September 2021

“A World that can be Different” – #SpokesMtg report

Summarising our public meeting on Local Bike Campaigning, QA presenter Alix Davies said it had given us “an insight into a world that can be different” and it had shown that, to make this happen, “your voice does matter.”

Recent years have seen a flourishing of locally-based groups in Edinburgh, and to a lesser extent outside the city, campaigning for conditions which are less car-dominated; quieter; safer; easier to get about by walking, wheeling or cycling; and more aligned with the imperatives of the climate crisis.

At city-wide level, BEST (Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel) formed early in 2021 as a loose coalition for such local groups to share ideas and co-operate. Spokes also participates in BEST – we fully share their aims and we have made joint submissions to the Council [example], although we differ in that we are Lothians-wide, have a primary focus on cycling and are an individual-membership organisation.

The meeting began with Dave du Feu putting present-day campaigning into a wider past-present-future context and asking what had motivated the flourishing of locally-based active-travel activism in recent years

We then heard talks from these local and wider groups…

This was then followed by a panel QA, presented by Alix Davies of Edinburgh Climate Commission (a high-powered group of experts and leaders sponsored by Edinburgh University and Edinburgh City Council, aiming to accelerate climate action in the city)

You can watch and listen to the entire meeting in this YouTube video

Meeting outcomes

At the end of the QA, the panel was asked what they thought had been learned from the meeting. In no particular order, these are themes which emerged..

  • Have concrete ambitions and proposals for a better future, not just complaints
  • Solidarity and communication between groups is invaluable – for ideas, support and positivity
  • Be inclusive – talk to others, including outside the group, so ideas are refined and widely understood
  • Listen to children – many are passionate and highly motivated about creating a safe and healthy environment and planet
  • Some campaigns can take literally years – be persistent, be consistent
  • Some developments may be very rapid – be ready to seize opportunities or to counter threats. The installation of 40km of protected cycleroute within just one year, due to the pandemic, felt like a miracle as it happened
  • There is a huge variety in types of disabilities, and this includes a large group who cannot walk far but can cycle; and ebikes have expanded this potential considerably.
  • People tend to worry about change and fear all sorts of bad consequences, but, once traffic taming and active travel measures are in place, people usually recognise their value and adapt to the new environment
Why has there been this flourishing of local active travel activism in recent years?
  • People really want to be able to walk and cycle safely, and many will only do so once they feel conditions are safe. This was probably the main inspiration for those groups that were founded pre-covid – for example, CarFree Holyrood Park; Spokes Porty; Sciennes School bike bus; Drem/Gullane path campaign and decades ago(!) Spokes.
  • Covid gave people a sudden, unexpected and incredible glimpse into how the city and local areas within it could be better. Firstly, during the early days of minimal motor traffic on the roads, when large numbers of people started cycling and walking more; and secondly the Spaces for People schemes which preserved a feeling of safety and protection from motor traffic. Retaining and building on these memories and interventions was a huge inspiration for the rapid expansion of local groups since 2020 – for example, SW20, many other of the groups in the chart above, and of course city-wide BEST.

Finally, Alix summed up the top outcomes which she had drawn from the meeting…

  • The work and positivity of so many local groups is truly inspirational and gives us an insight into a world that can be better
  • The climate emergency and Covid have also pointed us to a world that can, and must, be different and better
  • Infrastructure is essential, but it should be high quality and should enable – not disable – access for all
  • “Your voice does matter” – change is happening, and local activism is making a real difference.

Thank-you and what’s next?

  • Many thanks to Cycling UK for use of and superb support with the GoToWebinar software
  • Many thanks to all our speakers, organisers, attendees – and you the reader!
  • Spokes Spaces for People challenge Everyone who enters (and follows the rules!) is rewarded with a free Spokes Map of your choice and/or a Spokes Map Buff. Challenge details here
  • Keep in touch with local cycling developments, and support us, by becoming a Spokes member
  • Please retweet our tweet about this article

Meeting resources

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