A Cycling Campaign is Born

A mere German person, simply used to cycling as a means of getting-out-and-about and good cycling provision, I was in severe shock when I first saw Newcastle’s crazy cycle network. If it was a spider’s web, it would not hold together. But didn’t somebody say riding a bicycle is easy?

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Photo: Typical bicycle in Germany. Old. Functional.

As an individual I tried talking to the Top.

Communicating with the council chief executive and others such as council leader and the MEP, the councillors’ cycling champion, resulted in nothing better than “we are stuck with what we’ve got” or… [silence]. Sorry, folks, I thought, but that isn’t good enough for a council that openly proclaims in its plans and policies: it wants people to cycle, wants to be a vibrant and inclusive place.

As an individual I tried the bottom-up approach.

I invited myself along to the so-called council cycle forum. Boy, they kept its existence well hidden. And, boy, boy, what a state it was in. I asked "Hand on heart, what is it that holds up cycle provision in Newcastle?" and said to the chair later on "if you want an outcry, you can have one" – and set up the 'Safe Cycling in Newcastle' petition which attracted a great deal of interest: over 800 signatures and loads of media mentions.

This 'Safe Cycling Petition 2010' was handed over to Full Council, accepted by the senior councillor responsible for transport, and then… [nothing]

Here’s where the story of the birth of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign starts.

During the petition I was lucky enough that my quick-thinking connected friend Cath introduced me to Claire, a bike user group coordinatress and ‘into everyday cycling’. We all met at Newcastle’s lovely Café de Vie and chatted, and chatted. And chatted. Girls, you know. About cycling. About the injustice of it all. Why the authorities don’t do anything, this eerie silence, black holes and the stonewalls. It took Claire a few months to convince me that a campaign (what is a campaign I was asking myself?) was needed to make Newcastle cycle-friendly.

Photo: Newcastle Cycling Campaign folks http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsdekker/5799415792/

Once it filtered through my trusting and innocent mind that a simple petition with 800 signatories will NOT do the trick alone, we set about bringing to life the - what should we call it? - Newcastle Cycling Campaign. Like Frankenstein mums, we worked on the creation of Claire’s brainchild, gave it a

  • constitution [pdf]
  • website http://newcycling.org
  • set up a bank account (with the Co-operative)
  • decided on type of membership, organising an AGM
  • Annual Report 2010/11 [pdf]
  • setting our long-term aims and agreeing priorities
  • and putting up a vision

We were

  • liaising with media
  • and always on the look-out, finding like-minded groups
  • 'pestering' politicians and decision-makers

And have never looked back.

Here we are, a year later, a year wiser. With some success to show for:

  • Autumn 2010, we surveyed our councillors about their travelling behaviour, and reported our findings back to them in the Newcastle Cllr Travel Survey 2010
  • We have been in the press a fair few times, and all positive!
  • Through the Cycle Manifesto we managed to get political support
  • During national BikeWeek, we organised a bike ride for our politicians, and called it 4C = City Chief Cycle Challenge
  • We responded to various council consultations
  • We got ourselves a patron
  • We decided to heavily lobby the Bikes on Metro and with our partner online-bikes we ran competition and we lobbied transport operators with the results.
  • We have regular member meetings, a regular newsletter and press releases
  • Our membership is growing, nearly two hundred now and a diverse group of individuals, groups and organisations!

I, for myself, now know what a campaign is, thanks to Claire. And I now understand Claire’s urgency to form a campaign.

  • It’s the combining and coordinating effect of a campaign that galvanises individuals into action
  • provides clarity and a platform for solidarity
  • As a pressure group it makes other people turn their heads, makes a statement, rattles cages, with the ability to shake up rusty systems.
  • being an independent local voice were others can't
  • And it’s a save haven for the cycling community, often overlooked and sidelined, to share their experiences.

No single person could have achieved this by individual action. And the crystallising message is clear: we want space for cycling, safe cycleways, good quality cycle infrastructure, a cycle network. We are a Cycleway Movement campaign.

That’s why we’ve formed the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. Because concerted effort speaks louder.