are volunteers too, and it is hard to see how they can do a conscientious job under this kind of pressure. We can understand why they often feel obliged to rubber-stamp decisions made by officers.

David Earl