Help Shape the Cycling Embassy's Future


Our next gathering will be in Newcastle on the 1st and 2nd June, and we're inviting all Embassy members who can to come and help us shape the Embassy's future. This won’t be a traditional AGM - we'll get the administrative stuff out of the way as quickly as possible - but a weekend of both cycling and plotting, with a chance for a bit of a bike-based pub crawl thrown in. Whether you've been at the heart of the Embassy since its inception, or if you've just signed up and have been looking to get more involved, now is your chance. Please join us and help us set our course for the future.

Since the Cycling Embassy was founded a little over two years ago, the landscape of cycle campaigning (if not the actual streetscape most of us have to ride on) has changed unimaginably. In January 2011, the mood of the meeting at Look Mum No Hands was one of frustration - not just with the conditions on the roads, but at the way traditional cycle campaigning was going about changing things.

Most of us there knew that cycling could be different, and that the sort of cycling conditions we had read about or experienced on the continent were not an unattainable dream but could easily be replicated in the UK. We were sick of being told that asking for dedicated, separate cycle tracks, special treatment for bikes at junctions, radical traffic calming on residential streets and all the other measures that make cycling in the Netherlands a uniquely civilised experience was impractical, utopian, unhelpful and worst of all actually dangerous - and not just by our politicians and highway officials, but by our own allies, people who, like us, just wanted to see more people on bikes, more often.

In the two years that followed, a revolution of sorts has taken place. 'Go Dutch' was adopted by an overwhelming majority of London Cycle Campaign members as their campaign priority - and in the Mayor's announcement this month, had the sort of success that I don't think any of us would have dared to dream about two years ago. And it's not just London: all around the country, local cycle campaigns are springing up, or changing the language of their campaigns, raising their ambitions and making an unambiguous case for Dutch-style cycling facilities.

The CTC has begun to moderate its stance on advocating separate facilities. We've had the Dutch Embassy sponsored 'Go Dutch' regional conferences, and at the recent parliamentary inquiry on getting Britain cycling, the evidence from the expert witnesses was unanimous: if you want to see mass cycling, if you want to see kids cycling, if you want to see women cycling, and disabled people, and older people, everyone, you need to create clear safe spaces for them to do it in, not just train them to take the lane.

At the same time, recent research has confirmed that separate cycle tracks don't just feel safer than being on the road, they are safer, while the recent publication of “City Cycling” gathers in one place all the evidence there is about what makes for the sort of civilised mass cycling the Dutch and Danes enjoy.

This leaves the Embassy at a crossroads. In many ways, our original purpose no longer seems quite so relevant. But in other ways, we are needed more than ever. In many circles (though by no means all) we no longer need to make the case for the sort of Dutch-style facilities that we'd like to see. On the other hand, even in London, many obstacles stand between us and a true cycling revolution. There is still a pitiful lack of ambition around cycling in this country. The UK Government talks the language of the 'war on the motorist' and refuses even to set targets for modal share, while the Scottish government is busy rowing back on its modest target, which it now claims is merely a 'vision'. There is also a lot of ignorance about what first class cycling facilities can really look like, meaning that even grand schemes are fatally compromised from the outset. Away from London, activists often lack the tools and the knowledge to mount effective local campaigns. There are still too many myths about, too many well-entrenched fears that we will lose our rights and gain nothing but a few miles of 'crap cycle paths' if we dare to ask to Go Dutch.

Since the last AGM, a small core of Embassy members have been working hard to respond to consultations, submit evidence to inquiries, develop our own expertise, answer individual enquiries, and shape the debate through our own blog and more widely. We have begun to build up resources that inform our own campaigns and those of others. We have been closely involved in individual local campaigns where we live and provided support and encouragement to others. However, we know this isn’t enough. We need ways to get more people involved more widely, to create a useful resource to campaigners, and to start to influence policy locally, regionally and nationally.

This year, at our Newcastle gathering, we're opening the embassy out to you, the members, to ask you what we should be doing next. We need your support, your enthusiasm and your help to take the Embassy to the next level.