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Space for Cycling: The Conference.

Dear readers of my blog: Here’s a post for Newcastle Cycling Campaign‘s monthly newsletter.

In May, a healthy North East contingent made the train bound for Leeds and the Space for Cycling campaigners conference. Space for Cycling is a campaign theme which was started in London by the London Cycling Campaign, but has resonated nationally and was launched by CTC and campaign groups at the conference. It’s a great way of communicating the sometimes fuzzy and disparate needs of people on bikes into themes that decision-makers can recognise, and act upon. The 6 themes of Space for Cycling are handily explained by John Snow in this short video.

They are:

 

  1. Protected space on main roads
  2. Removing through motor traffic in residential areas
  3. Lower speed limits
  4. Cycle-friendly town centres
  5. Safe routes to school
  6. Routes through green spaces

 

Conference workshops were relevant and interactive, including building a campaign from grassroots, working with officers (make friends with your cycling officer!?!) and using social media. It seemed Newcastle Cycling Campaign was held as a bit of a beacon in all these areas- people kept asking me how we did things- indeed out own Katja delivered a workshop on anti-cycling myth-busting and rebuttals. For our inspiration I’d keep an eye on Leeds Cycle Campaign as one to watch. As hosts they were incredibly wecoming- as campaigners they are seeing spades in the ground for cycling.

It was refreshing to see CTC- an organisation with which I have a long association- move into the forefront of campaigning for high quaility segregated infrasructure, from a position of being ambivalent at best on seperate provision.  What we saw from Mark Treasure of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain were examples of where it’s been done well, and not only from continental Europe, but from right here in the UK. Other workshops are summarised by Chris Peck, CTC here.

One message which resonated was that if we design for cycling, we get people-friendly spaces for everyone to enjoy. We get livable city-centres populated by people, not cars. We get play-streets with no through traffic. We get space on strategic routes and pleasant places to ride, not either/or. That’s the vision of Space for Cycling which takes it beyond a campaign for cyclists, into cycling as a ‘vehicle’ for improvements to everyone’s public space.

Getting my kicks in Leeds

Getting my kicks in Leeds

A final theme was to set a high standard with ambitious goals. Pragmatism, easy wins and working with the willing has only got us so far. We’ve seen incremental improvements for existing riders, but not the step-change that sees new people in their numbers turning to a bike as ordinary transport. What infrasructure we do have tends to be easier to install, along simpler roads where there’s already space. So we have cycle “routes” that aren’t routes at all, and end at the very junctions where we need them most.

As Rachel Aldred from LCC said- we can hold the Space for Cycling themes not as something to aspire to, but as standards not to fall below. With that level of ambition we are sure see space for cycling on our streets.


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A Christmas Microadventure.

Christmas was going to be different this year. The first Christmas morning in many that my partner Christine and I would be without our children. When we decided, almost two years ago, to build our life together we’d knew there’d be days like this. With five girls from our previous relationships at the centre of our decisions, parenting is complex and difficult; full of negotiation and compromise. And one compromise, this year, was that the kids would be with their other parents on The Big Day. The thought of waking up to an empty house, quietly opening gifts seemed far more scary than the alternative- a microadventure.

For the uninitiated, a microadventure is simply an adventure which slots into the rhythm of daily life. Local, accessible fun for anyone with the imagination to try. I like to make a habit of it. It’s as simple as sleeping on a hill and returning for breakfast. Or Christmas lunch. The idea is curated beautifully on the web by Alastair Humphries. Like many of us, he sometimes does bigger adventures.

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So we rose on Christmas morning with the excitement normally reserved for the much, much younger. Alarms were set but not needed. Sleep past 5am was made impossible by adrenaline. We ate an adventurer’s breakfast so familiar to me during my cycle trip last year; sweetest porridge and hottest tea. A quick check had pre-empted the perfect plan. On Christmas morning high tide and sunrise coincided perfectly. A dawn dip it would be.IMG_0687

We made haste in darkness to Marsden Bay, whose cliffs and rocks were to protect our modesty. This was not a far-flung beach- Christine had finished this year’s Great North Run not a mile from where we bathed. Thousands slept unknowingly in the streets above. But we were alone in the still, cold twilight, nervously setting out the tiny tent, dressing gowns and towels with which to chase away the chill. Then in an instant, naked, giggling and running into the foam. I was surprised how comfortable the water was on my skin. It was simply too much fun to feel cold. But hypothermia is no fun, so as quickly as we ran in and splashed about, we bounded out and into our little beachside resort.

