Dear All,

With the exception of the Zoom meeting primarily held to sign off on the formal set-up of Bike Worcester to enable us to receive some funding, our last meeting was 5 months ago. As I’m sure you’re all aware there’s been plenty happening with regard to active travel in the UK since then, largely driven by central government, which is encouraging and frustrating in equal measure, as it has further highlighted the political resistance locally to enable positive change.

As such we thought it best to send an email to keep everyone in the loop as to what we’ve been up to behind during lockdown, and provide a steer as to how we can all assist in our aim of getting more people cycling in and around Worcester, and improving the city for everyone. We have some new members, with membership currently standing at 48 on this mailing list, whilst 187 like us on Facebook.

Be prepared…this is a lengthy email, so I’ve broken it down into the following sections:

  • Summary of Government and Worcestershire County Council (WCC) activity
  • Local political situation
  • Activity by Bike Worcester
  • Next steps / how you can help

Summary of Government and Worcestershire County Council (WCC) activity

In case you’ve missed it in the news, during the COVID lockdown the Government announced a package of emergency funding to support active travel. The aim was very near: to reallocate road space to create more space for walking and cycling which would then replace journeys made on public transport and create space for social distancing, the fear being that public transport would be a pose a high risk of infection, and post lockdown we end up with gridlocked roads as a result of more journeys made by car. Money was provisionally allocated to authorities based on the amount of journeys made by public transport, so Worcestershire was allocated a large pot compared to, for instance, Herefordshire.

The tranche 1 bid put forward by WCC was pretty poor with no reallocation of road space (i.e. coned off cycle lanes), instead focussing on strategic and aspirational active travel routes that have featured in transport plans for several years, and which cannot currently be funded. As such WCC only received 50% of the money, and were criticised by the Government for the lack of ambition. The intention is that this money should now have been spent, and the plans put forward in the bid should be complete, or at least underway, but we are not aware of any work starting.

The tranche 2 funding bid has just been submitted, and takes a similar tack to the previous approach by WCC. It will be interesting to see how much money is allocated.

Details of the bids can be found here:

  1. http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/info/20055/strategies_plans_and_bids/2248/emergency_active_travel_fund/2
  2. http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/news/article/2230/further_funding_bid_submitted_for_the_emergency_active_travel_fund

In addition to this proactive funding by the Government, there is an ongoing review and consultation  of the Highway Code with proposals aimed at improving safety for cycling. In addition the Government have issued a comprehensive document detailing design standards for cycling infrastructure, which will greatly improve new infrastructure and enable a framework to challenge poor design. Interestingly the document includes the point that ‘all designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads as a cyclist’.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/906344/cycle-infrastructure-design-ltn-1-20.pdf

Local political situation

WCC are responsible for the funding and maintenance of the city and county highways, which includes footpaths and cycleways. WCC has a a strong Conservative majority (40 of 57 seats), with Highways falling under the remit of Cllr Alan Amos, and Economy and Infrastructure the remit of Cllr Ken Pollock. It appears much of the steer re. active travel comes through these two councillors, both strong characters. Alan is open in his views that cycling is not a viable mode of transport for commuting and no space should be taken from motor vehicles and given to pedestrians / active travel, and is happy to publically use incorrect statistics to support this. Ken can be politely be described as a sceptic when it comes to climate change science, and is positioned firmly on the right of political views. Most other Conservative councillors stay quiet on the issue.

Over the course of the last couple of months it seems they have changed their rhetoric regarding active travel. Initially their commentary seemed to be critical, derisory and condescending, which has now changed tone to announcing how supportive WCC is of active travel, that the infrastructure is good and look at our amazing plans (which may take years to deliver).

It appears however that cracks are beginning to show. WCC is being openly criticised by the Parliamentary cycling group (which includes Redditch MP Rachel MacClean, and West Worcester MP Harriett Baldwin). Criticism is also been directed by other Conservative councillors from Redditch and Malvern, which may be a reason for the change in tone from Alan and Ken. We understand that Simon Geraghty, leader of the County Council, is concerned about the criticism.

Activity by Bike Worcester

So what have we been doing?

This probably best summarised as raising awareness of Bike Worcester, engaging with Councillors and MPs, and keeping active travel and cycling on the local political agenda. In short, making noise. These are items we can all help with, and it would be appreciated if all Bike Worcester members could assist, in whatever way best suits you.

