Sunday 29 December 2013

What do decision-makers do?

Traffic Jam (homemade) Maybe I should not have been surprised after experiencing the Transport Select Committee's level of knowledge on cycling safety?

Locally we are none the wiser too.

Is this really 2013?

I'll spare you the countless spineless remarks from local Councillors on "balance of all road users" and never mind TWITA chair Cllr Dave Wood, but I would like to focus on the big shot decision makers. Here's what Cllr Joanne Kingsland, cabinet member for Children Services, had to say when I contacted her about making a specific road safer for children walking and cycling to school - so that parents could actually envisage letting their kids use the bike.

"Firstly the responsibilities of Lead members for Childrens Services are prescribed by legislation and are set out in some detail in guidance given by the Dept for Education. These largely cover safeguarding and school improvement.

"However that doesnt mean that I have no interest in the health and well-being of children as they travel to school and even though transport falls under Cllr Bells portfolio it is a cross-cutting issue that we all need to be involved with not least as local ward councillors."

Oh, Joanne. Just who will take overall responsibility for transport? You also shrugged off any responsibility as there are travel plans that "belong to the schools themselves and it is up to them if they want to engage with council officers to help develop them".

So we are still running round about in circles.

You sometimes wonder what policy-makers do.

Making policy that sits on the shelf gathering dust like the sustainable transport policy must be disheartening. Policy that was to bring about a shift in thinking as well as modal share has not translated into reality to any noticeable levels worth celebrating in Newcastle. Do they ever go back and check?

I asked another chief executive, Pat Ritchie, following Barry Rowlands, about Newcastle's carbon reductions promise, space-for-cycling design delivery and general transport focus of the council. Her reply:

"How we best deliver a successful [Cycle City Ambition Fund] bid is something we will be looking at as we develop our new structure. I want to bring a clearer focus on all transport issues at senior level."

Oh dear, Pat. Will you actually do something? The council re-structuring as far I can see fragmented transport responsibilities even further.

And in the Guardian Pat tells us about her leadership style: "I'm a real believer in building strong teams that are built on clear values, clear outcomes and delivery; you can't impose that on a team, you have to build it with them. I think you have to be visible. I think you have to both empower, but hold to account when you need to – and you need to be seen to do that. You have to build teams that enjoy working together and get some pleasure out of their achievements."

Furthermore, you and your board of directors snubbed the Dutch Embassy by not showing up at the conference to learn and draw inspiration from the experts. So far - it's words, and no action to show for. No show. No visibility.

And here's Cllr Ged Bell, cabinet member including all matters transport:

"Through our Transport 2030 vision we will look for opportunities to make the best use of road space for all users and ensure we prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over other road users, particularly in the city centre."

So, if you have fine-tuned your feelers, there is a slight subtle change in rhetoric. Cllr Ged Bell's not ringing quite of Cllr (as was) Henri Murison's tone "we aren't afraid of compromising car user amenity"... so I still I think we need to talk to understand where the (institutional, political, professional, technical) barriers, hold-ups, difficulties are and - with honesty and transparency.

And see action.

In the meantime, this is how I roll, and I am proud of it. But a rebel at heart you got to be.

this is how i roll

Sunday 15 December 2013

Advocacy and industry

Traffic Jam (homemade) And here's the big difference in approach to advocacy by US and UK.

US-based Trek director of product development and marketing says "Our goal has always been to help create more places to ride" (Source: bikeradar) and there is more inspiring stuff from John Burke, Trek Director, (himself) here speaking at the League of American Bicyclists this year:

Here and here too.

All these statements acknowledge deeply the reason why people don't cycle and vow to tackle that, at source, head on. Yet the UK bike industry (supported and / or represented by Bicycle Association GB and Bike Hub) tend to pussy foot around and leave the root cause rather unaddressed. When you ask them they still talk about "encouraging more people to cycle" and "more people on bikes, more often". And? That's it.

I'd conclude from what I have seen, read and learnt today that the US is miles ahead in understanding and harnessing the powers of advocacy. Politicians, retailers and advocates working hand in hand. Maybe our US American counterparts are less afraid of rocking the boat, causing friction and conflict and debate to resolve this - not shy to ask, to combine forces, to work together.

If you'd like to find out more about how muddled and muddied the waters of the UK bike industry are - read this 'self-explanatory' bikebiz article.

Time for change.

Maybe confidence and trailblazing starts with advocacy.

Then industry can follow.

The Bicycle Association has joined #space4cycling - and that must be a good thing. Phillip Darnton, executive director of the Bicycle Association is quoted to say (and pardon my interjections): “To encourage more people to cycle [sigh, but wait...], it is essential that, community by community, we plan a range of schemes which really make cycling feel safer [good!] - and give confidence [sigh] to new cyclists. The biggest deterrents to cycling are the volume, speed and proximity of motor traffic [yes, and?]. The London Cycling Campaign has been hugely successful with its 'Love London Go Dutch' programme, and we are very pleased to be associated with its successor. We are very confident that it will gather enormous public support.”

Maybe this is the start of a reelly beautiful relationship.

Saturday 7 December 2013

They stole my bike but not my confidence

Transport Committee hearing 2 Dec 2013 On Monday I spoke at the Transport Select Committee; Newcycling transcribes the detail here. It was an interesting experience, albeit not exactly an entirely enlightening one.

That day was a rocky road on many levels.

Coming out of the committee room I was desperately trying to collect my thoughts and make sense of what just happened. I heard dark clouds were forming and a (twitter) storm had started to rain down the usual fire and brimstone. I heard, much later, that one MP's ears had been pricking. That was an excellent outcome I'd have thought... and when I heard that Chris Boardman's call of professional negligence had been heard too, I knew the debate had notched along another gear. He's invited to give oral evidence whilst the call for further written evidence has also been extended to 17 January.

If anything, the point I did not make strongly enough at the Committee hearing was that of the importance of leadership in assessing risk and hazards. Sounds boring? It's not. Laying firm foundations by getting the things right that have a big impact (policy, strategy, plans and engineering road design and layouts) is vital, because only then should we wonder about the small stuff (and that's where the current debate is stuck in a vicious victim-blaming circle). The culture at the top-tier decision-making level has to change. Last year my 'professional self' rambled on about it here.

I am certain Chris Boardman will give MPs that very message of total overhaul to avoid collapse of the transport system, and much more. There is a bigger picture to consider and a much wider debate to be had. On the every-so-slightest off chance that he wanted any help, my cycle campaigning aside:

As a civil engineer, Chartered Engineer and certified nebosh trained concerned professional individual, I'd be fantastically delighted to assist in any way I possibly could. The professional institutions, too, really have to smell the coffee and seriously get involved in, and shape, the debate. Chris, get in touch - you, Adrian and I can do it!

On an entirely smaller matter altogether, whilst giving evidence, my bike got nicked from outside House of Commons, Victoria Embankment. Babs was adequately locked. She was a brand-new Trek Lexi [whose price I had callously haggled down to £630 in KB Cycles, an independent Newcastle lbs, after they were flooded out in Newcastle last year in the Newburn disaster]. Thanks to Dave Holladay who walked me up to the Brompton Junction to check out a Brompton trial bike for 24 hrs (and food at Look Mum No Hands) - Dave returned the trial Brompton to the Brompton shop by using his Brompton. Class! Bike folks really are independent, resilient and resourceful. When sitting on the train back to Newcastle, I felt lovingly immersed in cycle culture (minus one bicycle).

Sometimes things are black and white, just like Babs' colours were.

Cycling and society