Local election 2007 candidates – cycling in their minds

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The Committee took the decision this year to see what candidates standing for election as local councillors thought about cycling (and walking) issues. We received a good response, with around half those standing responding.

In early April, we requested, via our members’ e-mail list, suggestions for questions to ask the candidates. We were keen to make the questions relevant to each local area, rather than just being a general questionnaire. The finalised questions were then worked up into a survey for each ward.

Half of each survey was based on cycling issues which affect all areas, namely cycling promotion, the vast shortage of cycle parking, and the need for enforcement against traffic offences (including those committed by rogue cyclists). A selection of the questions can be seen in the boxes below.

What is remarkable is the degree of agreement on many of the issues we highlighted. However, it is also noticeable that many candidates were not aware of the needs of commuter cyclists.

We covered each of the 14 city wards, as well as Histon & Impington ward (which is in South Cambridgeshire). If we re-run this initiative in future years, we hope to cover a wider area, following this successful pilot.

We did the survey on-line so that constituents – including our members – in each ward (rather than merely our Campaign’s Committee) could see what each candidate thinks. Voters could then take these views into account alongside other issues of concern to them. Naturally, we took care to contact every candidate in each ward equally, as well as notifying their agents, should letters get lost in the post.

Some of the more generalised questions we asked:

  • Cycling offers a huge opportunity to reduce motor traffic and free up road space. Do you have any suggestions for additional cycling promotion activities that the Council could do?
  • Cambridge suffers from a huge shortage of on-street public cycle parking, and a staggeringly high rate of cycle theft – 10% of reported crime. We want to see a formal strategy to get on-street cycle parking provided around Cambridge, with a target of say, 100-200 spaces per year initially. Do you support this?
  • Do you support our view that traffic policing (including fining of cyclists without lights or using pedestrian-only pavements) should become a police priority?
  • Following the remarkable success of 20 mph zones in Hull, we wish to see many more 20 mph zones around Cambridge for both safety and environmental reasons. Do you support this objective?
  • Many cycling schemes effectively force cyclists onto the pavement, resulting in an inadequate cycling environment, and in resentment from pedestrians. Do you support our view that the Council’s priority should always be to improve the general road environment first, including the provision of cycle lanes at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) wide?

Answers from the candidates are on our website.

Some 30 candidates responded, and we are extremely grateful to them for their time at such a busy period. The responses were fairly equally distributed across the six political parties that had representatives standing.

The candidates’ full responses can be seen on our website, and will be archived there. One candidate didn’t wish their responses to be made public, on the grounds of disliking lobby groups. (Ironically, this meant that only the Committee, rather than the general public, could actually see that candidate’s views!)

There was remarkable consensus on the need to address the vast shortage of on-street, public cycle parking around the city. It is time for a councillor to take a public lead on this.

What is remarkable is the degree of agreement on many of the issues we highlighted. However, it is also noticeable that many candidates were not aware of the needs of commuter cyclists. The difficulties faced by such cyclists in areas like Milton Road or Trumpington Road are not something which can be tackled by off-road paths, for instance.

Probably the question which provoked the highest levels of agreement amongst candidates was over our proposal for a formal strategy to get on-street cycle parking around Cambridge. Some candidates thought that our initial proposal for 100-200 public, on-street spaces (additional to those which must be provided by new housing or commercial developments), which some Council officers seem to regard as unachievable, was too low and should be only a very initial target. The fact that 10% of reported crime in Cambridge is cycle theft was not lost on many candidates!

A few of the more ward-specific questions we asked:

  • In Market and Petersfield wards: Some cyclists have told us they feel unsafe riding alongside two short stretches of Lensfield Road and East Road where car parking is allowed in spite of the heavy traffic. Such car parking narrows the space available considerably. Do you support removal of this car parking in the interests of improved traffic flow and the safety of cyclists?
  • Trumpington area: We favour the removal of car parking on at least one side of Trumpington Road outside the Botanic Gardens. The current lanes are against government policy, as they are in the ‘dooring zone’. Our proposal would allow wider cycle lanes and a buffer zone to protect cyclists from opened car doors. Do you support this?
  • Romsey ward: Do you support mandatory inclusion of on-street cycle parking as part of any car club scheme that is introduced in Cambridge?
  • Petersfield ward: Cycle parking at the railway station is in extremely short supply, with all spaces full even early in the day. Do you support conversion of more car parking spaces at the station to cycle parking now before the area is redeveloped?
  • Northern areas: Some cyclists have told us they feel unsafe riding over the A14 Histon junction, because of crossing the exit roads down onto the A14, and along Histon Rd, because of its narrowness. Do you support measures to improve safety for cyclists in these two areas?

Answers from the candidates are on our website.

The example of the cycle parking outside St Catharine’s College, which resulted in the removal of a tiny number of car parking spaces but which vastly improves both cycling provision and the walking environment, is a model of what is needed all around Cambridge. And some areas, like Petersfield or Romsey, have virtually no cycle parking provided, except in the most heavily used shopping areas. We hope that those candidates that were successfully elected will take this issue up, and we will certainly be reminding them to do so.

On policing issues, candidates generally agreed with our calls for action here, though many felt it unrealistic or inappropriate for policing against pavement/red-light offences to be a police priority.

Issues like contraflow cycling in Petersfield had a moderate degree of support, but with caveats. Work is needed to remind candidates of the benefits – and the few actual problems on the ground – that such provision has historically resulted in. Likewise, there was also selective support for our calls to remove car parking in a few key locations on the ring road.

We hope that our survey has not only been of interest to our members, but has also made candidates more aware of the issues that the large number of people who cycle in Cambridge face on a daily basis. With more support for cycling, higher levels of cycling, and better provision (which often just means a more cycle-friendly road environment, rather than cycling-specific infrastructure), could be achieved.

We hope to run this initiative next year. Suggestions for questions are always welcome.