I'll look at Labour first because they're in control both in my home ward (Kings Hedges) and across the City. And as it happens our local Labour candidate, current councillor Martin Smart has responded.
The first question is rather a preamble:
What experience do you and your family have of cycling? Do you have any different concerns about younger or older family members cycling than you do yourself?
And Martin has responded with an autobiography. I'm not kidding. Like, we've seen some extensive answers but this is epic. Martin rides a bike, has always ridden more or less, and continues to do so. His kids, likewise. He's got first hand experience of dangerous drivers and tells us he cares about safe cycling facilities for those who need them. I'm not here to mark a respondents brevity or lack thereof - but I do wonder if he's being a little over-earnest with the scale of his response to reassure us that he's on side. But, heck, I have no reason to doubt him. This seems earnest.
The nest question is about bike routes and where we could have them...
A key aim of our organisation is enabling more people to cycle, by the provision of protected space for cycling away from traffic, not shared with pedestrians, thus reducing traffic and providing transport choice. This best-practice is outlined in our guide, Making Space For Cycling, endorsed by all national cycling organisations. Do you support these principles, and if so, where could they most effectively be applied in your ward?
And Martins response is pretty much standard:
Making space for cycling is very important and I support segregated provision wherever the available space makes this possible. This has been done on Hills Road and Huntingdon Road in Cambridge and can be seen to work well. In King’s Hedges I have been a councillor for the past four years. I have worked on behalf of residents with the Greater Cambridge Partnership to get the best possible outcome for the Milton Road scheme. I have been involved from the early stages with the improvements to Arbury Road and look forward to the next phase coming forward. I believe that it would also be worth looking at possible improvements to both King’s Hedges Road and to Campkin Road in the future.
Or, in other words, he believes in picking the low-hanging fruit. Kings Hedges Road hasn't yet been a target for City Deal but you kind of have to think it will be before long, and then the fight between residents parking and cyclists will start - I need something rather more than 'possible improvements' to be convinced he's on side, I want to hear him saying 'when KH Road comes up, and it will, we must have safe, segregated cycle facilities on this key route that links sites of employment, the College, and homes'. Not 'where possible'. It IS possible, lets hear you say you'll back it. And Campkin Road is an absolute doddle, but I'd question the extent to which thats a primary target.
As for Arbury Road - we're getting bike lanes where there was hedge that could be moved. And thats it. The dangerous end, the one his residents still have to negotiate as they leave the ward, is fast, straight and has cars parked all down the length of it. And we're getting nothing as a result of this scheme. Martin old chap - your residents need a bike route there. Why aren't you using this opportunity to say so?
It would be remiss of me not to mention that the farce of hedge-replacement on the first stages of the Arbury Road scheme (this could have been a superb, ecologically sound scheme, and at lower cost than we've seen, but hasn't been) was on Martins watch. I wouldn't mention that here, but he's brought that up. Sorry, I'm afraid Martin doesn't score so well on this question. There was a great chance for a clean, green, eco-friendly scheme and City Deal blew it.
The next question is about police priorities and evidence based policing on the roads. Martins answer is:
It is very important that cyclists are made to feel that they will be safe when using cycling infrastructure or they will move away from it and use other options. For example they will choose to cycle on the pavement instead of the road. It is critical that we all understand that vehicles can injure and even kill cyclists whereas cyclists can injure pedestrians but not kill them. This common sense approach needs to be taken on board by all concerned, including the police.
Well I don't disagree. And yeah, he's right that if you're going to die on the road the options are to ride on the pavement for that section or not ride at all, and it is important that the Police should understand that (and that the guidance they were issued alongside the powers to issue FPN for pavement cycling specifically state that leeway should be given for this). But its not really an answer to the question. Not a very precise one anyway.
The next question is quite subtle and allows a candidate to expand on many things that are very much broader than one might originally anticipate. I like this one:
We are keen to see more children being able to cycle safely to school independently. Ideas from our members to assist this include protected space for cycling, parking/pickup bans 200m of schools, cycle parking. What measures would you suggest?
I mean thats quite clever - most of the things you'd want for kids to ride on their own are exactly the same things that facilitate cycling for everyone. And Martins answer fails in every conceivable way.
