Saturday, 19 January 2013

A white line in the sand

Newcastle. January 2013. And a row has broken out over a proposed white line on the road. I am not flippant here, and certainly the opposite to a melodramatic queen. Just when I thought, they got it, it's gone all awry. By "they" I mean Newcastle Councillors. By "it" I mean cycling and its contributions to society, and that Newcastle was to develop cycle routes.

First there was the city-wide manifesto, then the Cycle Plan. Both pointing directly towards the design and construction of Strategic Cycle Routes for Newcastle. Both signed off by all Councillors. We held a meeting to decide on design criteria, followed by various meetings to firm up on route alignment. All well, all good, all open to the public and general input. Then the first route was designed, more meetings, more discussions, more input sought. Great. The design has now progressed to a formal traffic order consultation, and that's where the undergrowth rustled and the dinosaurs came shuffling out and roared in their ancient language:

"We the undersigned, are totally opposed to the “mandatory with flow” cycle lanes being proposed to be introduced on Welbeck Road. Whilst welcoming the proposed safety measures i.e. zebra crossings etc we do not see why they should be conditional upon having cycle lane introduced. We call upon Newcastle City Council to withdraw this cycling lane proposal forthwith."

This text was presented to City Council by a Councillor, signed by 150 people including nine city Councillors, I gather.

No residential parking was compromised, no reduction in traffic lanes. On closer inspection it appears, they even begrudge us a simple white line, incidentally the lowest form of protection a cyclist can ask for. The delay caused by our helpless democratic system now means that a massive whack of funding is lost. In the process, one Councillor called the cycling community a "fraternity"... again showing how little they know.

I can only imagine dinosaurs hate the idea of cycling. They are simply not familiar with it.

In Germany people wear hiviz when they are cycling on the road (not that that happens on many occasions due to the extensive network of inner city and suburban lanes and paths) - maybe these nine anti-cycle-lane Councillors are proactive, have chipped in and are now busy printing these vests to be handed out to cyclists on Welbeck Road "cycle lane missing"... they should certainly add "due to parochial politics".

Cycle SPACE missing!


  1. I’m afraid dinosaurs are alive and kicking all over the country, the much fabled extinction event of 63 million years ago clearly not having happened.

    Down here in leafy south west Surrey our dinosaurs are not attacking cycling measures – or at least not much, as we have not yet advanced to the level of getting any attention whatsoever from the local authorities in favour of any cycling measures at all. No, here a handful of T-Rex and a brontosaurus or two are doing their level best to torpedo some entirely sensible measures to bring car parking around the town centre under control.

    The point is that although they are actually quite few in number and certainly far fewer than the supporters of the measures, they are very noisy indeed, they are well organised, they are ruthless, and they understand the system, so they may yet succeed – indeed they have managed to have a fair chunk of the proposals withdrawn or emasculated.

    What I am learning is this:

    - This is a numbers game. It makes no difference how sensible a proposal is, or how many people you think will support it, if they can produce more objections than you can produce letters of support, the council will feel obliged to give weight to their objections
    - This is a numbers game. Anyone can object even if they are in Scotland (or perhaps, in your case, in Cornwall). It is possible for people who really have no interest in a proposal to derail it even if people who have a clear interest in it support it
    - This is a numbers game. If 100 people send in identical objections the authority will quite likely count 100 objections even though it is quite clear that they are drummed up and cloned. All it takes is a handful of busybodies to suborn friends and neighbours, or members of their church, or of their Fine Arts Society or Residents’ Association or whatever, into sending in a letter or email. Those people may have no strong feelings on the point or indeed be more sympathetic to the other view, but they want a quiet life and not to fall out with friends so they will comply

    You need to play them at their own game. That probably means cosying up to councillors you consider to be sympathetic and getting them discreetly to guide you on how to play the system, how to be tactical. What is the best way of making your lobbying efforts count? What buttons can you press? It is really not at all obvious to anyone outside their rarified world. You also need to gather support, petitions, standardised responses, whatever you can get, wherever you can get it, to try to outnumber them. You need to get people to write in with support even though the advertising of the proposal may only ask for objections, because that, for some reason, is how these things are done, and failure to realise that it is not a done deal, that support while not requested still needs to be voiced, places you at a distinct disadvantage.

    Good luck.

  2. Let me be polemic. But why do you think I "need" to do anything? The system has to change, and we are working on that... playing the long game.

    1. Here's why. In my example of parking controls, there was one proposal, affecting a residential street which happens to be the access to the local cottage hospital. Without parking controls, elderly, disabled, and generally not frightfully well people who are driven to the hospital by relatives or friends find that they can't park anywhere near the hospital entrance, primarily because hospital staff and local rail commuters "bed-block" the street with all day parking. A simple proposal was advanced - for a short time around lunchtime, parking would be restricted to resident permit-holders only. Through enforcement, it would drive way all the all-day parkers who are hardly likely to travel down from ldonon in the moiddle of the day to move their car for an hour. If the ROP hour was co-incided with the hospital's lunchtime closure, it would entirely not affect visiting patients. The local street residents were unamnimously on board, and the Hospital League Of Friends supported the proposal

      Skilful gamesmanship by a small, but ruthless and strident clique of rabidly pro-car residents, who have no real connection with this street, or the hospital, and really have no legitinate interest in this question managed to torpedo the proposal entirely.

      It woudl be nice to be above such shenanigans, but when the enemy fights dirty, so must you if you want to win. Hopefully the residents and the LoF will learn from this and be more savvy next time, bu they will inevitably have to wait for most of this year before they can try again.

      And of course we would prefer that they didn't rely on the car this way, and made the environment better for pedestrians and cyclists. I could go on for hours about how car-sick this community is, but I have to look for one small victory at a time. :-))

  3. You're lucky. Here in West Sussex we used to have a County Cycling Officer, and even a County Cycling Strategy complete with good works and pretty leaflets. Now both have been scrapped, and any cycle facilities have to be prioritised and agreed at District level, which is frankly impossible given that Districts are only allowed 3 Traffic Regulation Orders per year (!?) and that they need TROs for things like new parking restrictions, new pedestrian crossings, and more, as well as cycling things. Oh, and anything to do with cycling now has to be paid from non-council funding, such as S106 or landfill tax, the County won't use their own Highways and Transport money for cycling: they'll fund cars, buses, trains, walking and every form of transport other than bicycles.

    Any ideas of new cycling facilities in West Sussex have been killed stone dead.

  4. Leadership and courage is required I suppose...