Chairman’s Letter, September 2019
Dear RCC members,
I have been coerced into doing a challenging bike ride in September, so in preparation I have to do the time honoured thing, and get some miles in.
I have to admit that in recent years I all but gave up long rides out into the surrounding countryside. So it is with mixed feelings that I have dragged out my touring bike and blown off the layer of dust that had settled on it.
I started with a gentle spin of 40 miles or so, and quite enjoyed it. I of course had to stop midway and chose Velolife for a coffee and a bite to eat.
For those of you who don’t know about Velolife, let me introduce it. It is on Warren Row Road, which runs between the A4130 at the top of Remenham Hill and the A4 at Knowl Hill.
I have ridden this road many, many times; it is a delightful route, and part of a regular circuit many riders will know.
For as long as I recall the pub halfway along was a derelict or run down building, but I never stopped there, so it was never really something I paid any attention to.
Then it became a cycling café, and I rode out there specifically to try it out. It was fine, nice to see, and thriving, but until I got back on the touring bike I had little desire to ride 20 miles for a coffee.
But there is another attraction now. The local Council has told the café management and local cycling clubs they must not organise rides that start or stop or visit there.
Apparently the number of cyclists was causing ‘problems’ for the residents of the sleepy little village, which the café is at the heart of.
Instead of the car park being filled with 20 or so cars, it is occasionally filled with numerous cyclists setting off on a ride, stopping there for a break, or ending up there after a ride. So the Council took out an injunction to stop it!
This outrageous action of course spurred me to choose that lovely bit of road, and that lovely café as my training mojo. I can easily add in 10 more miles and do 30 miles to get there, and another 30 home.
I can work up to more if I feel like it, and keep it short if I don’t. Perfect training for my long ride in September.
But I also need to go there to defy the nonsense decision of the Council.
Bizarrely the Council, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, has recently declared a climate emergency, and I wonder if they would have taken the same action if a number of cars arrived there at all the times of day and night (remember, this was once a pub!).
Which of course they could do all over their patch to reduce carbon emissions, a far bigger threat than a bunch of people in brightly coloured clothing out for a bike ride.
I called the Council for clarification, because I wanted them to define what an organised ride is. Is it me and a few friends? Is it me on my own organising all my tools, spares, food and drink and my route?
Is it me advertising my training ride on Facebook and inviting people that way? I don’t know at the moment; the Managing Director has yet to return my call.
I was there on the first weekend after the Council acted, and of course the place was packed with cyclists. The furore has been the best bit of free advertising the café could ever have got.
While I queued at the counter for my cake, I overheard a snippet of conversation, which I later learnt was the Leader of the Council actually cycling out to chat to the business owner, so it looks like there might be some sense being drummed into the Planning Department at the Council, but we shall have to wait and see.
It also transpired that the neighbour who is believed to be the source of the complaints is a local Councillor himself and it is widely suggested that he might be acting in his own interests and not that of his constituents. That is putting it politely!
He seems though to have caused a lot more cyclists to visit the café and I suspect he is fuming at the crowds gathering there without any organisation at all!
It says something though. People have an innate dislike of people on bikes, and I wonder why it is so. I’ve wondered this for years of course and I’m not about to go into them all right now, but it does really matter.
In Reading the Council launched “the biggest consultation ever” into transport in the town.
Now we know that we have 2% of journeys made by bike*, and apparently 6% of the population of the town rides a bike 3 times a week. So everybody else doesn’t and they are being asked to say what the Council should do.
So does the phrase “Turkeys voting for Christmas” spring to mind?
Do you really think drivers are going to ask for congestion charging? Workplace parking levies? Blanket 20mph zones? Segregated cycle lanes? Swapping parking spaces for cycle lockers? A reduction in road space for private cars?
Of course they aren’t. It is really only going to be a minority asking for such things.
How many people responding will suggest that the town’s economic vitality is dependent on people being able to drive their cars right into the heart of the town?
If Reading wants to tackle three of its major problems: poor air quality, congestion and an inactive population, it needs lots more people cycling, as that is the cheapest and most effective way of addressing them.
It really needs to take some dramatic and likely unpopular actions.
It has even set up a new body, the Clean Air and Safer Travel Forum, which although it appears to almost completely replace the Cycle Forum, it has yet to meet, so I’ll have to hope for the best at the moment.
I doubt very much RBC Councillors have the courage to do potentially unpopular things though, but those of you who recall the consultation on the new bridge over Reading will know that the Council is capable of flying in the face of popularity.
Let’s hope it can do so with the drivers who are only thinking of their own journeys and not the obvious solution which is to build proper segregated cycle routes.
*The annual cordon count in May 2017 conducted by RBC.