Sunday, 17 June 2012

Hello Newcastle, what next?

4C = City Chief Cycle Challenge 2011
4C = City Chief Cycle Challenge 2011 - BBC interview

In May 2011 a new administration swept into power in Newcastle. An orange council turned red and I was keen to understand what that would mean for the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. Particularly as engaging the previous administration had been rather tedious. They'd fallen, it appeared, for the officers "Can't do it like that" charm offensive  and got a tad too chummy over it. I could write a book on it, but I am sure someone else has already done that so I'll spare you my tears.

Thankfully and as luck has it, with the new administration it has been refreshingly different right from the start.

Since May 2011, there were productive meetings, even a cycle-about, smiles and an air of desire for things to change. Honesty and openness are the unwritten rules of engagement it seems to me. There is quite a bit of positive attitude and energy whizzing about. The new councillor chairing the cycle forum, in contrast to his orange counterpart, is far from a frequent cyclist himself. But that is fine: it is so much more important that there is a comprehension of what a campaign group is, and is trying to do and achieve (Newcastle Cycling Campaign: transport fairness, alleviating societal inequalities).

And I do think we firmly stand on genuinely common ground.

The most in-depth engagement took place on the business of resurrecting the Brighton Grove cycle lanes. A test bed. A cycle lane was restored back to its intended glory by removing parked cars and painting some double yellow lines. And that's good, but that is only half of the story. The other half was less glorious, and probably does require a further deeper look.

On Brighton Grove the traffic engineer ruled supreme.
  • "There isn't enough time!"
  • "There isn't enough space!"
  • "There isn't enough money!"
  • "You don't know what you are talking about."
  • "This isn't technically feasible."

Throughout the year, I have been wondering, almost agonising, what I would say to the new administration on their first anniversary, but I'd now say this:

11/12 has been a year of engagement, realisation and dipping the toe in the water. And we are immensely thankful for key councillors to embark on that journey.

Let's make 12/13 the year of real action.

After dipping the toe on the water, we'll now have to get wet, but it'll be worth it! It's going to be hard to transform our city into people-sized liveable space, but the Newcastle Cycling Campaign and other groups are here to help, and waiting. Learning from last year's test case, the imperative must be to challenge officer decisions. Constantly. Our politicians must ask probing questions, continuously, untiringly.

Only unabated asking of follow-on questions will get us there.
  • "Why are you saying this?"
  • "Why do you think there isn't enough space, time or money?"
  • "Why do you think it's not possible?"
  • "Why? Show me the page in the book."
  • "Why?"
It must be the year of asking questions and breaking a hard-wired chain of command to unshackle innovation and inspire a fresh new look at our city. Peeling back the onion doesn't usually happen without tears. Let's try to tell the crocodile tears from the genuine headaches.

There's still a long way to go. And only so much can be done on a local scale. Nonetheless, with a party in charge that pedestrianised Northumberland Street against much opposition and that undoubtedly has a campaigning spirit, who knows - even national government could be lobbied and influenced!

This blogpost has been inspired by David Arditti's

Members meeting
Newcastle Cycling Campaign - members meeting June 2012 at the Cycle Hub, guest speaker Bruce McVean

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