In the same series of six-monthly conferences as our Cambridge event in 2008, Martin Lucas-Smith and myself attended this event to represent the Campaign and exhibit CycleStreets.net. Celebrating their 30th year, it was hosted by local campaign group Pedals who have 260 members. The city itselfhas a population of 300,000 but counting the neighbouring villages and towns this rises to 700,000. It is flat on one side and very hilly on the other.
The conference was the usual mixture of visionary speakers, impassioned campaigners and politicians anxious to demonstrate how much their city has done to help cycling. Professor John Whitelegg’s intense and evidential slideshow scorned the lack of vision in British attempts to increase cycling, citing an example to increase cycing by 40% that would bring the modal share up from 1% to 1.4%. ‘Modal share’, which measures the number of journeys by each form of transport (e.g. private car, bus, train, walking etc.) is the internationally recognised standard for measuring ‘how well you’re doing’ in getting people on bikes. But he noted that this figure is not published in the reviews of Cycling England’s demonstration towns.
Pedals began organising leisurely bike rides for family groups back in 1983 and managed to persuade the city council to take up the running costs a year later. They’re still running a surprisingly busy summer programme of rides that can easily be found online by searching for Nottingham Rural Rides. There was a nice slide too of the first official cycle parking in the centre of the city – a row of six wheelbenders (this was the early ’80s), sponsored by then local cycle-maker Raleigh.
Pedals also created the ride which is now known as the ‘Great Nottinghamshire Bike Ride’. Similar in mileage options to our own 20/50 Reach Fair ride, this event attracts similar numbers to the London to Cambridge bike ride, i.e. around 5,000 participants. Although it was started by Pedals their input has been relegated to a footnote. The event has become a commercialised charity ride and has little to do with ordinary cycling. I’m sure we should not let this happen to our 20/50.
Nottingham itself is one of those places that makes you realise just how lucky we are in Cambridge when it comes to cycling. Very fast and very busy highways dominate immediately beyond the central area, and cyclists are rare. Winding up the long hills in a bus lane make it an especial endurance event.
The drone and tone of the city’s new trams percolates the city centre. It is possible to cycle along the roads where there are tramlines, but this requires vigilance and deliberate turning actions to avoid getting the wheel trapped in the tracks. Our host admitted to having been thrown off her Brompton even though she’d been aware of the tramline pinch issue. The tramlines make the roads look sleek and slightly menacing and are eerily devoid of any parked vehicles. The tram seems to have been a huge success and two more lines are planned, but its financing has driven a wedge between City and County. Expansion of the system will be partly paid for by a Workplace Parking Levy, which is the other form of congestion charging allowed under the Transport Act.
On Sunday we were taken on the city’s flagship cycle route known as the Big Track. This includes most of the six-mile long Nottingham and Beeston canal towpath along which we rode to the mutterings of fishermen apparently enjoying a competion that day. On weekdays we’re told it is an important cycle commuter route with a constant stream of cyclists. One stretch passes a wharf heavily guarded with large Cyclists Dismount signs – in fact, that might make a good name for the welcoming café there. We didn’t see much of the city centre’s cycling infrastructure but were shown a suspension bridge which had been closed for two years, and a project to bridge a weir that failed due to local fears that it would increase burglaries on the more affluent side of the river.
For a city that once hosted Britain’s biggest cycle maker, and despite all the years of campaigning there, I was disappointed to find so much of it so hostile to cyclists. It was a harsh reminder of the much lower expectations that exist for promoting everyday cycling outside Cambridge.