Cheltenham Cycling Conference

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 70.

The Cycle Campaign Network organises two conferences each year in the spring and autumn. The theme for the one-day conference in Cheltenham in November 2006 was Mapping; Martin Lucas-Smith and I were invited speakers.

The conference-goers represent campaigning groups from around the UK, such as Wolves on Wheels, East Kent Spokes, and also Sustrans and the CTC (Cyclists’ Touring Club). A small exhibition hall was promoting Bike Week and Cycle Accident Insurance.

Cheltenham has a ‘pedestrianised area’, but judging by the signage, riding a bike is actually permitted!
Image as described adjacent

The conference opened with a discussion about cycling with the Lib Dem environment spokesman. He told us that a group of cyclists had recently won £300,000 of EU money to have their awareness of climate change raised. He thought that was bizarre, and that cyclists were one of the last groups to need that – but then reminded us that many of these ‘cyclists’ load up their 4x4s, drive into the countryside and race down mountains. He went on to upset the conference by saying that more ought to be done to tackle nuisance cycling (on pavements or in pedestrian zones).

Unfortunately one of the first sessions at the conference was about ‘successful partnership working’. This is all about joined up government and how various local agencies, ‘Council’, ‘Police’ etc., are now working together. Well I expect that’s good progress, but it didn’t seem of much interest to conference and did not excite any debate. Worse still, it was allowed to go over time and this meant that the whole day ran behind schedule.

After elevenses Martin and I took to the floor and gave a live internet demo of the Photomap and Journey Planner projects. Martin took a photo of conference and uploaded it during the presentation to our photomap. He went on to show a series of examples of good, bad and plain daft photos of cycling ‘facilities’ from Cambridge, Cheltenham and around the world, and this soon livened up the auditorium again.

Martin took a photo of conference and uploaded it to the photo map during the presentation
Image as described adjacent

During my session I was able to demonstrate how to add routes to the Journey Planner in Cheltenham. I showed how to plan a route and explained the difference between ‘fastest’ and ‘quietest’ routes. The planned route produced a gallery of photos on the route we’d taken that morning as we walked to the town hall.

The questions following our session were naturally leading on to how to define routes, what constitutes ‘quiet’ and how the photomap could be used in campaigning. Regrettably this was cut short because of the earlier delays in the proceedings.

Then a speaker from summarised their five year plan to implement a national cycle journey planner. Their problems are getting all the local authorities to agree on a common way of doing it so that it could integrate with the WS Atkins journey planning algorithm. It all sounds like a managerial nightmare to me. Some local authorities didn’t want to say where was safe or unsafe to cycle for fear of being held responsible later.

Conference appreciated the difference between the two systems (one cyclist-led, the other government-led), and if time had permitted it could have been a useful discussion.

In the afternoon there was an interesting update from CTC’s campaign manager, Roger Geffen, about the state of campaigning nationally. Notably the awful failure of the Road Safety Bill to make any real difference. He said we should be active on the Daytime Running Lights Bill, which threatens to kill more of us by making us less visible.

Daniel Cadden, who was fined for riding on a public highway near Telford, was present. Little was said about his case because it was pending appeal. Roger talked about the usefulness of having the Cyclists Defence Fund in place to support his case and asked for more contributions.

Finally two interesting talks wrapped up the day: Bike It is a nationwide scheme from Sustrans which aims to increase the number of young people cycling to school and on other journeys. A police officer introduced this talk and explained how he had massively increased cycling in schools where there was previously hardly any cycling. Cycling Solutions are the training providers for the UK’s largest schools initiative ever, covering the five major education authorities in Merseyside. They explained how delivering cycle training to five local authorities all with different requirements had kept them extremely busy.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the evening sessions or the bike rides on the Sunday and drove back to Cambridge. We were almost forced to go by car because the national rail website quoted ridiculous prices and the journey would have taken more than five hours either via Birmingham or London. In fact the car route was relatively simple, direct and fast, and car-sharing kept our costs down. Ahem.

Simon Nuttall