Cycle Advocacy Network – this is not a drill

Quite a lot has happened in the short time since we launched Cycling UK’s Cycle Advocacy Network (CAN). Campaigns officer Stephen Dominy reflects on a busy fortnight

It’s only been a couple of weeks since we went public with our CAN opener but the lid is well and truly lifted. At the time of writing I’ve had 34 phone conversations, recruited 26 new local representatives and six regional coordinators. That’s in addition to the established campaigners we have brought over from the previous Right to Ride network.

We’re keen to sustain this initial level of interest, so please keep thinking – might the Cycle Advocacy Network (CAN) be for you, or for a friend, or something you can flag with a local cycling or community group?

can opener

This is not a drill: there’s something new in the toolkit

We said at the get-go that we would soon be adding to our toolkit for local campaigning, and this week we have added the first new tool: a guide to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests; what they are, why you might make one and how to do it.

Maybe you want to know how many collisions have happened at a local blackspot, whether a risk assessment was carried out for new roundabout, when the council last inspected a road surface in poor repair, or how many drivers your local police force has charged for careless driving? Public bodies hold all sorts of data, and getting hold of it can help build a compelling case for change.

A FOI request was used to great effect earlier this year when Matt Turner of Pedals Nottingham asked the Department for Transport (DfT) in England to release the details of the initial Emergency Active Travel Fund bids made by English local authorities in response to the coronavirus crisis.

This was the key to local campaigners around England understanding more about what their authorities were planning, why perhaps they hadn’t received the original amount they bid for, and to try and positively influence their follow-up bids.

a bunch of keys

This is just one of a series of guides we’ll be adding in the coming weeks and months – straightforward primers that can bring a new angle or approach to how you can speak up for cycling. These tools are all in the public domain, linked from the CAN homepage, available for you to use whether or not you are a local representative for Cycling UK.

This is not a drill: local reps are doing it for themselves

I started off by talking about numbers of new local representatives. However, what is most gratifying is to hear about the broad range of experience and activities of our local reps. Here are a few examples.

The Cycling UK Stevenage group recently started a campaigning subgroup. Several members have promptly signed up as local reps, two of whom are couple Jim and Jill Borcherds. This week, the group took its council to task for closing an established bike lane for six weeks while developing the town centre bus interchange.

Not a bad thing in itself, but with no diversion in place, cyclists were faced with a blockage and nowhere to go. Not until this Tuesday anyway, when signs were hastily put up for a diversion route the day before Jill was due to ask a question at the council meeting. Surely no coincidence.

When I spoke with him, Jim said: “Councils need critical friends. Praise the things they do well, then highlight what they need to do better.” The group has shared its council meeting experience on the new CAN forum as a learning point for other campaigners.

Councils need critical friends. Praise the things they do well, then highlight what they need to do better

Jim Borcherds, Stevenage

Sonia Kundu is chair of the Somerset Rail to Trail project, who are looking to open up as much of the disused Somerset and Dorset railway as possible to bikes, non-motorised transport and other active travellers. The current DfT rules around liability for bridges and other structures on disused railways are a huge barrier to success.

Sonia says: “The Cycle Advocacy Network will be a great tool to help me build relationships with similarly minded people around the UK.

“The Somerset Rail to Trail project is pressing for a specific protocol amendment in Westminster, and joining with others is our best bet for ensuring the Department for Transport makes the commitments we so desperately need to install the active travel routes that both government and people want.”

Les Parker started Global Sleaford as an informal group in Lincolnshire, promoting understanding of, and action on, the climate crisis. Supported by the local authority and Christian Aid, it has worked with schools, faith groups and in the wider town.

Now linked to CAN, Les sees cycling as a huge opportunity for people to reduce the carbon footprint of their local travel, and is wanting to influence his council to open up safer routes in the area.

He says: “The climate emergency is not a drill – it’s happening now! Councils are responding to the coronavirus crisis because it’s immediately pressing on our communities, but the ramifications of a warming planet are even greater. The bicycle itself is a vital tool to deliver some of the transformative transport changes needed.”

The bicycle itself is a vital tool to deliver some of the transformative transport changes needed

Les Parker, Global Sleaford

Although these few stories have all been from England, don’t worry, we’ve got stories coming from Wales and Scotland too, and we’re getting started in Northern Ireland.

Wherever you are, the Cycle Advocacy Network is up and starting to bite. This is not a drill – we mean business. You CAN join in.