Monday 31 March 2014

Why not campaign for what we really want?

Historically I'm also shouting at the sidelines

I've often said of Cambridge Cycling Campaign, there are some good people there, and there are some things that can only be achieved by having the kind of dedicated people who have the time and energy to turn up to council meetings, dissect reports, etc., but so often they seem to fail cyclists of this city - and I rather fear that they're at it again.

Case in point - the new proposals for Hills and Huntingdon Roads. I responded to these schemes in my previous post. If I may take the liberty of quoting myself:
This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.
There really is a lot to commend these schemes - but for reasons outlined in that post I wouldn't give unqualified support to them. Nor, I would hope, would any cyclist - the scheme is good, but why the heck would we not be up front in saying it could be better? Why wouldn't we lay out what we really want rather than accept this as is when it only comes close?

I was talking to a few Camcycle folk on friday, prior to riding in to a tree on the monthy social CamRideHome (this isn't unusual for me - I've ridden in to the Cam, the Trent, the Lune, and half a dozen trees over the years while distracted by whatever tasty things I can see nearby to forage). They're very positive about the scheme, even to the extent of having got postcards made to hand out in support. One of them was eager to point out to me that if cyclists oppose this scheme we might not get it at all. Is that still how we're doing this? We support things that aren't as good as we want because otherwise we won't get anything? 

I don't recall motoring campaigners asking for motorways that aren't quite wide enough to overtake or which, inexplicably, are surfaced with peanut butter. Or rail lobbyists asking for stations to be open every other Tuesday except during lent. In fact I can't immediately think of any lobby group, of any sort, who feel that they mustn't rock the boat. This isn't how to successfully negotiate for anything - and this apologetic attitude is in part to blame for the UK cycle lobby failures over the last half century. Its time for a change. You're happy-ish with the proposals as they are? Fine, you can go in to a consultation with that stance but accept that what is going to happen is everyone else will campaign for what they REALLY want and what we'll get is a compromise closer to their desired outcome than to ours. Aim higher and we'll get closer to what is proposed than we will by merely supporting what has been offered to us.

The County Council are not going to dump a scheme like this because cyclists say 'its good but it could be better - we want to engage to make it exactly what we want rather than just not quite'. They're not going to run screaming because we don't don cheerleader outfits and wave our helmets around like pom-poms every time one of them farts. Quit being paranoid that presenting the case for what we want would get us viewed as some bunch of subversive, ranting anarchists that councillors could easily cast aside - its ridiculous, and that approach never succeeds. 

The bottom line? This scheme isn't bad - there are some issues with the crossings, the lanes aren't as wide as we'd need if we're going to be overtaking kiddie trailers between raised kerbs, they're hilariously limited in terms of only being one side of Huntingdon road and not even all of it - but they could point the way for how we might implement good cycle infrastructure across the City. But that is in no way stated or implied at any stage in the consultation. To overtly state that such schemes set a benchmark for how cycle provision can and should be done here wouldn't cost the County a single penny more and would send a clear message not just in Cambridge but across Britain - that the success of this scheme be viewed as demonstrating a desire for implementation of similar on both sides and along the whole length of the route when funding becomes available must be a minimum requirement for offering support. This isn't opposing the scheme, its not  a 'rant', its constructively criticising a scheme that looks good on the video but which on analysis might be so much better.

Martin, its time for Cambridge Cycling Campaign to realise that its not there to be the cheerleaders of almost. That approach needlessly restricts what we can achieve. And you need to quit being quite so tetchy with cyclists who won't join in with this unambitious stance - here's a thought, why not bring Camcycle into the modern era of negotiating for top quality infrastructure rather than just not quite that? Its crazy that those who are asking for the best outcome for cyclists 'rant' as they are  'shouting form the sidelines' - get with the program, Cambridge Cycling Campaign.


  1. A little premature, given our consultation response isn't out yet. Hopefully will be on the website later today.

    I drafted it, with input and corrections from a lot of other people. Martin's actually one of the people more likely to go through and add emphasis, delete where I have 'would like' and replace with 'must', and generally be more demanding in the language.

    "The County Council are not going to dump a scheme like this because cyclists say 'its good but it could be better - we want to engage to make it exactly what we want rather than just not quite'. "

    I think I've been fairly consistent in saying almost exactly this. The scheme won't be sunk because cyclists suggest improvements. It could be sunk if insufficient numbers reply at all because they've can't get enthusiastic about the fact that it's not perfect, or if the say they don't support it, but don't articulate why.

    I tell you, it's a hell of lot easier to energise people to reply to something they hate than it is to get people to say they support something. The people who begrudge any money spent on cycling schemes, or any roadspace reallocation, won't be shy of saying so, and they don't need to pay attention to details of kerbs or ironwork to reject it all. I just want cyclists to stand up and be counted.

    Hence the point of the postcard campaign - I've spoken to people who were cycling who used Huntingdon Rd every day, but still hadn't heard of the road change proposals. They were very positive about the idea of segregated cycle lanes, but they probably weren't going to wade through 6 or so pages of online consultation to say so, or scrutinize 5 pages of road plans, 3 times over. Just ordinary people who use their bikes and want that to be easy and safe, but aren't campaigners. The postcards are for them, to fill something in on the spot that expresses their desire for change without becoming infrastructure specialists.

    1. After Martins comment about my previous post coming off as a rant, I wanted to get my retaliation in early! The above post is a response to whats on the website now.

      Camcycle support for woeful scheme on Perne Road lost all the good will I'd built up for the campaign over generally sensible comments over the Catholic Church junction. But I'll look forward for your response on the new scheme, hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised.