By Katja Leyendecker
This is a reply to Carlton Reid’s recent article, Government publishes "Go Dutch" cycling reports but ignores them. It contained a sentence proclaiming “there is now no chance that there will be any national investment in cycling infrastructure other than the £300m for 2015-2020 already announced.” It was the “no chance” that hit me. I thought, “Surely, we must show more confidence in our goals than that. This sentence kills all campaigning!”
Sometimes there comes a time to change the record. Listening to the same tune over and over again wears your ears down and the tickled ‘pleasure parts’ of the brain switch off, become numb, despondent and tired. When that happens, it’s time to change the record.
As Christian Wolmar says, “It’s not about cycling”. We need a clear consistent message and allies – a creative rallying call for
- inclusive infrastructure for all, all ages and abilities,
- a continual and sizeable budget for it, and
- street design standards to boot.
As for the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy – the sadly empty Easter egg – being despondent about its voidness is not really a productive way forward. I felt that Carlton’s view on the Government’s strategy was too pessimistic in suggesting that nothing can happen for the next ten years or nothing could be done.
Anyone acting surprised at the Government’s hopeless proposals lives in cloud cuckoo land. What did you expect? Silver platter treatment? Honestly?
So, now comes the lobbying, campaigning and activism. There is a consultation period. That means we have the chance to rally together and express our sheer outrage and direct it fairly and squarely at the responsible ministers Patrick McLoughlin MP and Robert Goodwill MP, whose feeble signatures are under the hollow ‘investment strategy without investment’. What a spin. We won’t be conned.
Politicians do not like to be shamed and public embarrassment can stir them into action. And we know the evidence supporting our case is overwhelming.
Change has not happened because the pressure put on those ministers responsible has not been crushing enough. The tune has not been concerted enough. To date, the message had not been sufficiently focussed. From now on let’s stick to the ‘big three’ of infrastructure, budget and standards to justly putting cycling on the DfT (rule and budget) books. There is enough money there. Who needs the Treasury!
And if the voice is not loud enough this time, there will be a next. There is nothing to lose, much to gain. That’s how building a voice works – it’s done bit by bit, but we must start somewhere, bringing people along and growing our voice.
Our campaign message must remain steady and clear, and resolutely angled at decision makers to show them up. This is also what I am hearing loud and clear from Janette Sadik-Khan and Andrew Gilligan – veritable veterans of the street fight, and no doubt humbly standing on the shoulders of many unsung heroes and probably even more unsung heroines.
A tune is played by an orchestra. To change the tune, it badly needs new fresh musicians too. I strongly believe that cycle organisations must seriously start looking at the way they are talking about and engaging women and other ‘fringe groups’. This means not just saying, “We have tried, but they aren’t getting involved”. If that is your case, then your organisation is not doing it quite right as yet. For step change to happen, it most definitively necessitates a change at the top too.
A workshop held in Newcastle last year, supported by Economic and Social Research Council, Northumbria University and Newcycling (Newcastle’s cycle campaigning group), brought academics and cycle advocates together. The focus was threefold: to figure out what we know and don’t know; to take stock of where we are at; and to plot a tentative collective way ahead. A full record (and no pun intended) of the event is available online.
The fifty folks who descended onto Newcastle for the workshop heard that:
“I don’t think we need lots more research asking ‘why don’t you cycle’? … It’s now about the sorts of environments that people want to cycle in – being separated from fast or heavy motor traffic. Needs to be part of a network and a broader vision” – Rachel Aldred
“Humans are irrational … Transport is not just about price [and time] and all those things that economists or engineers might think of as very significant … There are ways in which we have built our lives and cities, that we almost don’t see them anymore.” – Geoff Vigar
“We must now create compelling narratives” – Sally Hinchcliffe
“Our national voice must be more coherent, clearer and louder, and an inclusive voice” – Claire Prospert
“When counting cycles in pictures, I realised, disability hadn’t made it into [policy , design] documents at all” – Kevin Hickman
What next? I spoke to the VeloCity conference in March this year (thanks again to my sponsors Northumbria University and Newcycling for making it possible). This was a sterling opportunity to report back from the ESRC day.
The timing of VeloCity, three months after the ESRC day, gave me some time to reflect, re-group my grey matter, and re-listen to the presentations before extracting and condensing some conclusion. Campaigning needs
- Diversity – in members, partners and audiences
- Confidence – in our key message
- Resilience – in our campaigning approach
There’s also an opportunity to join us on 4 May in Hereford where I will make an attempt to explain more about this.
To come back to the record analogy, we now really must change the tune and get that orchestra playing.