  • Social media: We have a small team manning the Twitter account. With several tweets per day this appears to have been a successful method of raising awareness and networking. For those of us on Twitter, re-tweets and commenting on posts is an easy way to contribute to the cause, and tag @bikeworcester in any of your tweets.
  • Emails / letters: Another team has been active in writing to councillors and MPs, asking questions and raising awareness. This isn’t particularly coordinated, and again I’d urge everyone with a spare 5 minutes to drop a line to your representative city and county councillor, MP, or direct questions to Alan Amos, Ken Pollock or Simon Geraghty, again to raise awareness, provide scrutiny, and demand changes.
  • WCC Committee meetings: At the start of WCC meeting members of the public can make a short statement, and a few of us have recently done this. Going forward it would be great if we had representation at all relevant meetings. At present these are all done via Zoom, and you have register a couple of days before. Expectation seems to be there will be no public contribution, so this is an excellent way of engaging, and comments go on the record.
  • Media: We are now regularly contacted by the Worcester News and BBC Hereford and Worcester to provide comments on active travel issues. As a one off we were contacted by BBC Midlands Today, and the i newspaper. Pro cycling comments on Worcester News articles are now prevalent, as are letters to the local paper. It would be brilliant if we had a few people happy to provide a statement, talk to reporters or answer a question or two on the radio.
  • Articles / blog: We now have a fortnightly bike related article in the Worcester News. Lyndon is covering one each month under the Push Bike banner, and Bike Worcester covers the other. It’s a reasonable challenge to come up with 12 interesting topics, obviously more to generate the article, so any ideas, or anyone willing to have a go, it would be greatly appreciated. Anything up to 500 words, and you can add it to your CV. Beyond that, if anyone wants to write anything else about there experiences, these can go on the Bike Worcester blog.
  • Art Gallery bike rack: An example of WCC views on cycling. The City Council put forward a proposal to trial a bike rack opposite the Art Gallery, which has been blocked by WCC. Although this would only be a small step forward, it proves to be a useful test bed as to whether we can influence any change as a group.
  • Cycling UK: We have become an affiliated group within Cycling UK. This has been paid for by the funding we received (£80) primarily to make use of the insurance provided for any organised events we undertake. There is however an additional benefit that all Bike Worcester members can become a member of Cycling UK for a discounted rate (£26) which provides a number of benefits including 3rd party insurance when you are cycling. Details here: https://www.cyclinguk.org
  • Strava: The Bike Worcester group has 73 members, and as a group we cover about 5000 km a week. This by no means represents the only journeys being undertaken by bike in and around Worcester, but provides a huge amount of experience as to what life is like on the roads, and how things could be improved.
  • Harriett Baldwin MP: I recently had a meeting with Harriett to discuss the SHIFT scheme. She has a good understanding of problems facing cyclist, and the needs of those commuting by bike, and is a supportive voice to our cause locally.
  • Cycling numbers: Looking at the counters on the Diglis Bridge there was a big increase in cycling during lockdown, with the 4 highest monthly crossings in the last 10 years taking place in April – July 2020. Crossings on Sabrina bridge are down, but this is likely as a result of no student traffic.

Next steps / how you can help

As our membership grows, so we have more people to assist, but the challenge is how to direct the activity. We spoken before at meetings as to where we could have influence, and again it would be appreciated if anyone could step up to assist and take ownership of these threads, all with the overarching aim of getting more people choosing to travel by bike. We are happy for all members to represent Bike Worcester, and speak on behalf of the group. If you need support or additional resources with regard to any topic, please ask.

  • Day to day activities: As discussed in the previous section, anything you can do to assist in challenging our officials and raising awareness is appreciated. This is undoubtedly where many voices raising issues on a single topic are more likely to influence our decision makers. So please engage by contacting MP, city and county councillors, contributing at council meetings, on social media, comments in the paper, or by any other means you see fit. We are currently being let down by our Councillors, and it  is extremely frustrating to see progress in active travel provision in other cities and authorities while WCC does nothing.
  • Membership: Please spread the word about Bike Worcester with families, friends and colleagues. The more members we have, the more potential influence we have, and the more people we have bringing ideas and engaging with councillors and MPs. We now have a genuine benefit to membership wit the Cycling UK affiliation.
  • Funding: We currently have about £900 in the bank from 2 local companies, with an expected further donation in January of approx £1000 through the SHIFT scheme. Any other sources of funding would be welcome, and perhaps encouraging other employers to join the SHIFT scheme is a possibility. In addition we have money to spend, so ideas on a postcard.
  • Business: If you already commute by bike please talk to your employer about what they can do to encourage more people to do so, and the benefits to the company and employees of encouraging active travel. The SHIFT scheme has a resulted in a 5 fold increase in cycling at Aquabio, so seems like a cheap and viable way of engaging with local companies.
  • Schools: The school run undoubtedly adds to congestion in Worcester, and would be improved by more journeys made by pupils on bikes. A few of us are parents, so direct engagement with schools asking how we can help get more journeys by bike would be brilliant.
  • Police: For roads to be safer for vulnerable road users, where driving is illegal it needs to be enforced. Ongoing liaison with West Mercia is key to ensure they are aware of the frequency of poor driving (close pass, speeding, use of phones, aggressive driving). At present West Mercia typically respond by requesting camera footage to be uploaded to the Operation Snap website, and I’m guessing will priorities policing based on numbers of incidents, so any with time to use a camera and upload evidence would assist in this.
  • Website: The website is proving to be an excellent reference point for information. We may reorganise it a little in the future, so any ideas or anyone with any experience to assist, please let us know.
  • Infrastructure ideas: As part of the website we have a page of suggested improvements. In recent months this has been used to demonstrate to councillors that improvements are needed. Unfortunately this remains disjointed from the WCC system for recording suggestions, albeit the WCC system provides no visibility of any other suggestions, just a form that disappears. I’d suggest we all continue to record desired improvements to our roads and cycleway infrastructure on the Bike Worcester website, as it is an excellent way to debunk the current council position that the provision for cyclists is excellent.
  • Signage: One possible use of the money is to provide improved signage of routes around Worcester, notably similar to dutch signs which includes maps. Looking at maps of the cycling network and knowing the varying quality, I’m keen to make a short video animating the routes, and including some video footage of them being used. If anyone can assist please get in touch.
  • Ideas: This is an open forum for any suggestions as to how we move forward as a group, and to best make use of our collective experience, ideas and energy. This includes any suggestions on how we can communicate and share ideas and actions.

There seems to be genuine political will to enact change from central Government, but sadly in Worcestershire we do not have like minded councillors calling the shots. Without continuing pressure the status quo will prevail, regardless of whether cycling is on the increase, or there is an increase desire for people to choose active travel. We are grateful for everyone’s input, and hopefully we can start to influence change for the better of everyone living and working in Worcester.

Dan Brothwell
Chair: Bike Worcester