I would suggest using measures to encourage children and families to choose to use healthy, safe and sustainable modes of travel to school. These include cycling, walking, skating, scooting, skateboarding and any other similar such method. Using vehicles to transport children to school disempowers children, costs more, pollutes the environment, does not give children or main carers any exercise and runs the risk of hurting other public highway users like pedestrians and cyclists who are not protected inside a heavy steel box.
Measures, eh? You suggest using 'measures'? What measures? Did you not read the question properly, I wonder? I don't get it.
Now we've a very 'Cambridge local politics' question. This is a real bugbear of Camcycle, they hate that where there are planning rules for bike parking and access they're often seemingly ignored with local politicians often actively hostile to volunteers from the Campaign pointing this out (are you reading Peter Sarris?). Underneath a polite veneer there's some needle to this one:
Our volunteers spend a lot of time scrutinising planning applications for failures such as lack of secure cycle parking, poor access, failure to fund nearby improvements to make the roads safer, and so on. Many of these things get let through by officers and Councillors in clear contravention of the Local Plan. The lack of a full-time cycling officer makes this situation even worse. What are your main concerns about the planning system, and how would you seek to make improvements?
Being part of the ruling Labour group and involved with City Deal, Martin is basically snookered by this question. He's not going to say 'you know yeah, you're right, we need a full time salaried employee to do this'. He isn't going to basically say 'yeah, we're totally getting this wrong like you say'. But I would have expected something better than this:
This is good work by Camcycle and largely unknown by the general public. Perhaps something to publicise more. Council officers do the best they can but you are right to allude to the lack of resource. However, I believe it is the quality of advice rather than the quantity that makes the difference and with the emerging Local Plan we have the opportunity to put in place policies to regularise the inclusion of good quality cycle provision in applications coming forward.
Thats a classic way of dealing with criticism from a charity plugging gaps in public service - flatter the charity and tell them they do a good job and should be more vocal about it rather than say 'yeah, you know, you're right, thats something we're not doing right'. We've got rules for planning already and they're only getting caught by a charity - come on dude, you know this isn't good enough, and that putting more of that in a 'local plan' won't answer when you're not making that work anyway.
The next question is about junctions and here I think Martin is pretty good - he's interested in the suggestions put forward and wants to see how changes work out and build from that. I'd suggest that he's falling for the same trap many candidates do in Cambridge and forgetting that we're part of a wider world - Cambridge drivers will behave like they do anywhere else, and we've got many examples all over the world showing how to build safer junctions. This constant 'we have to be careful and see how it goes' approach isn't evidence based.
Then we have a question about pavement parking. And Martin says:
`Pavement and verge parking is a real problem in King’s Hedges. It sometimes blocks the way for less able pedestrians and especially for wheelchair users. It looks unsightly and spoils the grass on verges and cracks and otherwise damages the pavements. We have already brought in Traffic Regulation Orders for Ramsden Square to stop this. This was done after consultation and support of local residents there. This may well be the way forward for other areas, after consulting with local residents of course.
Fail. It took years to get the Ramsden Square parking scheme and TRO sorted - are you seriously saying we should do this street by street? No. No. No. We won't sort this out even in our childrens lifetimes at that speed. Cambridge already has the power to sort out verge parking, we have a bye-law. And where a car is blocking the pavement we've got the power to address that too, but we don't - the County aren't interesting in enforcing and the Police aren't. The answer, for a City Councillor, is to say you'll seek to bring enforcement powers under City control and, indeed, on many residential streets in the council estate not 'adopted' by the County you've arguably got those powers now already. Sorry Martin, that is a cop out and you know it.
And the last one just feels... I dunno, I'll post the question and Martins response:
How would you improve permeability and accessibility for walking and cycling through King’s Hedges, especially with regard to the inaccessible barriers that block access to larger cycles such as tricycles, cargo cycles and adapted cycles for disability?
Some cyclists cannot dismount and push their cycle through barriers. They can block access to disabled cyclists. Access control barriers such as A-frames, K-frames, York Chicanes and kissing gates cannot be used by cyclists who cannot dismount. Any barriers that block access to some users is an equalities issue and would need to be replaced with more suitable ones wherever possible.
