I was surprised to see that Cambridge Cycling Campaign have heard of me, and that recently they (or, rather, Martin Lucas-Smith of the CCC) have quoted me here:
Yes, I’m the pro-cycling critic of the CCC who Martin quotes (without ever linking to my article, which would have been preferable), which was this one here:
Much has been written on the subject of Gilbert Road, including contributions from the CCC and bloggers like David Hembrow. And what tends to be forgotten is that we all want the same thing; a more pleasant environment for all of us to be able to use the route in safety. It’s a major way in to and out of the city, it’s a big road, and an important way in and out for cyclists.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign work long and hard to gain improvements for cyclists. They’re tireless campaigners, constantly lobbying, consulting, discussing, and pushing for these changes. They’re the ‘go to’ organisation for local planners who wish to be seen to be consulting with cyclists. To do a road improvement scheme without talking to them is politically quite hard. And the evidence given for any road planning scheme having taken cyclists seriously is that the CCC have been consulted. Here, they are the Cycling Establishment.
The question, at least for me, is not whether CCC achieve their goals. They clearly do achieve some, and fall short on some others; here with Gilbert road it would be difficult to argue that there has not been a limited improvement for cyclists but that its not as god as it should be. And that’s what the CCC do. Good for them. And they’ve spent a decade campaigning to get there.
The question is whether CCC have the right goals and whether their methods are working. They claim to represent cyclists in Cambridge, and even though that’s an absurdity (their thousand members does not equate to consensus view among many thousands of cyclists here who are not members) that claim is largely accepted by planners and councillors here. I cannot stress enough that it is extraordinarily hard to be heard above the voice of the CCC; if you want to raise a cycling issue and your opinion is not the same as theirs, planners and council officers will ignore you. As for their methods, I cannot doubt their dedication, but Gilbert Road is not as great a victory as it should have been. I ride that road every week and while it’s a little bit better than it was it still isn’t a great route for cycling. Out of preference, out of simple fear of heavy traffic being too close, I still see mothers riding along the pavement with their children rather than using the new expanded cycle lanes. Just this morning I counted half a dozen or so people using the pavement in preference to the road. And that’s after a decade campaigning; a 1.7m cycle lane, not wide enough and not inviting enough.
Martin has accused me of “Shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy”. Well, yes, I am shouting from the sidelines, and I am being grumpy. With good reason too; to campaign on cycling issues in Cambridge outside of the CCC is to do so from a marginalised position. And that’s enough to make anyone grumpy. But here it is apparent that Martin has misconstrued my suggestion.
Suppose, for a moment, that the CCC were to have a policy of no longer cooperating when it becomes clear that a road scheme isn’t going to deliver what cyclists need. Suppose that instead of settling for lots of slight, marginal improvements, each of which may take a decade, they were to refuse to endorse these actually rather marginal schemes. What would happen if instead of cooperating with local authority staff who see cycling as something to be squeezed in (both spatially and conceptually), they were instead to say ‘no’? What if arguing against accepting marginal improvements and poor facilities were not ‘shouting from the sidelines’ but was instead the mainstream position of cycling campaigning in Cambridge?
Lots of stats exist on cycling in Cambridge, and its fair to say that they’re rarely very revealing. The modal share of commuting trips in this city is certainly more than 20%, I’ve occasionally seen it quoted at around 27%, but its obvious to anyone using our roads that some routes are entirely dominated by cyclists at rush hour. We don’t have a critical mass movement here because we’re already a critical mass! If Cambridge can’t achieve the facilities we need by a decade of careful consultation (if the best CCC can offer is a partial success), perhaps we need to consider what other campaigning methods (mass letter writing, walking away when what is on offer isn’t good enough, refusal to cooperate on schemes that do not put cycling first, even, dare I say it, Critical Mass) are available. None those methods are feasible while the CCCs claim of representing cyclists in Cambridge is so blandly accepted by the local authorities, when any tactic not supported by CCC can be written off .
I have a lot of respect for CCC campaigners. But looking back at schemes like Gilbert Road, I can’t see why they think that they are doing so well. Surely the evidence on the ground, the white paint and red tarmac, shows us that the current campaigning stance isn’t going to get us where we need to be.
Time, perhaps, to campaign a little less calmly, and to hold out for better.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign have recently published an extensive shopping list of schemes that they believe will help Cambridge double the proportion of journeys taken by cycists. But on past record, using their current campaigning methods, we're not going to get there. I applaud their long sighted vision, I just think that their methods are rather myopic.