Cycle Campaigning- How I Feel About It
(from an open letter by Gerry Leach in the CTC's Cycle Chat Ed. - these views are his own, not those of any organisation of which he is a member).
Preparing for the annual meeting of the Right-to-Ride members, and wondering whether to have a "Let's Drown Our Sorrows" evening in the pub, or something more constructive, I started to take a serious look at the campaigning situation.
Do we have any influence? Not much. We go to meetings every six months at County Hall, and less often and irregularly at Welford Place. I think that these meetings are strictly for the officers to give us a download on what they are doing or about to do: any input from us is ignored. Notable examples are the two "Walking and Cycling" strategy documents. The County strategy was sent to the cabinet for approval before we had a chance to see it and make any comment, the city one has just been published with a glossy cover and colour photos, but with our suggested changes ignored.
A bad sign is that only CTC keep going to these meetings- other organisations put in an appearance now and again, but soon stop attending.
At the city we only get to talk to the Cycling Officer, who, it seems to me, has no influence in the organisation. I recently found on the internet the memoirs of the ex-cycling officer of South Yorkshire. www.thebikezone.org.uk/thebikezone/confessions. He leaves no doubt that his job was to sit in the corner and design nice cycle routes on the pavement, and he was not allowed to comment on the road schemes that the big boys were designing.
Despite our frequent criticisms of the plans for "safety" schemes, which involve pedestrian refuges put in solely for traffic calming, narrow cycle lanes put in purely to increase the mileage of "cycle facilities", and road narrowings put in to provide parking space, there is no diminution in the flow of such "improvements".
Officers seem to be ignorant of both the design standards for cycle facilities published in book form, and of the wealth of information on the internet. I recently criticised a scheme in the city for narrow advisory "so as not to interfere with parking" cycle lanes in a quiet wide road. When I mentioned the research that shows that vehicle drivers pass cyclists more closely if this is done, I was treated with scorn and derision. (With no cycle lanes, vehicle drivers move to the centre of the road to give cyclists room. With narrow cycle lanes, the cyclist has still to ride the same distance from the kerb, but the vehicle driver drives down the middle of the vehicle lane, and does not move over when passing a cyclist. Result: the vehicle passes more closely.)
What do we need to do? It's all politics. We need to bypass the officers, and get to people who set the policy- the councillors. This will only work if we find some cycle-friendly councillors.
To get at city councillors, you need to be a city resident. We are desperately short of city-dwelling RTR (Right to Ride) members. Ideally, a separate city RTR section is needed, whose members would be familiar with their area of the city, and with good contact with their councillors, who have to be cycle-friendly.
Charnwood Cycle Consultative Group and NWLDC Cycling Development Group. These groups have a much wider representation than the groups which are invited to meet at County Hall and Welford Place. Are they effective in influencing cycling provision? Will they be as effective as they were when (has it happened already?) they relinquish their Highways Agency roles? And how did they start? Were they in fact a council initiative?
Can we actually get anywhere without cycle friendly councillors in a cycle friendly council?
The CTC a few months ago started a RTR Reps internet mail group. As far as I can see, the situation is the same across the country- councils do the same things, and ignore campaigners. All we can do is keep niggling, and hope that now and again they do something good, just to relieve the irritation.
Cycling is safer than accident statistics make it seem, according to the European Union
When weighing up the safety of various modes of transport road safety statistics should be made comparable. National and international data are not compiled on the correct basis since :
Driving on motorways should be excluded (1/3 of the distance driven in a car), as the risk is ten times less than on the rest of the road network and there is no comparable data for cyclists the hazard which motorists represent to pedestrians and cyclists should be taken into account. (The hazard which a cyclist represents to others is almost zero).
NB: The average total risk is biased against cyclists because two age groups, (children and old people), are taken into consideration with cyclists but not motorists.
Here is an example taken from Dutch statistics, corrected in this way. It shows that the risk of accidents is more or less similar for cyclists and motorists.
The risk is even less for bicycle users in the 18 49 year old age range, which is the working population. This is a good reason for Europe, national governments and local authorities to promote cycling as a mode of transport.
|Age group||Motorists (drivers)||Cyclists|
Source: "Cycling: The way ahead for towns and cities" , p.34 European Commission, 2000
FLAT OUT ON THE SETTEE
I was hoping to write a really clever and apposite piece for my Chair's message this time, but the 'flu hit our household badly so this will just be a short note to cover essentials.
Sophie put her heart and soul into preparing for the November Campaign meeting, which was to be a discussion on 'promoting cycling as transport for the young' led by the Children's Officer. But only the four of us and Faithful Dave Bentley actually turned up. Back home, Sophie threw herself onto the hearthrug and howled. We seasoned campaigners know that campaigning can be a lonely and soul-destroying business, but did my daughter have to learn this so young? The meeting has now been rescheduled for 14th April, and I hope that with the light evenings and the Easter Holidays (no getting up for school on Tuesday) at least a few of our many young family members will put in an appearance. As a parent I believe it is very important for children to become involved with democratic community organisations to counterbalance the authoritarian regime of school. As in November, Brio train stuff will be available for younger siblings.
Picnic In The Park will be back in its usual timeslot this year, on Saturday 17th May. This is becoming a well established opportunity for us to take our message to the general public. John, the girls and I will be manning the Campaign stall for the whole day, and we would be pleased to see as many members as possible, either to help out or just to say "Hi".
And finally don't forget the AGM on 10th March. Here is your chance to replace me with somebody less supine! Failing that, I am quite willing to complete my term of three years as Chair before moving to another post in accordance with our Constitution.
THE GOLDEN AGE?
No doubt many cyclists feel that we have never been so misunderstood, vilified, sidelined and neglected as we are in these days of heavy traffic and ubiquitous car ownership. No doubt they imagine a Golden Age half a century ago, with petrol rationing, cars difficult to come by and very little traffic. Well, in many ways the late 1940s WAS indeed a wonderful time for the clubs on those empty roads.
But OFFICIAL views in those days were quite frightening. I have been looking at the CTC Gazette Editorial for March 1947 (I'm one of the 2 DA Librarians). Early that year, a new Highway Code recommendation for pedestrians was that they should walk on the right so as to face oncoming traffic, presumably on roads without footpaths. That way, according to Philip Noel-Baker (of the MoT), they could avoid accidents by, in his own words, "climbing the bank"! The West Bromwich coroner is also quoted (at an inquest): "Children must be taught, as adults are beginning to learn, that motorists are the masters of the road today, and pedestrians have got to give way to them. To try conclusions with them only ends in fatality." So, comments the Gazette, pedestrians are in effect trespassers who must if necessary "leap for their lives when one of the 'Masters' approaches."
The MoT spokesman had more to say: "As Mr Noel-Baker remarked, (cyclists) are less mobile than pedestrians and cannot be expected to climb banks. They cannot be told simply to get out of the way of faster traffic, so they must eventually be removed from the carriageway altogether. Cycle paths must be provided wherever possible, and cyclists must be compelled to use them. In the meantime, and wherever cycle paths cannot be constructed, the presence of cyclists must not be allowed to impede the drivers of faster vehicles."
Imagine the indignant furore nowadays if a government spokesman were to say something like that on behalf of the MoT! What makes it even more surprising is that this was the reforming post-War Labour Government at a time when no 'ordinary' people owned cars & enormous numbers of workers used their bikes to get to work. So at least there's ONE area in which Old Labour was much more repressive & reactionary than New Labour!