How I found myself as a cycle campaigner – and how you might, too
How does it work that I have ended up getting into the nitty-gritty of the goings on of the cycle-safety world? I am just a person who rides their bike, who does what anyone else does who has a bike and rides it does, yet I have been to TFL HQ in Canary Wharf (all sweaty and cycle-geared, confronted by important people in suits) and to Southwark Council as someone who they might even listened to as they plan their next infrastructure steps. It’s all a bit weird that anyone would listen to me about such things (layperson as I am), but nevertheless, they sometimes do (!). Looking back, it is kinda clear to me how a lot of this came about, and what played a role in this interesting journey:
My cycling and walking experiences: ever wondered why a cycle lane randomly ends somewhere or why traffic cuts at right-angles through a residential street near you? Or how about why it takes you 2 or 3 light phases to cross an A road, or why there isn’t a zebra crossing where you need it? Ever been close-passed by a driver or even beeped at whilst out there? Ever wondered why you have asthma? The are reasons for this; however it is possible to change the conditions which we find ourselves in. Cycling on London’s streets really brought into relief how our roads are motor-dominated, and that this has to change. I started looking for a group like Southwark Cyclists because I wanted to work with people who feel the same; it does’t have to be this way!
Social media: there are many platforms out there, I have used Twitter a lot over the past year and a half to keep abreast of current goings on. I soon found out that there are many out there who are enthusiastic about making our streets safer and cleaner for all, it is not such a lonely business, or even ‘niche’, anymore; and this is a good thing – but Twitter is all online. Joining, and joining in with, my local walking and cycling groups makes me a part of a community that is rooted in Southwark; where I live.
Cycling for all: I am also a cycle instructor, I take many of the less confident cyclists out there onto the busy London roads; I also have a sister, niece, nephew and parents who’d I’d love to go cycling with. From both of these perspectives I see the most vulnerable of the vulnerable cyclists – how many people say that it is too dangerous to cycle on the road? Are they really wrong? The next step is this: why should cyclists be sharing space with motorists, why should people have to wear protective equipment suited to a building site just to go to the shops? Why can’t I (let alone my niece or nephew) cycle down the road without expecting to being abused, shouted at, and even driven at for my choice of transport? It isn’t right. Some of us experienced cyclists may have got used to these conditions, but imagine the changes that it would take to go cycling to the shops with a non-cycling loved one; that is the level of change that we need. Again, it needn’t be this way.
Follow your enthusiasm: Cycle campaigning has so many different aspects, so there is always something interesting and useful for new volunteers. Personally, I really like infrastructure stuff – it kindles my passion. I like the detail and I have a reasonable eye for it – but what do you like doing? There are so many ways to do something which is just what you love doing, but in the context of a wider movement. Some people focus on design, some run rides, but we also need people to write the newsletters, hand out flyers, and organise the campaigns we run. There is always a useful way for you to help.
We all started somewhere: Cycle campaigners are just people, and as volunteers we’re learning new skills all the time. None of us arrive as experts, and the small things are still important. So maybe there are things you spot out there and grumble about – ‘why isn’t there any cycle parking at my local supermarket?’, for example. Our ability to make big changes rests upon having a network of local volunteers that can call for small improvements in their own area. If you have enthusiasm then other people will know who to contact, will have contacts, and once more: you aren’t alone and we all learned it sometime.