Lancaster and Morecambe Cycle Forum – some thoughts

You’ll see the list of items which were discussed at Monday’s second Lancaster and Morecambe Cycle Forum in an earlier post. Here I’ll just mention a couple of the topics which we discussed, as well as offering some very brief thoughts on the current structure and process of the Cycle Forum.

I went along on Monday wearing two hats: the first (along with John Leach) as a member of Dynamo; and the second, as part of the recently completed Understanding Walking and Cycling project. The Forum began with my (now ex!) boss, Professor Colin Pooley, presenting the key findings of our research, and responding to questions about it.

Alasdair Simpson, from Lancashire County Council, then gave us updates on some local cycling schemes. Work on the ramp linking the canal aqueduct over the River Lune with the Millennium cycle way should be completed by Christmas, as should the surfacing of a short extension (around 0.75 km, if I remember rightly) to that cycle way, beyond its current endpoint at Bull Beck. Both good, no excellent, news.

A couple of other schemes – aimed at improving local cycling infrastructure – are out for consultation. The big one is proposed changes – including provision for cycling away from the carriageway – to and in the vicinity of the Pointer roundabout, on the A6 just south of Lancaster city centre. The intention here is admirable – to help people who don’t want to cycle on the road, more easily to negotiate this busy (and no doubt – to most potential cyclists – currently daunting and scary) junction – but the current plans demand close scrutiny. Dynamo will of course take a long, hard look, talk to others, and submit comments in due course.

We also got to see proposed changes to the current cycle contraflow on Chapel Street. Although it’s of course very important that this route is made safe for cycling, we can’t help but feel frustration when more effort seems to go into designing for cycling in parts of the city (such as Chapel Street) which have very little motorised traffic, whilst parts of the district which clearly remain hostile to cycling are (for understandable and complex reasons) neglected. 

But my biggest personal gripe with the Forum concerns its structure. Whilst it’s great that we have a Cycle Forum, which will meet regularly to discuss key issues important to the district’s cycling future, my worry is that it might end up achieving less than it should. Why? Because instead of it capturing the imaginations and energies of local people, and harnessing those in the discussion of important issues and the creation of new ideas, visions and initiatives, it could easily end up involving little more than representatives from the City and (more likely) County Councils informing a bunch of die-hards about cycling-related proposals, and us die-hards expressing our concerns and reservations, and generally having a good moan!

The Cycle Forum should aim towards build a local cycling civic society. Its implicit democratic model should not be based on local government telling the people what is planned, and then ‘listening’ to their criticisms; it should instead assume, and aim to build and foster, full and inclusive democratic participation, and to develop a constituency which is committed to a rosy cycling future. Otherwise, after six years of being ‘all in this together’, as we’ve all tried to make the most of being a Cycling Demonstration Town, we’re in danger of quickly reverting to our own sides of the fence, with a breakdown in any goodwill and productive relations which might have been built over those last six years likely to be not too far behind.

Dynamo does not want the Forum to be a space where hard-working and well-meaning Council officers and members fear to come, because their best intentions are likely to be met with the moans and groans of a never-satisfied bunch of cycling enthusiasts. Dynamo wants, instead, the Forum to be an inclusive, democratic, dynamic, vibrant and ambitious space which is really vital to the development of a district with cycling at its heart, and in which cycling is growing rapidly and radically.

Dynamo will discuss the Lancaster and Morecambe Cycle Forum – which to be fair is still in its very early days, and a very welcome initiative – at its next meeting, and figure out how as an organisation it can best ensure that the Forum best works towards a healthy local cycling future. But as always, if you have views of your own, please do share them!

The date of the next, the third, Cycle Forum is not set, but is likely to be sometime in February, again at the Gregson Institute, Moor Lane, Lancaster.

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