Chair’s half-year marker

Here we are – half way through our campaign year, which prompted me to have a look at our Campaign Plan agreed at AGM. I got to say: I am impressed with the focus we have managed to keep so far.

Membership engagement

We’ve been doing what we said we would do. Delivering the Space for Cycling campaign to your (and the Councillors’) doorstep, making a bell-ringing noise at our rides attended by hundreds, organising cycle infra safaris (four out of seven this year), directing members towards CycleScape to engage online, and record comments for future reference. And much, much more. It feels great to see so many of you getting involved. We are, as we promised, collectively shifting up a gear. It’s been incredibly busy and we are looking forward to a reflective autumn and general run-up to the AGM in March 2015.

We will now have time to sit down and ponder how to grow and let blossom the message and our collective voice for a better city.

Political engagement

Good will and kind words have to be translated into action and for that to happen we – apparently so – have to keep up the pressure. Shaping the transport debate – and sensibly at that – can only be done by educating our Councillors about the Space for Cycling message, the cycling solution and its future. Political outreach is still to be done, but we’ve come a good way: Newcastle is leading the Core Cities in support for Space for Cycling – and by a massive margin too (Newcastle 67%, Bristol 26% and Manchester 21%). It’s now mostly about steering the discourse and making sure we stay on course.

Our local politicians still have some way to go to learn about, and then uphold, their city transport policies. Their vision of a transport future sometimes is still muddled, and can be somewhat mired in misunderstanding, confusion (deliberate or not), squabbles, power wranglings and even intrigue. Only when a policy (read: instructions for change) is understood, then meaningful citizen engagement and consultation can take place. We will keep educating decision makers on their own policies and how to positively talk about Liveable Cities. After all, we want change, and they, ultimately, are the change agents.

Here are two examples where clear vision, its wider communication and engagement were diminished.

For Gosforth High Street a confusing array of options was chosen to go to consultation. How came ‘doing nothing’ to be an option if there is policy agreement that we have to shift away from car use and enable other means of transport? And throwing in a new concept (red route = bus priority) at the last minute by also maintaining that a debate had been had since 2009 just wasn’t going to convince the populace. A wider debate to emerge was stifled by the council, who refused to hold a panel debate between interest groups. Council seems as yet unable to engage with groups and this must change. The consultation report dated June 2014 actually makes good points, and asks that in future the bigger picture (the rules, the policies, the vision) be drawn up first, before diving head-first into a transport scheme. I could not agree more.

For the Jesmond’s Acorn Road consultation the options were unambitious and, right from the start, the debate was limited to mediocrity. Again, forgetting to set vision (and within that rules of engagement and policy platform) resulted in badly framed and at times rather ill-mannered discussions against cyclists and cycling in general. This was not only totally unacceptable but entirely avoidable too if a stronger modal shift framework had been set, from the start. What’s now needed is a review, but also some more work by council to assess traffic flow, displacement and evaporation (modal shift potential).

Changes we will push for

1) I strongly hope that these examples should prompt changes to the process council uses. Since 2011 we have been suggesting to Newcastle City Council that a ‘road user debate’ should be held in our city. Council surely must now have learnt that engaging with interest groups is paramount for the realisation of their ambitious plans that they have. Clear communication and free flow of information to and between groups is key. Finding your partners and work with them is what a cooperative council would do – it saves money, energy and effort. Partners will not always agree and that’s fine, but the discussion of policy implementation and creating work plans must be allowed and be much improved in the future.

2) Traffic schemes cannot be seen in isolation (but traditionally they still are). The wider effect of a scheme should be assessed and discussed. This includes the methods used to determine traffic flow and calculating junction capacity. Newcastle mustn’t fall victim to out-fashioned engineering and planning practices using out-dated data and information.

We ask to influence and shape the transport debate.
Just how will we make modal shift happen?
We have ideas… let us discuss them.