Cycle Campaigning in the Coronavirus Era

Random guy on a bike wearing a mask

Just over a year ago the Bike West Midlands Network Steering Group representing cycle campaign groups across the Region met and produced this report  for this website. The report covers the positive developments in transport policy and cycling infrastructure locally since 2013 and asks what our "level of ambition" should be to build for the future of cycling and active travel. We noted the positive collaboration at national levels between cycling organisations, Living Streets, 20 is Plenty, Friends of the Earth and Mums for Lungs. Developments in London around Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have caught on and spread to Greater Manchester with the Beelines Networks and a concern for Safer Schools and legal air quality means that cycle campaigning must be now part of a much wider movement at Ward, City and Regional levels. Our campaigning hashtag on Twitter has moved from #Space4Cycling to #walkcycleplay or #walkcycleplayvote !

Our agenda for 2020 included preparing for a mayoral election in May, our presentation on #walkcycleplay to the excellent Birmingham Community Cycling Clubs (supported by Cycling UK, The Active Well Being Society and Big Birmingham Bikes), the introduction of a Clean Air Zone in central Birmingham, consultations on an ambitious new Birmingham Transport Plan, the publication of a West Midlands Bike Life Report by Sustrans showing a pleasing level of public support for investment in cycling infrastructure. Meanwhile WMCA and member authorities have produced and consulted on a series of Local Walking and Cycling Investment Plans which just need funding! Adam Tranter became Coventry's Cycling Mayor bringing new ideas, contacts and very professional media expertise to the task.

Then to some extent coronavirus lock-down stopped us in our tracks. The forthcoming mayoral election was postponed for 12 months, our usual diet of consultative meetings become virtual if at all as local authority staff worked from home or were diverted into necessary responses to the health crisis. In the longer term an economic depression is seen as inevitable and it is not yet clear how far investment in infrastructure to support active travel will be part of any post-Corona Green New Deal.

So what is to be done?

Well all is not lost. The postponement of the mayoral election will give the incumbent Andy Street time to deliver a bit more on his promises to cycling; three years was a short term of office anyway. We local campaigners were ill prepared for a 2020 election unlike in 2017. The national organisations Cycling UK, Sustrans, Living Streets, London Cycling Campaign (possibly joined by British Cycling) had no equivalent or update to the now unsupported Space4Cycling campaign with six simple "asks" to be made of mayoral or councillor candidates. We hadn't time or the energy to organise another Big Bike Picnic hustings and weren't getting the training, branded material etc from Cycling UK that had been so useful in 2016-7. They have concentrated on national lobbying and taken some time to consult on updating their legacy Right to Ride Network and we await developments.

Meanwhile we are very excited about London Cycling Campaign's excellent and ambitious report Climate Safe Streets  recently launched and supported by a good webinar. Led consistently for some years by Ashok Sinha, this charity has led the way with Love London Go Dutch and the original Space4Cycling campaign which went national with Cycling UK support. Now Climate Safe Streets is a well researched programme that absolutely meets the requirements of our time. I commend it to you whole heartedly. We know that London is much better funded and has more regional autonomy than the West Midlands, but the scope, urgency and detailed programming of this report exhibits the Level of Ambition to which we must aspire. Similarly the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has taken off with an approach known as Beelines.

Locally, Push Bikes is now collaborating with the Birmingham Living Streets Group and seeking wider alliances with advocates wanting their own Low Traffic Neighbourhood.  Cycling Works for Birmingham (a group of local employers campaigning for better safer commuting routes for their staff) is poised to build on the current campaigns to help key workers cycle in as public transport is limited by social distancing requirements. Push Bikes has also sent in well argued responses to all the current consultations on plans for Digbeth, the city centre and the Walking and Cycling map put out by Transport for West Midlands. In the background we are working up a proposal for a Charitable Incorporated Organisation to underpin a wider range of educational, advocacy and consultative work for the future modelled in part on WalkRideGM.

Connectivity has to some extent been improved by Zoom (surely the app of the moment) and other vehicles for virtual meetings. Brian Deegan cycle planning guru has organised virtual Ideas and Beers (optional most of us were on tea) Zoom seminars on Tuesday evenings. One key focus is to persuade Local Authorities to take advantage of the decline in motor traffic to at least on a temporary basis allocated road and pavement space to social distancing pedestrians and cyclists. Nearly everyone is experiencing and appreciating the cleaner air and quieter streets. Push Bikes committee has moved to Zoom committee meetings which seem be to working well and enable us to carry on and make good use of the lock-down interregnum.

Please get in touch if you are interested in what Push Bikes and BWM Network are doing - we need more ideas from a much wider range of citizens whether you cycle, walk, use a mobility scooter, take children to school or just want to breathe cleaner air and see road space allocated more equitably to active travel, playing out and of course public transport. DM me at @BWMNetwork on Twitter.