Can Newcastle be a cycle-friendly city for kids?

Newcastle: A city for kids? Credit: Newcycling
Newcastle: A City for Kids? Credit: Newcycling
Newcastle: A City for Kids? Credit: Newcycling

Can Newcastle be a cycle-friendly city for kids?

Newcycling are determined to harness 2018’s local elections to supercharge their cycling revolution.The group have been working tirelessly, calling for the council to build a #City4Kids. Cycling UK's Infrastructure Campaigner, Tom Guha, explores the implications and the group’s chances of success.

Newcastle is one of four cities – outside of London – where all council seats are up for election. Newcycling is the local Cycling UK affiliated campaign group. Formed in 2010, they are frustrated with the pace of change in Newcastle and are determined to harness the local elections to supercharge their cycling revolution.Their pre-election campaign is called #City4Kids

“We have been taking a critical look at the word cyclist," says Chair, Katja Lejendekker. “Sometimes it is the right word to use but sometimes it risks drawing out the 'bloody cyclist' brigade, which we really want to avoid. For us, it is about making the city a safer and generally more pleasant place to be. It is not really about cycling.”

The approach taken by Katja echoes that taken by Push Bikes in Birmingham. Both groups point out that the benefits of increasing cycle use go far beyond just cyclists. 

Where are the children?

By the council’s own admission, the city has a problem with attracting and keeping families in the city centre. “It’s no wonder!” exclaims Katja. “The city is entirely geared towards cars. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your child’s safety.”

There are other reasons too. Evidence from the Department for Transport (DfT) suggests that only 16% of trips in Newcastle are commuting trips – and yet the council’s plans seem to disproportionately cater for these journeys. There are many other trips that need to be accounted for, such as the school run, shopping trips and family days out. All of these are often taken by families – often with kids. 

“We are in this ludicrous position at the moment, I believe, where parents are socially shunned for cycling to school with their kids. People look at these parents and think they are crazy for endangering their child’s life in this way. That cannot be right,” says Katja.


However, a look at the group’s #City4Kids manifesto and, although cycling is not mentioned, it is clear that the aims of the group are to address some historic gripes.

One of Katja’s bugbears is the council’s record at consulting. They set up a transport forum two years ago but, Katja tells me, "engagement with it tends to ebb and flow". 

The City4Kids manifesto makes four key asks of the council for candidates to get behind. First, to form a city4kids design & implementation group, to ensure rigour in process. Second, to appoint an urban design expert to instruct and oversee implementation. Third, to actively work with civic society groups. And finally, which the first three should all help ensure, to make sure council engineers and planners deliver “child-friendly” designs. 

Will it happen?

“Cycle-friendly councillors are still a minority" says Katja. "Many are quite guarded and afraid to put their neck on the line. It is not a given that they will begin to dance just because we change our tune”.

But there are reasons to be optimistic. In the first phase of the Space for Cycling campaign, Newcycling were the first group to get support from almost all their councillors. Now, as all council seats are contested, the group have a unique opportunity to get buy-in from councillors from across the piece. There is also increased demand for the kind of child (and cycle)-friendly planning that Newcycling are calling for in the city. 

Over the last year, local groups have been forming in different areas of Newcastle, such as Space for Gosforth and Space for Heaton. Not only does this increase the local activist capacity but it makes it very difficult for candidates to ignore what the groups are calling for when the calls are coming from voters in their own ward. 

The Newcastle Bike Life Report demonstrates that 74% of residents support building more dedicated cycleways, even when it could mean less space for other road traffic. With the public on their side and with a fresh approach, there is no reason to doubt Newcycling’s capability to make their city a truly safe, healthy and cycle-friendly city for kids. 

If you want to get involved in local election campaigning, why not join one of the many events taking place this weekend, where groups will be asking council candidates to support a set of local-specific asks. 

Rides are taking place in: 

  • Crewe
  • Liverpool
  • Sheffield
  • Thirsk
  • Warwick

And Pedal on Parliament are hosting three rides in Scotland in: 

  • Aberdeen
  • Edinburgh
  • Inverness
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