Feb 2014 – Monthly Meeting – The Great Infrastructure Debate

Meeting Report

At the start of the meeting, Secretary Martin McDonnell reported recent developments from the newly-formed Campaigns Action Group that is planning a further push for signatures to the Freedom To Ride Manifesto petition in support of a Full Bristol City Council Debate.

There was positive news too from Bristol’s part in the Road Justice Campaign. Avon and Somerset Police have accepted BCyC’s views on how unsatisfactory their consideration of cyclist casualties has been in the past. High level recognition has been established and efforts are in hand to improve things. Our task as a campaigning organisation will be to make sure Council and Police don’t pass difficult issues back and forth for the other to deal with.

Martin recommended members (especially as the end of the financial year approaches) to use the CTC’s “Fill That Hole” to report potholes. Bristol City Council’s own reporting site was mentioned too.

Gloucester Road safety improvements and enforcement of 20mph limits were discussed. On near misses Avon and Somerset Police’s advice is to use the 101 phone number or its web form to report significant events (not just collision or criminal incidents) so that patterns of such things can be identified over time.

 The evening’s main event was to debate the motion that “when campaigning to improve cycling for all the only approach that will achieve our goals is building high quality infrastructure”. Adam Semenenko proposed with fervour and enthusiasm and Gavin Smith opposed with pragmatism and low cunning. Contributions from the floor were many and various and the general standard of debate was articulate, well-informed and thought provoking.

The strong card in favour of building paradise was that those countries that are best for cycling have already done the building. Creating the infrastructure has generated the demand. Adam said that Britain has simply failed, neither building the means to establish cycling nor taking active travel as a reliable and sustainable form of transport. Adam stressed the need to understand and explain that cycling pays dividends in all kinds of ways. Modest investments can yield great benefits and huge savings in improved health, reduced pollution costs and economic growth.

The opposition case cited the contrast between Cambridge, with little infrastructure but many cyclists, and Stevenage and Milton Keynes with lots of infrastructure and no cyclists. Culture was the key. Seeing others cycling is the spur to others said Gavin, not the beauty of a protected cycle lane. Tease the cyclists in by bodging useful routes with railway sleepers or paint. Take advantage of bus schemes or other major works to sneak in shared use paths for next to nothing and before anyone really notices there are thousands of cyclists demonstrating the need for more and for better.

Contributions and questions from the floor were lively and good humoured. Whether following Adam’s lead in saying that acceptance of second best was a poor strategy or Gavin’s view that crafty botches were a one-way journey to better, the general consensus was clearly that everyone had the same endpoint: properly integrated, safe and inclusive cycle provision for all ages and abilities was the goal. The vehicular cycling movement of yesteryear and ideas about survival training were not represented. Getting more people on bikes in Bristol and making the case for high quality infrastructure were mutually reinforcing activities that no one disagreed with.

On a vote to conclude the debate, 4 voted for the motion, 6 voted against the motion and 7 abstained, voicing a vote for the middle ground. Good will was evident and all minds were enlivened.