Welcome to the Cycle Advocacy Network, we’re angling for change

This week Cycling UK is launching the Cycle Advocacy Network. We want to resource and support people around the UK who are speaking up for change, helping to make things safer for cyclists in their area. Campaigns officer Stephen Dominy has been working on the project and explains the vision behind the network

“I’m not actually much of a cycle campaigner. I know very little about it, and I hardly have any spare time.”

That was me, eight months ago. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since joining Cycling UK’s campaigns team. I am motivated by the idea that speaking up for cycling needs to be something that everyday people can do effectively.

A lot of us who love riding our bikes would also love to make our local areas better and safer places to ride our bikes in, so that many others would feel able to get on their bikes, too. But how many of us would claim the title of ‘cycle campaigner’?

Cycling UK has supported our members to speak up for better cycling provision for many years, principally through Right to Ride. Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, has written about the achievements and legacy of Right to Ride, and happily many who participated as Right-to-Riders are still campaigning now.

It was a set-up well suited to the terrain of local cycling campaigning, but in recent years the organisation has realised that the terrain is changing. As many of us know, when you’re cycling over different terrain you have to tweak your bike’s set-up accordingly in order to get the best result.

Hence, fanfare please: the Cycle Advocacy Network. A sturdy new configuration that embraces the expertise, wisdom and know-how of seasoned cycling campaigners along with the inexperienced willingness of Johnny-come-latelies like me. And everyone in-between.

People who share Cycling UK’s vision of getting millions more people cycling. People who realise this will only happen if this school here gets safer routes, that road there gets a separated cycle lane, this old railway line is opened for cyclists, that parade of shops gets safe cycle parking.

I used to work in the field of international development where there is a well-worn adage: ‘Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime’. Legendary anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu once extended this with: “Teach them to ride a bike, and they will soon realise that fishing is stupid and boring.”

Teach them to ride a bike, and they will soon realise that fishing is stupid and boring

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Wise words, we might think. But why teach them if there’s nowhere safe to ride? So, the Cycle Advocacy Network builds on this: ‘Help them to raise their voice, link them up with others, and soon there’ll be a safe and accessible cycle route to every fish shop.’

Fish and chip shop with bicycle

The message is hopeful and inclusive. Melanie Carroll is a Cycling UK member, trustee and cycle campaigner in Lincoln. She says: “It’s great that we are progressing with the Cycle Advocacy Network. I like that the initials, CAN, are so positive. It’s a statement of intent: cycling is for everyone, the whole country: We CAN cycle, UK.

“We need cycle lanes in place that are for everyone; parents with kids, the sixty-five-plussers, handcyclists, people with cargo bikes or pulling trailers. That’s the focus of my own cycle activism – that everyday people can make cycling their everyday choice.”

It’s a statement of intent: cycling is for everyone, the whole country: We CAN cycle, UK

Melanie Carroll, trustee and cycle campaigner

Some of us can write to local councillors. Some of us can develop relationships with local schools and parents. Some of us can respond to consultations. Some can organise eye-opening events. Some of us can hand out fliers. We can each use our own skills, interests and local links, and we can ask each other for support, advice and ideas.

John Thompson is an experienced campaigner in Lowestoft. He was part of Right-to-Ride and is joining the Cycle Advocacy Network as a regional coordinator, offering light touch support and oversight to CAN members in East Anglia.

Among other things, he regularly writes to his local newspapers and frequently has letters printed making the case for cycling, supporting bike-friendly initiatives and rebutting negative coverage. In doing so, he has a positive influence on the wider conversation, preparing the ground for vital movement-building work by other campaigners.

John stresses the importance of engagement: “As Cycle Advocacy Network members, we need feedback from our communities and cyclists of all ilks. We need to know about the wrongs you believe need putting right, whether you’re a ride to work/shops cyclist, a club or racing cyclist or just want your children to be able to cycle to school.”

CAN is part of a wider movement. Many towns and cities now have a Cycle Campaign Group of some sort or other, but those groups are not often connected with others around the country. So if you are already part of one, tell them about CAN.

Or perhaps your local Cycling UK ride group wants to get more involved in local campaigning. One or more of you can join, strengthen the links in the nationwide chain. The resources are open to everyone.

There has been a real momentum building in cycle campaigning since the Covid-19 lockdown started waking up the wider world to the many benefits of pedal power. But, as the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op coined, the revolution will not be motorised. Each turn of the wheel leaves it in the same position… albeit slightly further forward. Now is the time to pedal harder, not to coast.

The revolution will not be motorised

Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op

In England, the Department for Transport has published guidelines for cycle infrastructure, and the Prime Minister is talking about a new golden age for cycling. Each of our national governments is making some money available for active travel, although not nearly enough.

It’s up to us to make sure it is spent effectively at a local level and raise our voice to call for more. It’s up to us to talk in our communities and make the case for well-thought-through active travel solutions that will make our neighbours smile.

Who among our friends and family doesn’t want less congestion, cleaner air, better physical and mental health? Who doesn’t want to see revitalised town and village centres? Which of us doesn’t want to hear the birds sing? Are we not knocking at an open door?

You’re not a campaigner. You’ve got no spare time. You wouldn’t know where to start. But you do want to make your street safer for cycling. On your own, you can’t. With us, you CAN. Welcome to the Cycle Advocacy Network.