It is a woman’s territory to keep their loved-ones safe: women take household decisions, lead and guide their families with safe and caring hands. It is no surprise therefore that the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is led by womenfolks and steered by women’s view of the world. Cycle campaigning is inherently female in its cry for safe space, safe conditions, safe cycle systems.
The campaign wants everyone to be able to enjoy cycling, easily and safely, on attractive and pleasant routes, paths and streets. We want our (hypothetical) eight-year old to be able to cycle to school. All by themselves. Soaking up the independence, freedom and sheer joy that comes with the wind in your hair, gliding along, cycling. Growing up and gaining self-confidence with every pedal stroke.
At the campaign we have this simple and quite ordinary vision – but we also know that not many share it with us. Not yet anyways. “I couldn’t possibly cycle, there’s too many cars” people say before slinking behind the (steering) wheel – not even noticing the irony of their action.
We know we’ve got a long way to go. Though a simple and rather ordinary idea, liveable cities with their people-sized transport systems, allowing free walking and cycling, seamlessly linking to buses, metros and trains, is something people experience only on their holidays – Copenhagen and Amsterdam to name the King & Queen of pro-people places. So close but yet so far. We marvel at their variety: relaxedness, inclusiveness, friendliness and attractiveness.
It is where space is safe and seemingly plentiful, space is purposefully designed by people for people with people in mind. That’s our vision for Newcastle. And of course the bicycle is at the very heart of that transformation. Centre piece. The bicycle is the indicator species for liveable places.
In the Netherlands these safe towns and cities happened because people asked for them. They asked for them to be created for their children. They stood up and shouted “Stop child murder” – they had understood that ever-wider roads and unfettered car use are diametrically opposed to people-sized neighbourhoods and child-friendly street networks. Society had changed, and the road space and streetscape changed with them.
We now start to see a similar outcry for fairly and clearly delineated space in our country. And it comes from none other than the ‘squeezed middle’ – people on bicycles. People who have decided – more often than not by choice – to get around by bike. Pushed in the gutter on the road, and not welcome on the pavement, the sense of solidarity in a marginalised community keeps growing, getting stronger and gathering pace.
And so the UK cycling community is gaining confidence. Demanding their fair share of that space. Safe. Even pleasant. Like Copenhagen. Like Amsterdam. For an eight-year old to be pedalling, happy and healthy, growing up.
Cycling is undoubtedly here to stay. How many new people will cycle is vastly dependent on the amount of space that set aside for cycling. Let’s speak up. Self-assured. With confidence. For our slice of the cake.
And with cycling it’s simple. Once you have your cake, you can eat it too!
Photo – the look of family cycling in Braunschweig, Germany