Am I being harsh or does that just not read like something an experienced city cyclist would say? I mean, surely if there's a fence across it and you have to lift your bike over or push it round, its not a cycle route, and anyone who rides a bike in such a space would tell you that? Am I being dumb or does this not just read a little odd? Look, if you have to dismount or push a bike it ain't a bike route and you need to rip the barrier out. It isn't any more complicated than that. Its not about equalities (although that matters immensely), its about whether the facility is fit for use.
Lets look South for the next candidate. Patrick Shiel in Arbury hasn't responded so lets move to East Chesterton, and having tossed a coin I'll look at Carla McQueen.
Regarding her and her family cycling:
When I first moved to Cambridge I cycled everywhere with my youngest son on a bike seat at the back and my eldest son has always rode his own bike. My youngest son now uses a tricyle (he received great support form outspoken)due to mobility issues. However due to near misses he won’t ride anymore. The cars cause him anxiety due to the close proximity however myself and my eldest son still enjoy cycling particularly in green areas. My main concerns particularly in this branch is dangerous driving around cyclists.
Fair enough. And excellent shout out to Outspoken who are good folk - and I wonder whether it might be handy (if you're reading this Carla) to have a word with the lovely folk at You Can Bike Too - depending on the nature of your sons mobility issues they might be worth having a chat with, and as they're up in Milton park its maybe somewhere you can still enjoy a ride together.
Regarding Space for Cycling, she supports it, and hilights Chesterton High Street, Union Lane and Fen Road as locations in her ward where this is needed - and she's not wrong. Simple and to the point answer to the question. And on evidence based policing on the roads, she's not really answered regarding evidence but does say dangerous driving is a problem and seems keen on more enforcement. Hasn't particularly got in to the question, though.
Her next answer, to the same question about planing scrutiny that Martin answered above, just doesn't make any sense:
Great initiative’s from Camcycle, I believe better education more resources like outspoken visiting schools and regular inclusive courses for all could help a great deal. I believe Councillors do their best to support all members of our community and we should use the local plan for a more inclusive community.
I can only assume either I'm not reading the question right or she isn't. Question 5 (about accessibility for non-standard cycles etc.) she's picked up one location thats a problem:
I have concerns over Green end rd to Milton rd however I hope when the Greater Cambridge Partnership gets under way the segregated lanes will help a great deal. Again Nuffield Road is a worry however once the cycle lanes go in I feel this will help a great deal. I have also given some suggestions in below answers around management of these areas that suffer from poor accessibility eg cutting hedges back.
Now the response to the next question about junctions on Milton Road etc. is very interesting - because we see a party line emerging:
Safety is my main concern. I am mostly worried that vehicle traffic will not recognise the need to give way to bicycles in the arrangement proposed. I am also worried about Elizabeth way when cyclists have to use the foot path for fear of being hit by vehicles. Therefore I believe Elizabeth way Rd leading upto the garage on the left needs improvement and consideration.
Or, in other words, the tried and tested means of making a junction safe for cyclists wasn't tried and tested here so we have to continue being at risk while our road planners re-invent the wheel? And thats your party line? Sorry guys, I'm going to label this simple cowardice. We know what works, why are you scared to deliver it?
I agree about Elizabeth Way, but I don't understand your lack of ambition - that route needs upgrading all the way from Milton Road to the City Centre, why are you only interested in that short stretch?
Now on to a hyper-local one...
Plans for a safe and protected cycleway on Nuffield Road have been prevented due to local concerns about parking and a nearby wall. During school-run time the pavement is often covered with badly-parked cars and there are lorries rolling up and down the road. Many parents are afraid to let their children cycle to school in such conditions. What specific measures would you seek to provide safe cycling conditions for the children at the Shirley Community School?
So there's a wall that stops some people looking out on to a road. Its a pig ugly wall and it isn't on anyones personal or rented property. There would be a great space to make this route safer for cyclists if the wall was knocked down. The road being full of parked cars (especially at school drop-off time) and delivery vans, its dreadful for kids riding to school. There has been some local fuss with stakeholders not properly consulted and (labour) councillors passing the buck for why they didn't go and talk to the School. Thats the context for this response...
