I was sitting on the old fountain in the market square yesterday, while tucking in to lunch from of the excellent Cambridge Paella Company. I got talking to a chap who'd leaned his bike on its kick stand next to me - a sweet, ancient shopper with a sturdy metal basket on the front. He sadly related that he's going to have to lose it because he's got nowhere to keep it any more, having moved in to a place on Orchard Park he and his wife have just got nowhere to store bikes.
But they have a car. Of course.
My partner and I are rather lucky in that we've got somewhere to store our bikes - we're not tripping over them in a narrow hall on the way in and out. But such is becoming vanishingly rare in this City, as the population expands but the pace of housing growth remains resolutely sluggish more and more people are living in small flats, studio apartments, shared houses or bedsits. Much has been written elsewhere by folk who are far more knowledgeable about our housing crisis than I am, so I shan't add to that - but from a cycling perspective the problem is very simple. You can't just leave a bike outside on the street all the time (and battles to get on street bike storage take years and, even when successful, don't deliver enough), you need somewhere to keep it, and that's an increasingly big ask unless you've got more than just a rented bedroom in a shared house.
So back to the chap I was talking to yesterday. He's keeping the car because he can park that on the street. He can't always get it close to his house but there's always somewhere within a hundred yards or so, he said.
Free on street parking doesn't just facilitate car ownership and use, it actively discourages active transport. From making roads hostile to cyclists due to intermittent parked vehicles requiring us to swerve in and out as aggressive motorists squeeze us into the parked car zones, pedestrians who increasingly find it hard to walk down pavements littered with cars, right through to the issue of free parking in home zones versus the difficulty of storing bicycles, giving people free access to public space in which to store a very large item brings with it social, economic and environmental problems. This matters - but not sufficiently to those who want to drive to meetings to make planning decisions.
Cambridge is currently Britain's top cycling city, but central London is catching up. The two places share some features in common - nowhere to park a car for most people at work being one of them. But I wonder, as we fail to address cycle storage as one of our housing needs as Cambridge grows, will we remain the most cycled city?