A Belle’s Day Out from the Cycle Campaign Trail via BBC London

by Becca Watts

Why is Cambridge a ‘cycling city’? In recent years I’ve noticed (as a driver, cyclist and pedestrian) a huge increase in traffic on the city’s roads and pavements, but I’ve also noticed that people still cycle in droves and lots of them look as though they’re enjoying it.

Cambridge is good for cycling because, despite its busyness, it’s easy to avoid the main roads where buses constantly pull in and out, taxis veer onto the pavement erratically, and lorries plant themselves over double yellow lines to unload the goods we all consume. There are plenty of backstreet routes from one side of Cambridge to the other, and awareness of cycling is much higher here than it is in most other cities, certainly in Britain.

 Blue Belle Beck Watts,  assistant editor for Cycle Lifestyle Magazine – a free glossy encouraging Londoners to cycle

During a brief stint in London a few years ago I became the assistant editor of Cycle Lifestyle, a free magazine that is distributed throughout the capital to encourage more people to give cycling a go. Set up and edited by Cambridge philosopher and social entrepreneur Dr Ben Irvine, Cycle Lifestyle does the good, honest work that the major cycling campaign groups too frequently overlook in favour of sensationalist doom-mongering: sharing information and inspirational stories about how cycling can change people’s lives for the better, and presenting practical advice to enable people to get started and become confident riders.

Having grown up in rural Suffolk, where biking to friends’ houses was the norm, then come to university in Cambridge, I naturally took my pro-cycling attitude with me to London. Determined to make my existence there as un-Londonish as possible, I moved to Stoke Newington (no Tube) and rode my bike (or sometimes walked) the 2.7 mile journey to my office on City Road in Islington (a journey which by bus is more like 3.5 miles). The commute was the best part of my day – even though I was riding my sister’s childhood bike, which was consequently much too small for me and had only three gears.

Here’s the thing. To get to this tranquil state of cycle-commuting, Ben had to show me the way. Literally: he worked out the route for me, wrote it down in a long list of ‘turn this’ and ‘turn that’s, and cycled it with me the weekend before I started my new job. Once I knew it, I was away – but on my own, a country bumpkin transplanted to the biggest city in England, I would never have had the confidence to find my way.

This is why I still wholeheartedly support the London Cycle Map Campaign, which Ben and I run in conjunction with Cycle Lifestyle. Unlike the other, high-profile cycle campaigns in London – which continue to put forward unrealistic proposals that not only fail to benefit cyclists but arguably endanger them – we are campaigning simply for adequate signage across the vast network of quieter, safer cycle routes that already exist throughout the capital. To sign this ‘London Cycle Network’ properly would require a miniscule fraction of the investment needed for the various alternative (more aggressive) proposals for increasing cycling in London.  

The best thing is that much of the work has already been done, by a man called Simon Parker, who has come up with an ingenious design for a Tube-style map of colour-coded routes based on the existing London Cycle Network. To become a reality, all that’s needed are some coloured signs along the routes, corresponding to Parker’s system. Simples! (This short video explains how.) Unfortunately, despite his and our campaign’s efforts, Parker’s idea continues to be ignored by TfL and all the other cycling advocacy groups.

The London Cycle Map Campaign aims to help ordinary people to get on their bikes, without any special equipment or extraordinary feats of navigational genius, and enjoy cycling in London as we now enjoy cycling in Cambridge. Last week both Ben and I were on BBC Radio London talking about the idea – but something so beautifully simple is easily lost in the media context, which favours sensationalist propaganda over plain sense.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the London Cycle Map Campaign or Cycle Lifestyle magazine, just visit www.cyclelifestyle.co.uk – or talk to me at the next Blue Belles meeting.

Becca and Ben Irvine representing the London Cycle Map Campaign at the Cycle Show 2012

Words above by Blue Belle blogger, Becca Watts

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Cambridge Blue Belles

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2 thoughts on “A Belle’s Day Out from the Cycle Campaign Trail via BBC London”

  1. Great stuff, thanks Becks! And a big hello to the Cambridge Blue Belles from Cycle Lifestyle magazine : )

    I imagine that “sharing information and inspirational stories about [changing] people’s lives for the better” and “presenting practical advice to enable people to get started and become confident…” is a pretty good description of the Women's Institute too.

    All the best, Ben


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