On yer bike, Pat, for Newcastle

Newcastle Cycle City? Then this kind of enabling, inclusive, comfortable infrastructure must become commonplace. Source CEoGB

Faithfully, since our foundation in 2010 I have been writing incisive (German!) messages, casting back and looking ahead. You are not spared this tradition at the start of 2016.

On this occasion, it is a message that describes how council have been successfully scratching the surface. They are trying. So much so that council may have almost convinced some of you into thinking Newcastle is actually moving into a more sustainable transport direction with people, not cars, at the heart. To me, having observed and examined council’s goings-on for more than five years, this however only feels like tactics. Or maybe tactics is too concerted a term for the “improvisations” that we have yet again witnessed this year.

Do not be blinded by small scrabbles. The bigger plan and bigger picture are still absent.

True, we have seen some good moves. Some good design plans (and sadly these are quite tempered by the really bad ones too). Some change. But, let’s be true to the scale of change that Newcastle must now experience. In 2015, we have seen yet more attempts and efforts by the council. All their CCAF programmes however are now running late.

And it’s often not design quality that’s in question, it’s about lack of resolve.

Siloed workings-within, and segmented workings-outside. Council listen to NE1 and the Chamber of Commerce, and perhaps the taxi and bus operators – the established parties. I would cast this question to the council “Are these your only policy partners? Who are council’s policy partners for a transport transition? Haven’t you realised you cannot do this on your own?” Once you look, there really is no plan for a practical sensible cycle network beyond some scribbled-down goodwill (made up of some policy and some politicians’ voices). Officials are yet to understand their role and the scale of the overall shift that is needed if – yes, if – Newcastle wants to really and truly, hand on heart, become a Cycle City. One picture describes this to me: cycleways that make it convenient for children and their parents to cycle in comfort and safety.

Official resolve is amiss, as well as design skill and planning expertise is still in short supply. This is why we have focussed on Pat Ritchie this year.

As Chief Executive of the council she can bring about the step change that Cllr Nick Forbes and Cllr Ged Bell have ordered for our city. I am not sure the Chief Executive was listening. The disconnect between saying and doing has persisted, perhaps not widened (be grateful) but certainly not started closing. The worrying thing is that the Chief Executive does not seem to comprehend the scale of the task nor what needs to be done.

And clearly that is a problem, if the overall problem is not even recognised.

Well, in 2016 we will have to see Newcastle step up, close some gaps, acknowledge its problem – and for that we will ask for your help.

And I for one, will invite Pat Ritchie for a ride around the city. John Dobson Street aside, she can then see for herself the atrocious condition council’s transport planning imposes on people cycling.

Of course, we have seen this in the past, a short-lived hype in building cycleways (of sorts) only to result in the disconnected network that we can see today in our city. And as embedding the thinking and practice did not take place, it’s all a bit of a waring and tiring start-and-stop process. Newcastle needs consistency, both in network design and in the handling by the council.

Until we see a cycle network enshrined in policy and we hear every politician talk positively and transport officers talk knowledgeably about cycle infrastructure planning and design, we can only say “On yer bike, Pat”.

Happy New Year, it’s gonna be another rocky ride. But such is the fate of sustainable transport in Newcastle!

Katja Leyendecker
Chair of Newcycling.org