Cycle Campaign Network/Cyclists’ Rights Network Spring Conference 1996

Dave Earl, Anne Taylor (Cambridge’s new Cycling Promoter) and I all went to this one-day conference. The Cardiff Cycling Campaign organised the conference, including lunch and, for us, accommodation the night before. A local bike shop donated a bicycle which was raffled to raise money for the Cardiff Cycling Campaign.

The City and County of Cardiff provided their town hall; Max Phillips, Deputy Lord Mayor of Cardiff, and Gwilym Jones MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, opened the day with two speeches not notable for their content. The significant thing is rather that these politicians thought it worth attending the conference at all. In questions after both speeches, both were trying very hard to show what pro-cycling people they were, without making any definite new promises.

Rose Ades, from the Cyclists’ Public Affairs Group (C-PAG), talked about the National Cycling Strategy. There’s a committee and four working groups preparing this, with representatives from a very wide range of interests – several Government departments, who don’t normally talk to each other, business interests such as insurers, and pressure groups. To some extent, cycling is now leading the national transport debate: there is no parallel to the National Cycling Strategy yet for any other form of transport.

The aim is to identify

  • existing constraints which limit cycling (and seek to remove them);
  • key mechanisms and players; and
  • resources.

The four groups are:

  1. Integrating cycling with traffic management. This covers matters from tax rules to road junction design principles.

  2. Facilitating sustainable travel. This covers land use and planning, local transport and local cycling plans.

  3. Improving cycle security. Theft is a significant deterrent to many would-be cyclists. This group intends to:

    • define standards for locks and parking
    • look at insurance
    • consider registration schemes, which have to be national to be effective
  4. Promoting cycling and changing attitudes. This has to change the label ‘cyclist’ from the 2% of people who ride every day to the 90% of the population who ride at all, for example.

All this is possible because of one surprising politician, Steven Norris, Minister for Local Transport and Road Safety. He is not a cyclist himself, but appears to have become a sincere believer in what cycle campaigners have been saying for years. It will take several years before his new policies and attitudes spread within national and local government departments.

Government now accepts that new road schemes should not sever local routes such as minor roads, byways or bridleways. On the other hand, there is no money or plan to reconnect cyclists’ routes damaged by the roads built in the last forty years. If we want new crossings over major roads, for instance, we’ll have to make a specific local case for them.

Carol Freeman, from Sustrans, talked about the National Cycle Network. This has been much in the news since its Millennium Fund award, but I learned a lot more from the talk. Sustrans have signed a very detailed ‘and quite frightening’ contract with the Fund, most of whose money will go directly to the local authorities who will build the routes.

The Network will have about 6,500 miles of off-road and on-road routes covering all of Britain. The first 2,500 miles will be completed by the year 2000, and the rest planned. About half will be on ordinary (quiet) roads, and will need to use all the tricks in the Cycle-Friendly Guidelines book and the new Sustrans supplement to it. The routes will meet in the centres of towns and cities, and must be safe enough for a 12-year-old to ride without supervision.

Don Mathew, CTC Policy Advisor, presented the CTC’s recent report, More Bikes – Policy Into Best Practice, and led a discussion on some of the points he covered. No single action holds the key to encouraging cycling; rather, dozens of policy changes need to be made and their success monitored. We have a lot to learn from other countries, and studies have looked at most of Europe as well as at the UK. We may have more yet to learn from Australia and the USA, where work has concentrated on promotion and education. Europeans have concentrated on matters of policy or provision. A cycling culture needs continuous work, even in the famously cycle-friendly Netherlands. Don went through the specific policies and decisions which have been shown to be effective, then gave us some news and took questions.

  • A significant anti-cycling lobby seems to be developing. In some cities, motorcyclists have claimed they should be allowed to use bus and cycle lanes and paths.
  • Local groups could usefully write to Labour MPs and candidates, to ask what specific cycling matters will appear in the election manifesto. With a General Election due soon, it is worth lobbying the opposition as well as the government.
  • The Transport Activists’ Round Table is new, meets every two months, and should form a ‘green answer’ to the British Road Federation.

Next, the chairman drew the raffle ticket. To my embarrassment, I won. The bike would have failed the Dr Bike check on four counts – no wonder the shop hadn’t been able to sell it after several years in the showroom.

The conference also included 11 ‘workshop’ sessions in smaller groups. These covered such subjects as lobbying local government, writing a press release, and how to be interviewed on TV – the ones I joined.

Mark Irving