October 2011

Sheffield Cycle Campaign Conference

A sudden influx of Brompton folding bicycles at Sheffield railway station marked the start of the 2011 Cyclenation/CTC conference.  Held at Sheffield University on 15th October, this was a chance to catch up with campaign groups from across the UK as well as try out some trams that actually work.

The Sheffield Supertram system crosses the city, with stops at the railway station, both universities and also both football grounds. It doesn’t accept full-size bicycles, although there was no problem with folded bikes and bags didn’t seem necessary.

Sheffield Cycle Campaign booked a tram on the Sunday after the conference, to take a group of cyclists out into the country at the start of the post-conference ride. The conductor on our special tram mentioned that they do take buggies and mobility scooters, and she indicated that the usage patterns are fairly predictable, with the busy periods during the morning and evening rush hours.

The Edinburgh Trams will allow off-peak bicycle carriage, and we are now suggesting that it should be possible to determine what off-peak hours will be from the outset of the new service, rather than waiting for usage to settle down.

There were several hot news items at the conference, although only one was of direct relevance to Scotland. The CTC and Cyclenation have signed an agreement covering co-operation between the two organisations at both local and national level.

It leaves plenty of leeway for existing groups to continue operating as before, but may help in providing more support for new local groups – their aim is to have a local group operating in every town with more than 50,000 inhabitants. This would mean 8 groups in Scotland, or a dozen if you allow for places which are just below 50,000 such as Hamilton, Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Ayr.

There was rejoicing at the change in English transport minister which had been announced the previous evening in the reshuffle caused by Liam Fox’s resignation – Justine Greening is felt to be a far more sympathetic Secretary of State than her predecessor Philip Hammond.

The review of traffic signs announced earlier that week included new powers to allow cycling in both directions on one-way streets, although the change manly applies to England and Wales as it was already possible in Scotland.

The discussion about localism also highlighted the growing differences between Scotland and our counterparts south of the border. There are parallels between this new English policy, sifting the power downwards and sweeping away central directives (1000 pages of planning guidance reduced to a mere 52 pages) and the removal of ring-fenced funding from local authorities under the SNP government concordat.

While localism may have some advantages , the outcome for cycling is gloomy – in a time of budget cuts the spending on cycling and other sustainable transport is likely to lose out compared with core services such as education.

Bristol was awarded funding a few years ago as Britains first cycling city, and the initial results are very relevant to Edinburgh. The city is of comparable size (570,000 inhabitants) with a strong cycle campaigning tradition and similar topography and student populations.

They received £23m to spend over 2.5 years – half from the local authorities (Bristol City and South Gloucestershire) and half from Cycling England. Progress over the first 18 months seemed very slow – even for the best prepared local authority it takes time to get people in place and start major schemes. Two-thirds of the money was spent on infrastructure and the remaining amounts spread equally between school cycle schemes (training etc, mainly in primary schools), smarter choices travel behaviour campaigns (conducted by Steer Davies Gleave) and marketing.

Bristol already had some good cycle facilities, but the work to join up gaps and address pinch points should really strengthen the overall provision. The areas receiving this treatment were picked using MOSAIC which identifies the socio-economic characteristics of individual streets. Certain groups, such as young affluent city dwellers are more likely to be receptive to taking up cycling.

20 mph zones are being introduced in Bristol, and they have led to an overall 6.6% reduction in speed, with 13% reduction on streets with speed that were initially above 30 mph.

Other improvements in Bristol included tree planting and improved lighting on some cycle routes, doubling of on-street cycle parking including the removal of some car parking spaces, better direction signing on a cartwheel of radial routes, 50km of new or improved cycle paths and 200 km of signed routes.

The Better By Bike branding has been developed for use beyond the initial funding period, and Bristol is now applying to the English sustainable travel fund for money to carry on the work. As so often, money for demonstration schemes is awared for ridiculously short periods. See www.betterbybike.info foir more details.

Cyclestreets is already a key resource, and Edinburgh is well mapped for cyclists. Thanks to funding from the recent Geovation competition organised by the Ordnance Survey, the Cyclestreets team is now working on a related project which could be of immense benefit to local cycle campoaigns.

Provisionally called CYCLESCAPE, it will enable local knowledge about problem areas to be mapped on to a local map, and linked to other information such as pending planning applications, surveys of cycle usage, and details of possible solutions. In itself this may not solve these problems, but it does provide a tool for the campaign group and the local council to identify and prioritise these issues.

One example suggested at the conference was that of a street in Oxford which had been made one-way. A few dozen local residents objected to cyclist being allowed to use this street in both directions.

A campaign leafleting local cyclists linked to an online survey produced 270 responses from cyclists using the contraflow direction. Their actual journeys could be plotted using start and end postcodes, providing hard evidence of how the street was being used.

The new campaigning toolkit is likely to be available from early next year, and Spokes will consider whether versions for Edinburgh and the Lothians could be added to the Spokes web site to kick-start particular campaigns.

Attending cycle campaign conferences also allows the chance to compare notes with other campaign groups facing similar issues to those faced by Spokes.

Following the recent decision in Edinburgh to remove some main roads from the pilot 20mph scheme in south Edinburgh, I asked campaigners from Portsmouth whether their local bus services have suffered from speed restrictions within their city-wide 20 mph scheme. Lothian Buses cited delays and increased emissions at lower speeds as a reason for opposing 20 ph limits on main roads, but this does not seem to have been borne iout by Portsmouth experience.

The keynote speaker Professor Danny Dorling from Sheffield University gave a thought-provoking talk who is actually cycling, illustrated with maps of travel habits amongst various age-s and socio-economic groups.

Congratulations to Sheffield cycling campaign for putting on such an interesting and useful conference. We know only too well in Edinburgh how much work it takes – well done.

Ian Maxwell

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