We know exactly what we want: a fairer city for all

chairOur quest for a better Newcastle continues. Standing up and providing the voice for a fairer city with a functioning multimodal transport system and a diverse cycling future for all ages and abilities is what newcycling advocates for. Some, a minority, still do not appreciate that this is quite different from speaking up on behalf of the current cyclist. Politicians and other thought leaders, journalists too, frequently get it wrong. They are clearly compartmentalising and simplifying, but why?

For some… it’s tactical – it’s easier that way. It allows them to sidestep a citywide campaign for a better transport system. They feel they can sideline us by calling us the ‘cyclist lobby’ or ‘cyclists fraternity’ or by using this sentence: “cyclists don’t know what they want” to detract from the bigger picture and the immediate needs of our city.

Why anyone would be surprised that cyclists aren’t automatically experts in urban infrastructure design – especially with their varying cycling activities holding varying views – is absolutely beyond me.

For others… it may be less politically motivated, just perhaps it stems from stereotyping (albeit a very human reaction, it can be discriminating), maybe they are a bit uninformed or their angle is not perfectly thought through. Since 2010, I have spoken to many people. Many feel unrepresented. They had tried to communicate and raise concerns with their Councillors, their community representative. It’s too many of us who feel their views have been ignored or misunderstood by their local Councillors.

We are happy to keep educating about this. But what is quite an important step for Newcastle is to educate its own Councillors about city policies, their responsibilities towards communities and leading all-encompassing inclusive debates at local level. I have seen Councillors with big blinkers, or simply technically unequipped. They can come across as exclusive, and shutting out what they would probably describe as voices from others – people seemingly different to themselves. Therefore they are often missing to see and capture the depth and breadth of community views, or they only focus on the dissent. This may well be a natural bias humans come under. So education is needed. We’d welcome the council’s help in this matter.

After all “Investing in cycling will generate benefits for the whole country, not just those using a bike to get around.” Source [pdf]

We, at the Committee, are proud of asking for an inclusive Newcastle, and we won’t stop. We want to see and experience a city that gives true choice, real alternatives for the way you can travel, go about your business, from A to B, unquestioned, unjudged – in comfort and with convenience. Space for cycling is palpably lacking in Newcastle, and this is what, naturally, we are campaigning, informing and advocating for.

It is understandable that a transport transition of this scale, necessary and overdue as it is, won’t happen overnight. But starting somewhere makes good sense. The Dutch engineers and planners begin by planning and organising transport networks. So much so, it is listed as the first principle in the Dutch Sustainable Safety approach – which offers a real alternative to the often counterproductive UK road safety initiatives. We have observed that the city still relies on out-dated processes, for example to describe traffic flow and speeds, numerically not humanly, or when consulting on traffic schemes. The importance of meaningless computerised numbers is put before real positive mode-shifting outcomes that would make real decisions that are good for people. The planned ‘Northern Access Corridor’ is one to watch. Works planned for the Haddrick Mill mixer will see these worlds collide. We know that every driven mile loses the local economy money, pollutes, incapacitates and severs communities, whereas active travel – public transport, walking and cycling – gives and is a gain for society and the individual. We ask that economic decisions are made and planned sensibly and on evidence of societal needs and merits.

In short, you do not need to be cycling to join newcycling, we do not ask you to be a cyclistjoin us if you, like us, desire a better fairer transport system for Newcastle, that serves all with easy and safe walking conditions, comfortable and convenient cycleways and fairly-priced reliable public transport at its heart. It’s that simple. We have written to Cllr Nick Forbes constructively expressing our concerns and making suggestions. The quest is on. Newcastle has so much to gain by including cycling in our city’s urban space as a real option.

Further reading