Chairman’s Letter, June 2019
Dear RCC members
As a cycle campaigner I often feel a little isolated. We are a small committee and even though we have lots of members, it is hard to know how much backing we have.
I also have a variety of reasons for campaigning for better infrastructure. Cycling numbers in Reading are really low (2% or thereabouts of all trips). Reading (a university town) has the potential for huge numbers.
Huge numbers mean cleaner air, less congestion, more physical activity and less carbon poured into the atmosphere. I value our town and our planet, and hate seeing it wrecked by stinking air and queueing traffic.
I hate to see our inactive population denied the option to get some active travel because we so slavishly devote our road space to motor vehicles.
I have been to many places where it is done properly and such places are a real delight. I know so many people who go on holiday and use hire bikes in some European city and come back full of enthusiasm, but they won’t do the same here because the roads lead to such hostile conditions. It is all down to political will, lacking in Reading for decades.
And having a vision of Reading as a cycling town is completely at odds with almost all the local politicians. So I tend to feel I’m out on a limb banging on about it for so long. But suddenly everything has changed.
We have Extinction Rebellion.
When I heard someone was going to start a local XR group I joined instantly. We started a petition to get RBC to declare a climate emergency. They did, even before we got enough signatures to force them to debate it. I realised I had lots of people who thought similarly to me.
We have to act fast to save the planet from Climate Breakdown. The evidence is stark, but politicians and the media were simply not doing anything about it.
There are all sorts of reasons the climate is breaking down, but carbon emitted by vehicles is a huge one. Before the local climate emergency was passed in Reading, a presentation by the Reading Climate Action Partnership never even mentioned transport.
I was so driven by the opportunity to make a real difference, I planned to head to London for the main rebellion in mid April.
I had heard that it was going to be huge. Little did anyone know how huge, nor what the impact would be.
On the first morning we sat in Bayswater Road at the junction with Park Lane and Oxford Street right by Marble Arch and stopped anyone from driving through.
At the same time other people sat in the road at Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square.
Just to secure Marble Arch there were four road blocks. Huge parts of London fell quiet. Thousands of people took to the streets. We had pedestrianised Oxford Street, we had turned Waterloo Bridge into a garden bridge. Parliament Square was returned to people. A boat was moored in Oxford Circus.
I had no idea how big this was going to be and then there I was, a part of it, and a wave of power swept over us all. I honestly thought we would have our roadblocks taken down on that first night.
We were broken down into small teams and allocated jobs. I was in a team that had to hold the Oxford Street roadblock overnight. I sat there all night expecting the police to move in at any moment.
At 7am two coppers walked over, asked how we were, we offered them coffee, they had kids, they had told their kids what had happened the day before. These cops were on our side. We held that roadblock for 11 days. Can you imagine that? I camped on Oxford Street night after night!
During the day I joined a band of drummers, and we marched around London between the various sites we held, making tons of noise, getting passers by dancing and following us.
I listened to amazing performers sing and play music on a solar powered stage, I met people from all over the UK who had come to join in. By the weekend our numbers swelled due to the weather (the irony of an April heatwave during a climate change protest was lost on no-one) and Easter.
Now I know I am no longer the only one worried about the future of the human race. All of a sudden the news was full of it, and politicians talked about it all the time. That little European issue had suddenly been knocked off the news, by us, banging our drums and sleeping in the road.
Of course key to this was the vision of Extinction Rebellion, but that massive participation has unleashed something that will never be put back in its bottle.
The sad part is that being there, listening to speeches, meeting scientists and activists made me aware that actually we are truly doomed. The science out there today is not the same science that moved the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to declare the emergency they did.
That was based on old science; the new stuff, which will take ages to filter through to to United Nations and our government, is far more terrifying.
Let me leave you with no illusions we can fix this, we have one hell of a battle to even limit the disaster that we are heading for. Reading has declared a climate emergency for several weeks now, and as far as anyone can tell not done the slightest thing to address it. We really are going to have to crank the pressure right up and right now if we are to make any progress.
Our leaders are not leading on this, far from it.