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With the dawn came the dog walkers and some peculiar (envious?) looks. A couple in dressing gowns wandering the beach with smiles as wide as the mouth of the Tyne!? And what a dawn it was. I’d expected on the east coast to see the sun rise over the sea, but sadly, this far north in December the sun rises in the south and sets in the south. So as the warm sun chased the haze we were treated to the sandstone shadows of the cliffs retreating into melted caramel sunshine and the best winter illuminations I’d seen. And I’ve been to Blackpool.

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IMG_0736The inescapable flask of tea consumed we headed back up the steps and away to see our children. Our adventure was over in a few short hours. It will live in our memory, an our family’s little fokelore, forever.

It was this Christmas I discovered that the phrase “Jumping for Joy” has meaning beyond metaphor. I wonder how many of us, as adults, have jumped for joy. Building a new family life has been tough at times. But so, so worth it. Moments like these are priceless. So, I beg you, this New Year. You don’t need to be naked, or freezing, or in a far-off land. Do it. Jump for joy.

(Borderline NSFW warning. It’s just bums.)

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The first of many.

I’ve learned lots today. For example:

If you’re pedalling into a headwind, and suddenly there’s a tailwind, it’s unlikely that the wind has changed. It probably means you’ve taken a wrong turn and are heading back the way you came.

Navigation has not been my strong suit today, and as a result I’m not too far from St Malo. My brain has been so busy taking it all in that retaining directions for even a pedal revolution has proved impossible. But today, my first day has been a day of firsts.

First French conversation with a delightful woman outside the boulangerie. She wanted to talk about the Queen, and about her son, who travelled the world in a VW camper van. She also said “Chapeau” to me, the racing cyclist parlance for “Good effort” or literally, “Hat” for “I tip my hat to you.”

First (and second) of many espressos in the PMU. It’s effectively a betting shop with a cafe. They’re ubiquitous, and put the opening hours of every other French establishment to shame. Tomorrow’s Sunday, so I’m looking forward to Rennes being shut when I get there.

I spotted some ruins in Hede, but despite the urge to sleep in an ancient monument, I left it, on the account of it also hosting a basketball court. If young people hang out there of an evening I don’t want to interfere. As it happens I’m in the corner of a wood, next to a quiet road. A gale is blowing up, but I’m cozily hoping it passes before dawn. The newness is tiring, but the excitement I feel in small things, like a buzzard sitting unflinchingly on a post as I pass, is a privilege I hope to retain.

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Ferried away.

What a day. I woke this morning to a favourite sound: the happy murmurings of my children. Knowing I wouldn’t hear their contended voices for a whole month was a tough realisation. They will miss their daddy, and however wet, cold or aching I become, this trip will be hardest on them. And I’ll not forget the debt of gratitude I owe those three wonderful little people.

It was all a bit of a rush, really, but somehow they got to school kissed and hugged, and I gingerly made my way to the station atop 35 kilos of quivering steel and stuffed panniers. Christine and I shared a tearful platform goodbye, hearts touching through train windows, but it was all a bit much and she needed to be hugged by a passer by, the first of many acts of kindness that will surely characterise this trip.

I’m pretty sure I spotted the Red Arrows practicing in the distance as we sped through Lincolnshire. Time passed swiftly as the good luck messages arrived, and soon I was perched once more on Andromeda, my Super Galaxy, amongst the taxis outside King’s Cross for the transfer to Waterloo. And bless, her, she’s not the most nimble of beasts. In tight London traffic we wobbled and weaved, but my acceleration at the lights must’ve matched the ferry on which I sit as I write this.

I’ve bumped into two touring cyclist couples on the ferry, but neither is venturing south of Brittany, and one has only empty panniers to fill with wine for their return tomorrow! The seas are gentle and all is well.

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