There are two bits of background to this post.
My lovely, lovely wife, bought me membership of the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) for Christmas. How very generous of her! It has been an interesting thing to be signed up to and I may well write more about it at a later date.
The activities of an old friend
An old friend of mine from Bath, who I’ve reconnected with through some fancy social web malarkey, is as much, if not more, of an avid cyclist as I am. It’s been great chatting to him, sharing experiences of commuting in all weathers, following his recommended reading on the subject (lots of links to Copenhagenize and Amsterdamize) and, more recently, finding out about his participation in some cycle campaigning. He’s gotten involved with the Bath Cycling Campaign and has recently been making some noise about removal of “the ramp” (and, I might add, moving of the cycle park) at Bath Spa station.
He’s generally helped along my own thinking about cycle campaigning and encouraged me to get involved.
That’s really the first question. What is cycle campaigning about? What are cycle campaigners trying to change.
My own take on this would be that some cyclists are trying to do the following things:
- get other people to realise the benefits of cycling;
- encourage investment in cycling infrastructure (bike parking, paths, priority schemes, and other safety features);
- make cycling safer;
- have the government recognise the benefits of cycling to the community and the economy.
There may be more.
Of course, as a keen cyclist and cycle commuter who lives in a small town where most people drive cars on short journeys, I’m definitely up for all of this. Heck, I’m even a self-confessed cycle-evangelist!
But how do I get involved in this sort of thing? What is there to do? How can I make a difference?
Well, of course, there’s my own personal sharing about my own cycling and how quick it is, how it’s good for my health, how it’s often better than using the car for getting around, and how enjoyable it is. That’s easy and ongoing.
But what can I do to get the government and local authorities to do more to promote cycling? I’d love for Swindon to become like some of the European towns where up to 80% of people keep cycling even through the winter. Or even like Oxford or Cambridge, where cycling is so popular. I would have loved it if, this week, with all the snow and ice that we’ve had, cycle lanes could have seen a bit of grit and been made safe for me to cycle to work – just like they do in the Netherlands where priorities are different.
But how do you start getting momentum on moving towards towns like these? Do you start by getting more people cycling and hope that the authorities recognise this and make the facilities better? Or do you convince the authorities to make the facilities better and hope that this will encourage people to cycle more? (This was pretty much what I said yesterday).
I suspect a bit of both is necessary. But it’s chicken and egg.
And it raises some difficult questions. How do you convince a cash-strapped council to improve facilities that are currently only used by a minority in the hope that more people will in the long term start using them? When the priority for the town has to be roads because they’re the main way into, out of, and around the town – they’re the paths of commerce and industry. And when our culture is one where people need to travel great distances to work, shop, and visit friends and family.
Things like the Swindon Cycle Challenge help and I’ve emailed our town’s CTC cycle champion (though, disappointingly, with no response as yet). Perhaps there are opportunities with doing cycle training, to help people have confidence on the roads, or to bring up the next generation with the idea that cycling is a good thing. And maybe writing to the local MP or to the council will help.
It’s all a bit unknown and it’s hard to see how little old me can make a difference.
Hopefully being a CTC member will help and there will be ideas in their magazines and lots of encouragement and support from others with similar hopes.
Of course, I’ll be writing more about this if, as and when I get involved. Perhaps in a few years time I’ll be writing about the successes and joys of sharing the many, well-maintained cycle lanes with more Swindoners.