Kings Hedges, the ward I live in, has two seats up for grabs this time after the death of one of the Councillors (a Labour councillor and mayor). So some parties are standing two candidates, which should give us a lot to choose from here.
Sadly only one of the candidates from Labour has responded so far, which is unsurprising because as far as I can tell Kevin Price doesn't particularly give a shit and is a fine example of how Labour think any old buffoon with a red rosette can win here. But another, Alex Collis, has replied.
Collis has form talking about cycling before, and I'm afraid it isn't good form as you can see from this thread. Her tendency to generalise about cyclists and specifically concentrate on negative stereotypes speaks volumes, but lets not hold that against her. Well, not much. Lets see what she says in response to the survey questions...
The first question is a bit of a warm up effort:
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 for yourself?And her response...
I do not own a car, preferring to either walk or cycle as often as possible. Half of my family still lives in Cambridge and all are regular cyclists; my own son is now an adult but I do have concerns about my younger nieces and nephews' safety when cycling, particularly on main roads such as Newmarket Road and Histon Road where there is such a high volume of traffic. Although they see/learn good cycling practice from their parents, they are inevitably more vulnerable and less able to judge situations or assert their position as cyclists.Call me picky but I worry when someone is asked about their experience cycling and they respond with their motoring status first - from a strictly identitarian perspective its worrying. You weren't being asked about whether you drive, you were asked what your experience of cycling is. Its fair to comment that some roads are busy and thats a problem, but I'm worried about how this response immediately places blame on the more vulnerable younger cyclists for being less able to judge their surroundings or assert their position than other. She's immediately shifting responsibility to groups bringing so little risk to others that it can hardly be measured and away from motorists who bring all the risk. Worrying. Very worrying.
The second question is an opportunity for candidates to really open up about what positive steps they might favour for cycling. Thus:
Camcycle believes that more people cycling has positive benefits for individuals' health and the city by reducing congestion and air-pollution. What is your vision to encourage more people of all ages and all abilities to cycle as a preferred mode of transport?And here the candidate immediately crashes and burns. When asked how you'll do things positively for everyone in the city, because we all benefit from less pollution, noise, road danger, etc. she immediately becomes an apologist for motoring. The question doesn't set cycling advocacy against motoring, but the candidate immediately does:
I haven’t owned a car for over ten years, getting rid of it as a conscious decision on environmental grounds. Even then, Cambridge was horribly congested and the air quality noticeably deteriorating. Not everyone is going to feel similarly or choose cycling (over driving) as a mode of transport so a diversity of approaches will be needed. Information on health and environmental benefits of cycling will need to be freely available and well publicised, but will not work on its own. Action is also needed.Thats your plan? Accept people will drive but tell them it would be nice if more people cycled? There isn't a single person who doesn't know that doing a bit more exercise and burning a little less fuel makes good financial sense, good ecological sense and a great deal of personal fitness sense. But she goes on about cycling advocacy and soft measures to encourage. This is nonsense - research going back decades shows a single measure works to increase cycling uptake, and thats the development of safe cycling infrastructure to cover whole journeys. No commute by bike is better than its worst junction - you can't whisper in peoples ears that cycling is good for them if their lived experience is the murderstrip cycle lane on Kings Hedges Road. Epic failure from the candidate here.
Question 3 is much mure nuanced and subtle than I suspect any of the candidates are going to realise (were you being a little too clever here Camcycle or am I reading more into this than you intended?)
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?So basically its a question loaded to put the blame on councillors in all sorts of ways. They haven't chosen to give a cycling officer time or remit to go through planning in detail, they haven't instructed planning officers to fully prioritise cycling in planning. and councillors themselves are waving through dreadful planning applications that enormously under-deliver on cycling. The clever response would be to address all three issues and explain how the candiate would push to do better. Does Collis give that clever response? No, not really, apparently officers and councillors need better training and something about cars being at the centre of planning. Again, its not about doing things for cyclists, its about not doing everything for motorists so, again, she's playing us off against motoring in an absurdly uneven fashion. Not good enough.
The next question is about cycle theft across the city but with specific reference to Cyclepoint. And the candidate, rather than demonstrating an understanding of the problem (police flat out refuse to look at CCTV footage citing the frankly insultingly stupid notion that they must look at 8 hours of footage, spending 8 hours, to find an image of when a cycle was stolen rather than repeatedly look at half way points to find a view the culprit inside of a minute) the candidate talks about stakeholders and basically waffles. The issue isn't lack of work from 'stakeholders', it is purely a regulatory and policing one. Nil points.
