Met some good folk last night. Reacquainted with more good folk. Sometimes its nice to be reassured that most folk are, basically, decent. Also reacquainted myself with some who I try not to mix with very often. But hey-ho. Not many of those.
I'm talking about Cambridgeshire Cycling Summit, organised to bring together everyone with an opinion and knowledge on cycling in the county to discuss 'legacy' of the Tour de France coming here a year from now.
Legacy, you ask? From a one-day visit of a cycle race, admittedly the biggest cycle race in the world but nonetheless a race that uses roads we've already got? Yes, legacy. We're going to have one. In austere times inspirational events can't just be that - they have to have legacy. Fair enough then.
You can see why the City and County councils here are so keen to reinforce this idea of legacy. While in theory Le Tour isn't going to cost Cambridge money, its clearly a hell of an upheaval for the city. We don't know where, precisely, it'll start in Cambridge but we can pretty much guess there'll be some picturesque aerial shots of colleges, the Backs, you'd think maybe the Gogs, and during this time major arteries into Cambridge will be closed and the town will be rammed full of 400,000 or more visitors. Traffic chaos all due to some bloody cyclists who think they own the road, I can see the headlines in the Cambridge News now.
So this event then. Some talks from folk associated with the County Council to start with, who strangely thought that telling us they'd spent £16million in 5 years would demonstrate they care - in light of the £1.5billion announced for A14 I'm unconvinced (looking round lots of others were blinking in disbelief). Presentation from a teacher at Swavesey college talking about a rather good scheme to turn some waste ground into somewhere for kids to have fun on and learn to ride well, on some pretty damned solid mountain bikes the school has raised funding for... You know the kind of stuff. Some kind words, some cracking enthusiasm; a prelude.
Then the meat and drink of it - workshops for cyclists to bash out what they want as 'legacy'. Cycle campaigners, activists, enthusiasts and busybodies all basically want the same thing - safe roads to ride on, to get more folk out on bikes. The sporty folks think that more sporty things will encourage more people out on bikes - I agree, but thinking back to last years Tour that effect didn't really work as well as you'd hope. Lots of folk went and bought shiny new road bikes (bike shop folk told me blokes of a certain age were their main market) but they were mostly gone from the road by Spring. Other folk were saying lets have as a legacy a commitment to high quality infrastructure - my thought is that it could be branded 'Le Tour' quality with a minimum allowed standard for width, continuity, actually linking villages up to towns out in the County (point especially well made by Ely Cycling Campaign) etc. Getting kids safe routes to school, enthused others. Lets close roads to motorised traffic sometimes, a particular favourite from Jim Chisolm of Cambridge Cycle Campaign.
Lots of ideas all centred around the same theme - getting folk cycling is good, motorised traffic being too close, fast, unforgiving and just plain unpleasant is the main problem. I've got a lot of sympathy for the folk there really into racing and sport cycling - I agree that regular sporting events on the roads of this county would be a fantastic legacy, and its an achievable goal, but a lot of other folk there don't give a damn for the sporting aspect. Shame.
Will it happen? Probably not. I think what we'll get is the same local politicians who oppose good cycling infrastructure based on the lie that Cambridge hasn't got the space and that its making the same futuristic errors we saw in the '50s and '60s (I'm talking about you Colin Rosenstiel - a name cycle campaigners could use as a synonym for 'defeatist' were it easier to spell) continuing to give voice to those who will always put one extra parking space over the welfare of a hundred cyclists. I fear council officers (who clearly have fine intentions) will end up pointing at yet more bad facilities telling us that its the most realistic result we can get. Folk like him are ten years behind the public debate on cycling - we've had the infrastructure discussion, we all now agree that safe routes to ride on are key. Catch up, Councillor - everyone, but everyone who has an interest in growing cycling in the UK wants safe routes to ride on now and that means good width, good surfaces, continuity and priority over side roads. Get with it or, with respect, get out. We're no further to answering the fundamental question - if here, now, in Cambridge we can't get the best facilities then where and well will we do so?
Closing remarks were from our Cabridge MP, Julian Huppert, who talks a fantastic game on cycling while just occasionally contradicting himself. He co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, which gave us a finding in their report that A-roads need safe cycle routes along and across them, yet he's still undecided on whether this applies to the most contentious route into his constituency, the A14. Come on Dr. Huppert - and fight our corner for cycle access on the A14 before this issue discredits your stance on cycling. How can you argue that nationally while holding back locally? Why would anyone outside of Cambridge listen if you don't make the case here?
But all that said, this event takes us in a new direction - the intent they had was to engage. To hear us. Over the next few months we'll find out if they listened - I hope they did and I hope to see a step change in delivery on cycling projects in the county. Its possible. Its do-able. Maybe this was the start? Well, we can dream.
A worthwhile event? Yeah, I think so. I hope so.