It was heartening to see such a good turnout at Roger Geffen's talk at Leeds University last week (13th March). Roger is the Cycle Touring Club's 'Campaigns and Policy Director' and obviously knows his stuff. Only a couple of years ago, the idea of Dutch-style cycleways would have been unthinkable. Roger talked about the recent surge in interest in cycling, sparked off The Times' ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign, and success at the Olympics and Tour de France. Now, with cycling entering the political mainstream, there has never been a better time to get involved and capitalise on interest from our elected representatives and growing public support.
What came across in the ensuing discussion was just how bad cycle facilities are in Leeds compared to other UK cities, and how angry local cyclists are about this. Roger commented that after touring many cities and talking to cycling campaigners, “I’ve never heard such an unremitting response of negativity!” The cause seems to be a long-standing lack of ambition, understanding and commitment from Leeds City Council. We have some white paint daubed around our roads, and we have some almost useful core cycle routes (if you don't want to get anywhere fast), but no sign of the Council’s supposed commitment to cycling.
Many campaigners felt despondent about the council’s lack of commitment and there was even a suggestion that Leeds should not receive any more money for cycling projects, on the basis most of the money spent so far in Leeds has been wasted on rubbish facilities. This is not good news for a city about to put in a bid for 10 million of the Cycle City Ambition funding. The grants are only likely to be allocated to bids demonstrating real ambition (i.e. not just another disjointed cycle lane full of broken glass that disappears just where you need it), *and* where local cyclists are on-side.
Roger encouraged local campaigners to counter the council’s lack of ambition by coming up with our own vision for what cycle-topia could look like in Leeds, turning the negative into a positive. Behaving as victims is unproductive and complaining all the time doesn’t help the Council to change – why not come up with what we want and ask the council to explain why it isn’t possible? We must show the ambition they lack.
The meeting was also attended by the council’s ‘cycling champion’, Councillor Roger Harrington. This is a promising start, and Roger intends feeding back to the council’s executive group. He also agreed to meet with a delegation of local campaigners to talk through some of the current difficulties, to work on a way forward, and get other councillors involved.
All in all a great evening with an inspiring speaker. However low we feel at the moment, we must stay positive about what could be achieved, renew our energies, and take the fight to those who represent us.