Thursday 13 June 2013

Cycling Summit - Herding Cats.

I am baffled by nearly everything thats happening with regard to a cycling meeting announced by Cambridgeshire County Council.

On the face of it they've hit the jackpot with an excellent idea. We've got the Tour de France coming next year, and while the Council knows they come in for a certain amount of stick, I think they'd rather not. Their transport officers have the unenviable task of trying to reconcile the needs of disparate groups of people who mistakenly believe they're in conflict with each other. Where they get things wrong is they side all too often with the demands of motorists, who think that 'lanes' equate with 'capacity' which makes for a shorter journey, when in reality all it gives us is soul sapping congestion and angry motorists blaming cyclists who are forced to use hostile roads actively designed to kill us. I'm not saying their hearts are in the wrong place, but only a fool would argue they're not getting things wrong for cyclists when you look at junctions like this and roads like this.

I think the council staff themselves want not only to be SEEN to be working for cycling, there is a nucleus who actually do want to make things better. They're not bad folk! So they've set up a sort of meeting/evening conference thing next month and invited those active in cycling campaigning to come along. I think they want to set out their vision, and they want feedback. What could possibly be wrong with such an idea? Surely this is an excellent plan? Get the stakeholders in and talking with each other in a constructive way, what could possibly go wrong? Heck, surely if we can present a united 'give us great segregated facilities' front we might actually get somewhere? 

There are really two campaign groups in Cambridgeshire who stand out. Well, there's one, (Cambridge Cycling Campaign). And another one (Ely Cycling Campaign) that stands out a lot less but has made some serious progress of late with some excellent, clear thinking. Both have decided NOT to go to the meeting. Sounds utterly absurd. De-values the whole thing. Why would responsible and generally compliant campaign groups boycott an event designed to give them and other cyclists a say?

The reason? Because its in Swavesey. No, the good folk at the Ely Cycling Campaign didn't know where it was either: 
An invitation to a Cycling Summit where we could get excited about next year’s Tour de France coming to Cambridgeshire, and suggest Ely to be an ideal place to get put on the route. This Summit would be full of speakers, workshops and forums where we were meant to talk about getting the next generation cycling, infrastructure, education and taking the current interest in Cycling in general to the next level.
Then I see the location. Swavesey. Where is that? I Google it. OK, so it’s a village between Cambridge and Huntingdon just north of the A14. I don’t drive, so how do I get there? Two hours by bus, no way, buses stop in Ely at  around 4pm like they do in Central America. I can get a train and take my Brompton, still an hour’s bromton ride in the dark back at 10pm and it looks pretty lonely on that busway.
This (I think quite reasonable) stance, that any location chosen for a cycling meeting should be readily accessible from the major population centers by public transport, has brought Cambridge Cycling Campaign out in sympathy (this from Twitter): 

We've declined the invitation, as impractical for you & others to get there;hope @CambsCC can move it
I'll confess I was rather put out when I first heard about the location. I don't fancy a 10 mile bike ride home on a school night, in the dark, even on the relatively protected Guided Busway. But I was wrong about public transport from where I am - the Guided Bus runs late enough for me to get back safe and sound for my bedtime, although a bit late. And I guess there would be enough of us on the night ride back to make that quite a laugh too. But from Ely? Frankly for many folk thats a hell of a bike ride; without a car its practically un-doable. 

And the organisers? They're baffled. One posted on Twitter saying he thought folk would be happy to be invited - and I'm sure they ARE happy to be invited, but with the best will in the world I can't agree this is a good choice of location. The Ely folk tell us that the council folk suggested they could car-pool to get there; no, the irony wasn't wasted on any of us.

There's a sort of Twitterati Clique of Cambridge cyclists forming. I think some of us will probably be going - I actually have sympathy for the organisers because they'd have probably faced the typical criticism they get from the yokel councillors out in the Cambridgeshire sticks who think that the county is dominated by Cambridge. So they've gone for somewhere more 'central'; ironically any location in Cambridge or Ely, towns with railway stations, would have been LESS Cambridge centric, in that those from further afield would have had a heck of a lot more options for getting there.

I support Ely Cycling Campaigns decision not to go. I support Cambridge Cycling Campaigns decision to support them by not going either. Does that mean I should also not go? Actually, I could go either way on that one...


  1. I am part of a sports team that used to be Cambridge-based, but after we lost our main training venue we had very limited options for training in Cambridge on weeknights. We need a large hall and the very few available are permanently booked.

    So we're now in Cambourne. It's a good hall, but it now takes me pretty much my entire useful evening to attend a 2 hour training session. I'm not sure that people who have cars realise that 'oh, you can just get a lift' is not actually a great solution. It means I spend time organising a lift, every week. It means I spend time going to and from people's houses before I even get in the car. It means that if I'm running late, or I need to be at training early, or anything else, it is no longer in my control to get to the venue at all, let alone at the right time.

    Of course part of the problem here is creating new towns like Cambourne where the assumption is that you own a car, or aspire to do so, and don't need to think about things like proper infrastructure and local facilities.

    1. Its classic car-centric thinking. It appropriate that such planning (whether at the new-development level or the cycle-summit level) should be so lazy as to assume everyone can be hyper-mobile. The intellectual flabbyness corresponds nicely with the physical obesity mass motoring encourages :)

  2. Swavesey is on the Guided bus route, as you point out. The guided bus is (finally!) a useful piece of public transport infrastructure, and the "service track" is one of the best stretches of cycle infrastructure in the entire county (wide, smooth, no motorists... bliss; except when it floods, boooo).

    From Cambridge itself it's a simple ride (for those who cycle) or bus trip (for those who don't). Yes, it is harder from Ely - from Ely I think the best option is to take the train into Cambridge and then bike or guided-bus from there (this works for anywhere else on the railway line also).

    If we are supposing that the majority of interested parties are in a)Cambridge or b)Ely and given that these two cities are connected by train then it might make sense to hold the meeting in one or the other of them. But city-center locations like that are really difficult for anyone who does want to drive - the traffic is awful and the parking expensive where it exists at all; even bike parking can be hard to find in Cambridge. And also if you held such a meeting in Cambridge it would almost certainly be dominated by Cambridge voices, rather drowning out the opinions of more rural people.

    For instance it's clear that a lot of Cambridge and Ely types find the notion of cycling from Cambridge to Swavesy on the busway rather hard. If the majority of people at this meeting feel that such a cycle ride is "too far" then what support would it muster for putting in a similar segregate cycle facility out to other villages at a similar distance from Cambridge - clearly it's "too far" so no-one will want to make the journey by bike.

    1. Folk from Ely Cycle Campaign were there, and still willing to express some disgust at choice of location. I still agree with them.

      Distance from Cambridge was less of an issue, but I can't turn in and sleep straight after a ten mile ride, so it made it a late night for me. Closer to a rail station just seems sensible to me. I accept that there are issues for parking - but they're surmountable problems, basic inaccessibility may not be. Not many folk could get a lift from Ely, that was a real loss.

      Re. longer routes such as we need along A14, I accept that simply telling people this was too far would be a mistake. Its just that coming back late at night, thats the issue I personally had with it (good company on the ride back excepted).