Manchester CycleNation Spring Conference Report 2009

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 85.

Artistic response to B of the Bang.
Image as described adjacent

Martin Lucas-Smith and I travelled by train to this event, which is part of the series of conferences held every six months by CTC and CycleNation (the new name for the Cycle Campaign Network). We arrived too late to take part in the critical mass ride which apparently had approximately 300 participants.

After a long session in the pub and a pizza restaurant, our host guided us through the surprisingly empty streets of central Manchester to our accommodation. The busiest stretch of this was the famous ‘Curry Mile’ which was mainly congested with drivers cruising along the street, which was brightly lit by neon signs advertising the plethora of food outlets with names like Shere Khan Halal Indian Cuisine and Urban Spice Halal takeaway.

On Saturday, the conference proper in the Manchester Friends’ Meeting house was packed with over 100 delegates from all over the UK. Straight away, Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign’s Honorary Secretary (and former Cambridge Cycling Campaign member) Olly Glover set the tone of the whole day. He addressed the question ‘why are we all here?’ saying that ‘the reasons why we all believe in cycling are so obvious that we just can’t understand why other people don’t “get it”‘. That is why the theme of the conference was ‘Cycling as a solution’.

London Cycling Campaign director Koy Thomson built on Olly’s opening, explaining that the street is the public realm that we have allowed to become ruined by the motor car. He also spoke of cycling ‘style’ and that even though cycling had gone up in London it was still only 2% of journeys.

The public health emergency that is the growth in obesity was discussed by Bruce MacDonald of SWT Consultants. He admitted to not being a cyclist but was enlightened by the general tone of the conference. His talk was mainly an economic assessment of the health benefits of cycling. I don’t think I quite followed the arguments, but he seemed to be saying that each new cyclist represents a saving of £10,000 to the NHS. This figure had apparently caused gasps among the high-level decision makers when presented to a group of government officials the previous day.

Amy Fleuriot brought a flash of colour and bling to a conference normally dominated by middle-aged and greying white males wearing lycra. A graduate of the London School of Fashion, she is an entrepreneur who wants to make cycling more appealing to girls and women. Feeling the need to defend this position she went to some lengths to explain that it was nothing new, and that a magazine called the Lady Cyclist began in the late 1800s and ran for 20 years.

Juliet Jardine spoke of her work as one of the CTC’s ‘Cycling Champions’ to promote cycling to schoolgirls and to women of all ages in her area of Manchester.

Richard George of the ‘Campaign for Better Transport’ warned of the danger that thousands of small road safety schemes would be slashed in the impending cuts in the Department for Transport budget, but that road building schemes would survive. Swiping at the very idea of a ‘cycling demonstration town’ he asked us to imagine what it would be like if, for instance, Luton was nominated to become a ‘driving demonstration town’!

In the panel discussion that followed there were many questions addressing the style theme that Amy had introduced, but she resisted the temptation to be drawn on whether those attending the conference needed any fashion advice.

The afternoon session consisted of workshops covering such topics as ‘Helmets and the Law’, ‘Working with the Media’, ‘Movers and Shakers’ and our own presentation of the CycleStreets online mapping system.

There was a lot more networking in the pubs and then in the South-East Asian restaurant that followed. At times this was quite intense, perhaps a bit anoraky, but one of the most useful aspects of the conference is trading the anecdotes of frustrations and successes in national campaigning.

Sunday’s main event was a cycle tour of Manchester. We rode out of the city centre to Ancoats which, once the heart of industrial Manchester, is now a desert of flattened buildings, some awaiting redevelopment into warehouse-style apartments, and where the roads are supposed to be shared-space. [There was a critique of shared space in Newsletter 83. Ed]

Riding along the Ashton Canal towpath.
Image as described adjacent

We rode alongside the Ashton Canal for many miles, through Openshaw and other districts, until we came to the start of the Fallowfield Loop, a former railway line now converted to an urban cycleway. Our guide admitted that it looked attractive at this time of the year when the foliage grows so quickly that all the litter is hidden.

Back on Manchester’s main roads, we came to a section of slightly demarcated 2 m-wide cycle lane, approaching the hybrid cycle lane concept we have been promoting in Cambridge. Parked right across it was a car completely blocking the way, its driver protesting she had to park somewhere despite the empty car parking space right behind.

Martin (the Campaign’s Co-ordinator) commented that we had certainly seen cases of good provision and worthy attempts at innovation.

Simon Nuttall