The next one is about permability and physical barriers to cycling in the ward and across the city. Bit of a banana skin question this one - you can immediately tell whether someone cycles in and around the ward by whether they've found the insane and frustrating routes blocked to cyclists for no apparent reason. And does she get it? No. I mean she's only just now talking about cycle lanes, and she has't picked out any of the specific locations in the ward that are a problem. And I'm sorry, if your argument that narrow cycle lanes are bad because they're physically harder for disabled cyclists you're missing the point more profoundly than I know how to address.
So, all in all, I'm going to give Collis an absurdly generous score of 1/10. I don't think her head is in the right place on cycling at all, and even though she says she rides a bike its obvious that many of her answers have come out of a 'not a motorist' place rather than that.
Looking further afield, lets hop over the road and look at the now well established candidate Carina O'Reilly.
She doesn't really answer regarding experiences of younger and older cyclists, but does highlight that she rides here and abroad. Ok, but half an answer.
Regarding getting more people cycling because it benefits us all in so many ways:
I think the priority for encouraging cycling is to provide safe and segregated cycling facilities. Cycling among traffic is very intimidating for new riders.Pretty much nailed it, although I'd go further and say that safe facilities are brilliant for all riders. But with specific reference to the question, she's spot on.
On the planning question she's perhaps a little pessimistic, but like most pessimists I suspect Carina would say she's a realist:
The planning system as a whole is under-funded and planning decisions are very restricted by law. There is very little systemic change that is possible at City Council level; we are limited by the law and by losing 40% of our budget in the last few years. Unfortunately, until there's a change in government, we are more reliant on good work done by citizens and volunteers than anyone would ideally want.While thats all true, many of the changes to planning applications needed to make things a whole lot better for cycling aren't that great, and there are clear things that the City can do to make this better (which perhaps if I get time to write my own responses to these questions, I'll elaborate on). But all in all, she's speaking from an experienced, grounded perspective here - reading this I don't see any silly ideas or misunderstanding of the problems and it makes her come across as someone cycling advocates could work with.
On the cycle theft question she's again clear this isn't a city power, but acknowledges that working towards a clear reporting system would help. I am however surprised that she's missed out the simple thing she as a councillor (and the labour group as councillors) could do, which is instruct local police to treat cycle theft as a 'local priority' via. the city Local Area Committee system. Bluntly, if for example the Police come out with nonsense about not looking at cctv footage because it takes too long at a public meeting, Councillors are in a position to publicly and vocally call them out on this shit. But instead the NAC on which she sits has frequently empowered bellyachng about cyclists rather than policing for them through its police priority decisions. Hit and miss answer there I feel.
Now the fifth question here is a ward specific one, namely:
How will you work with the GCP to improve walking and cycling proposals in their Histon Road scheme, in particular with regard to children cycling to school at the Mayfield Primary School, crossing Histon Road near Carisbrooke Road, and within the narrow section of road from Aldi south to the junction with Victoria Road?And her answer...
We have already submitted proposals for a crossing in this area and are hoping to make progress on this this year. I use this area regularly for cycling and I am keenly aware of the difficulties and dangers for all cyclists here.Well the whole Histon Road thing is going to be a fight over the next couple of years and I fully anticipate that its going to run and run. I would have liked to see some more detail of the proposals here, there's not enough to judge the candiate on this answer really.
Question 6 is about improving cycling on Carlton Way, and she replies that she'd like dedicated cycle routes there. I agree entirely, and its almost that simple - the question should reasonably be extended to 'and then what?' when you get to either end, as there's huge potential to turn this into a major North/South route for cycling in the city incorporating Stretten Avenue, and linking Roxburgh Road, all the way along the route already there (but terribly surfaced and poorly laid out) to the Science Park. But a good, clear, simple, fair answer.
Carinas answer to number 7, about junctions separating walking and cycling from motorised traffic, concentrates mostly on Mitchams Corner and Chesterton Road - perfectly fair to hilight those places because although they're not in the ward they're unavoidable for those living there and clearly need addressing.
So for Carina O'Reilly, considering the whole body, there are a couple of places where I'd like to see more detail and hear a bit more about what she's proposing, but whats there is all positive, reasonable and sensible. I'd rate it 7/10.
So for those two candidates, I'm giving Labour an average score of 4/10. Which isn't great if I'm honest, but we've seen worse.