I believe in protected space for cyclists and for segregated provision. All stakeholders and the authorities need to work together in partnership in a co-ordinated way to significantly improve the current situation. The County cycling team must do the best they can to improve the scheme on the table. The police must enforce the highway code and the law. The school staff must lead on bringing an understanding to children and families that driving children to school is a damaging option for all sorts of reasons. The school PTA and the governors need to take a leadership role in changing behaviours with a plan and timescale in place. It maybe that staffing could be provided, either paid or volunteer staff, to person the traffic movements outside the school That resource will need to be sourced, but it must be a possibility if a useful specific measure, at least in the short term. This can be supported by the County education team and this approach will be fully supported by city and county councillors in the ward.
Thats just not good enough - the wall has to go, we need a good cycle facility, and anything else is just hot-air. The scheme can't be good enough with the wall there, you can't educate school children and parents out of delivery drivers risking their lives. This answer is nonsense, as has been the entire Labour line on this ugly, superfluous wall. If you don't knock it down to make space for a bike route that is only becaue you don't value the lives of children riding to school as highly as you value the opinions of a dozen NIMBYs.
Another hyper-local one with a really, really simple answer:
The new cycle lanes on Green End Road permit parking in them, completely undermining their purpose. How would you improve the safety of residents and the many other people who cycle along Green End Road?
...said simple answer being 'ban parking in them and put a double yellow line in them'. But lets see what the candidate says...
It is never a good idea to allow parking in cycle lanes but it is not the only place where this happens. For example, on East Road outside the shops around KFC and others, vehicles often park in the cycle lanes. With Green End Road, it may be that this is a temporary situation from where we move to a more sustainable situation where parking in cycle lanes is phased out. We need to plan for a situation on Green End Road where this dangerous parking in cycle lanes comes to a stop and the sooner the better.
It isn't temporary, you've got a specific TRO in place allowing parking there. You either accept this is not ok and its easy to solve or you don't, its not complicated. It doesn't need complex or extensive planning, it doesn't need caution, it doesn't need 'phasing' out. Its simple and easy to solve this, either say you support that solution or don't. Disappointing response, as you've clearly acknowledged that its a danger.
Still on the hyper-local issues...
Union Lane is an important cycle route connection between East Chesterton and the rest of the city. However, it is narrowed by parked cars, and some drivers tend to speed and aggressively overtake people cycling here. Also the pavements are tiny and often obstructed by parked cars and overgrown hedges. How do you propose to calm traffic and make conditions safer for walking and cycling on this street?
This is actually really hard - its a nasty little road that isn't quite straight, making the slight bend in it nearly blind to any motorist going too fast. Its a sort of false-straight, made worse by parked cars. There have been some good ideas for fettling this in he past, but...
I think that as the Arbury Road cycleway scheme comes forward that it would be appropriate for the Greater Cambridge Partnership to look at Union Road as a part of the cross city cycle schemes to see what is possible there. It is certainly the case that the current conditions for cycling on Union Lane are very unsatisfactory. Any illegal parking on the pavement can be enforced by the appropriate authorities to allow proper access to pavements by all pedestrians including people who are disabled and people pushing babies and children in buggies. Householders can be asked to cut back overgrown hedges and this can be managed and if necessary enforced by City Rangers.
There's a lot wrong with this. To begin with there's a huge hole in the Arbury Road scheme - the whole South end of the road is being excluded. So that scheme won't join up with Union Lane, which is a huge shame for residents of Chesterton for whom that would be handy. The hedges can overgrow a little but the approach she's suggesting doesn't end well (short version - my hedge extended about a foot into a 3m wide space after council staff had repeatedly killed the slow growing plants leaving me no option but to leave something fast growing there, a Councillor sent people round to trim it, they destroyed it, that cost them over a grand in compensation and took way too much time and effort). The obvious answer is to follow what Councillor Manning said and make the road one-way for car traffic.
So thats our two Labour candidates. They're not awful, but not amazing. I think Marin Smart is probably about the best Labour councillor in this regard but he's still very much Labour first, cyclist second. He knows what is needed but seems reticent to cross the party line and suggest anything more radical than the rather pedestrian rate of change we're seeing. Carla McQueen is also not bad, but not good either - she's concerned but seems reticent to commit to supporting serious measures to make things better. I'm giving them 5 out of 10. Perhaps they feel constrained by the fact that they're in power here, and by their support for the (largely failing, in cycling terms) City Deal. I don't know. But I'd have hoped for better.