Co-ordinator’s comment

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 71.

City Centre cycling ‘permanent’ … for 12 months

The City Centre bike ban is lifted… but with a sting in the tail.
Image as described adjacent

A major plank of the Campaign’s manifesto has been realised after some 12 years of campaigning. City centre cycling is now legal at long last. The area is part of many key routes around Cambridge and allows cyclists to avoid the Hobson Street run and Queen’s Road, which are longer and more dangerous diversions. And in a city like Cambridge, where cycling is part of our culture, to have a major area out of bounds to cyclists was incongruous. The change has resulted in some national coverage in a variety of transport-related publications.

However, the newly ‘permanent’ decision to allow cycling comes with a sting in its tail. Although full permanence was supported by a majority of the Traffic Management Area Joint Committee (for which those Councillors are to be congratulated), the County Council’s Cabinet, to whom the decision was referred, and which consists entirely of Conservative County Councillors from outside Cambridge, was wary of the change. Evidence of pro-active support for cycling was not strongly evident from the discussion. As a means of keeping control of the issue, Cabinet decided ‘to undertake a formal review of a permanent order after 12 months to assess progress on enforcement and safety concerns with the intention of revoking the permanent order if sufficient progress is not demonstrated.’

It is imperative that we, as a Campaign, step up our lobbying to improve enforcement against rogue cycling in the area, so that pedestrian comfort is maintained. There are always going to be some completely inconsiderate menaces who tear through the city – and such antisocial behaviour should be cracked down on, hard. But the main source of complaint is against cyclists going against the one-way system. Partly this is due to people ignoring restrictions, but it has been quite clear from ongoing debates that the signage is considered unclear.

The one-way system was ultimately designed for cars, rather than intended as a deliberate restriction for cyclists. The current streetscape is not well suited to contraflow cycling when an oncoming vehicle approaches, and arguably, had it been designed in the 1990s, things might be different. Very many cyclists either fail to understand the restriction (perhaps they are looking ahead to avoid getting near pedestrians rather than looking up at small signs), or just ignore it. One Cabinet member even admitted to cycling the wrong way in the area! However, the one-way system is what we have, and it is not going to be changed just for cyclists. We favour enforcement of rules where they exist.

For these reasons, we support Councillors’ view that the County Council should request, at a high level, increased police enforcement. We also need to see the signage improved. But we should also enjoy the new-found freedom of the city and encourage others to make sure it stays that way.

Video activism

Handlebar-mounted camera video makes local media via YouTube.
Image as described adjacent

A video of bike interactions with buses, made by a Campaign member and posted on the video website YouTube, has resulted in quite a lot of media interest and much member discussion. The video, from a handlebar-mounted camera, shows a bus overtaking – then pulling in front of – the cyclist.

The first piece of media coverage was a radio piece featuring the cyclist and someone from the County Council’s Road Safety team. Her response to dangerous driving was that cyclists should use safety equipment, aka a helmet. (This cyclist was wearing a helmet…) How does a helmet tackle dangerous driving? Shouldn’t the response have been to improve bus driver training (as we have long argued) and to improve the road environment so that cyclists are given more space on the roads (ditto)?

The Campaign has no formal position on the use of helmets. But if the Road Safety department is limited to the mantra of safety equipment rather than genuine solutions which tackle the source of the problem, there is a long way to go before Cambridgeshire cyclists can be assured their council is working in their interests.

Martin Lucas-Smith