Monday, February 9, 2009

Cambridge Cycling Campaign Strategy Day

On Saturday I attended part of Cambridge Cycling Campaign strategy day.

I have a lot of respect for the cycling campaign, and particularly the committee members who on a voluntary basis spend huge amounts of time on cycling issues, and whose level of expertise when inputting to decision making at the City and County Council and determination to improve Cambridge for cyclists (and therefore for everyone) is a great asset to Cambridge. As an organisation, they are already a highly effective campaigning force, and the strategy day was about reviewing activities and improving further.

A number of themes emerged from the dicussions I was involved in. To take one of these - policing in Cambridge is still falling a long long way short of the standards needed to ensure that cyclists and cars can safely and comfortably co-exist on the roads. As I know from dealing with Hills Road Bridge issues, when tackling any cycling related policing problems, their approach is often piecemeal and half-hearted, and there are numerous incidents where the police fail to take action against downright dangerous driving, leaving cyclists to fend for themselves legally after suffering very close misses, or even collisions and injuries.

Personally, I think there needs to be a 'new deal' between cyclists, motorists and the police in Cambridge on policing, to reflect the fact that Cambridge desperately needs more journeys to be made by bike to maximise use of our narrow road infrastructure, and bring all the other benefits in terms of health, fitness, access to low cost transportation options etc.

Firstly, the police need to take a more systematic approach to enforcement of the law. For cyclists, this means continual enforcement in areas such as cycling on the pavement or cycling in the dark without lights, not publicity lead initiatives, to stamp out these problems. For motorists, we need proper enforcement of speed limits on residential roads (by the police), and a willingness from the police to follow up on dangerous driving by cars that puts cyclists lives at risk. Too many people are dying on the roads in Cambridge that could be prevented. Cyclists may be equally at fault in many cases, but they suffer disproportionately from the consequences.
Secondly, bicycle theft needs to be made much harder to carry out due to use of locks and better cycle parking, easier to catch those responsible, easier to identify stolen bikes, and a determination to pursue punishment of offenders that reflects the key part cycling plays in local transport infrastructure.

To make all this work, there would need to be significant education amongst all types of cyclists, motorists and the police, and support from the highest levels of the police force. How to get that support is the key problem!

One of my main criticisms of the cycling campaign, is that although they try to take an extreme pro-cycling position, and seek to make this the mainstream policy position (both of which are fine - we need organisations to take this view), this is frequently accompanied by a suggestion from some members of the campaign, if not the official position, that the authorities (particularly the County Council) are anti-cycling and never do anything useful for cyclists. At this point I have to disagree - yes, more could clearly be done, and a lot of what is done could be done better (some measures such as substandard cycle lanes or dual use paths that force cycles to constantly give way are clearly counter-productive), but it is just wrong to suggest everything is rubbish for cyclists in Cambridge, a lot of good measures have been taken and to suggest otherwise risks alienating the key people that need to be on side. In many areas where the cycling campaign approach hasn't been adopted, it simply reflects a balance between the needs of various types of road user and the limited available space in many roads - as a Councillor formerly in charge of transport in the County once told me, 'I think I've got the balance about right when all sides are moaning equally'. I think the cycling campaign could make more progress by being more positive, and concentrating on the areas that significant progress could be made for limited funding and/or without disadvantaging other road users, for example:
  • New dedicated cycle routes, especially the Chisholm Trail, the Guided Bus, or in Coleridge, a new cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road
  • Improving cycle parking around the City
  • Making sure new developments on green field sites have best practice cycle facililities built in
This said, ultimately the message to me from Saturday was that in many cases, to make progress there does need to be a step change in thinking from the local authorities about the effects of some of their traffic management measures on cyclists, and sometimes this requires cyclists interests to be put ahead of the (immediate) need for capacity for motor vehicles.

One such area could be Hills Road bridge - clearly the works have caused choas for months, but when finished there will remain long term problems with bridge capacity for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Widening the bridge would be mind bogglingly expensive (£millions), so perhaps the solution is to reduce motor traffic to one lane in each direction permanently, and put in very wide (possibly hybrid) cycle lanes. It would be interesting to know what effect the transport planners think this would have on the junctions either end, and indeed to know whether Coleridge residents on the whole would be for or against such a reallocation of road space from motorists to cyclists, but hopefully with the result of much less conflict between the two parties.

Almost forgot to add, if you are a cyclist in Cambridge and want to see better provision, I thoroughly recommend joining the Cambridge Cycling Campaign:


RichardJ said...

When there was the consultation on possible changes to Hills Road bridge I did suggest that an effective and relatively cheap solution would be to use one lane in each direction as a bus/cycle lane.

I thought the whole point was to allocate road space away from private cars and towards walking, cycling and public transport, so this is an excellent time and location to put this in to action!

MattP said...

An interesting viewpoint on the levels of cycling provision in Cambridge. I think the chasm of mindset exists where those local highway engineers and planners honestly believe that the level of funding and provision is to a good standard compared to the rest of the UK, and by this benchmark, it is.

Compared to best practise in say, Netherlands, Holland, parts of Germany, France and so on, it is very poor. See:

There are many factors linked to those countries that have high levels of excellent cycle provision; low levels of youth petty crime, obesogenic disorders, youth depression, social and cultural fragmentation to name a few.

Conversely, these levels are highest in league tables in the English speaking nations which, also happened to have very poor levels of cycle provision.

For me, and almost all sustainable development experts, levels of urban cycling is a Litmus Test for these issues, and this is a factor that I think is lost on Cambridge highway engineers, planners, and many councillors.

Cycling per se is not a transport panacea, but it is a very robust indicator of numerous other social and cultural factors, from which Cambridge currently suffers both culturally and in productivity.

Cycling isn't just an alternative mode. It isn't something you do, it describes who you are.

Chris Howell said...

Apologies to Cambridge Cycling Campaign - both for getting their name wrong, and for any implication it was official policy to criticise the local authorities, rather than overenthusiasm of some members as individuals. (the latest article version is now slightly changed from the original)

Matt, thanks for the interesting contribution - I basically agree that we have a long way to go in terms of where I think we should be - the evidence being the poor provision in areas such as new developments where there really is no excuse, but I think there are always going to be some areas where there is a balance to be struck between the interests of different parties, which poses significant problems for elected Councillors (including myself).

The interesting question is how can policy be influenced - and I think this is as much down to the informal parts of the decision making process involving individual people in positions of influence rather than formal meetings and committees.

Ultimately getting these people to change their minds will require changing attitudes across wider public opinion, moving the mainstream of opinion nearer to a high quality cycling infrastructure viewpoint, by making this appear less threatening or 'abnormal' to the benficiaries of the current status quo.