It comes as a bit of a surprise to be writing as the former Campaign Chair.
I joined the campaign in 2007, and Ros Furley the ‘acting’ Chair at the time sort of persuaded me to join the committee, and at the next AGM I was elected Chair, a position I felt honoured to hold, and one which amazingly I was continually re-elected to every year.
Sadly though I could no longer continue with any great conviction.
I was so buoyed by Reading Borough Council declaring a climate emergency, and many more Councillors getting involved in cycling issues, a new committee being set up, lots of talk about a new vision for transport in Reading.
I had said I wanted to stand down at last year’s AGM, (and I had said it earlier too) but it all seemed worth hanging on for a bit longer. I would have been so pleased to have seen the major changes to policy we need to get people on bikes.
As a result of declaring a climate emergency the Reading Climate Action Network set up 6 working groups, one on transport, and I immediately joined it.
The government had directed councils to devise a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure plan. This was an unprecedented amount of involvement in sustainable travel. Last year we scribbled over maps where cycle facilities should go.
Historically Reading has always had a pitiful number of people cycling, although over the years sine I first became Chair, and since my involvement in a myriad other cycle related schemes knew that the demand was there. A simple change to the support given to people cycling would be like releasing a cork from a bottle.
For example I was involved with the Bike Kitchen for all of the years it took over Jackson’s Corner. The interest was beyond anything anyone expected. Almost 300 volunteers, well over 4,000 customers, nearly a thousand bikes saved from the tip and put into use.
That period showed as a blip on the traffic monitoring radar despite no other intervention, bike riding went up in Reading markedly.
The Council consulted the population of the town on the biggest consultation exercise it had ever carried out over transport. The results showed overwhelming support for more cycling.
Then it published its draft Transport Strategy, with targets that were completely underwhelming. At every turn it promoted its amazing achievement on spending £450,000 on a cycling cross town route, an indirect route that avoided the town centre, forced users to give way 37 times, and squished cyclists onto pavements little over a metre wide.
It had a target to get so few people cycling (cyclists would still be by far the lowest user group in all the travel modes in the town) I almost wept. Of course the whole thing was a sham. Reading will never ever be a sustainable town, it will never have many people cycling, traffic will always clog up the roads and poison the air.
Oxford Road will get some cycle symbols painted on the tarmac “to remind drivers that cyclists will be using the road”. Otherwise they’ll forget, they’ll see so few.
The side roads will always be clogged with parked cars, the main routes will always be hostile car sewers. Cyclists will still be the eccentric few, the brave prepared to battle the traffic, those that are forced to put up with the pavements as adequate spaces to cycle then berated for cycling on the pavement.
Of course Covid-19 came along almost as soon as I decided to quit, the town’s streets were empty of motor vehicles, the air was clear, and Reading was for a moment a cycle friendly town.
To build on this the government mandated councils to introduce radical measures to keep people cycling, to give them space to socially distance, and to avoid the traffic nightmare a bounce back after lockdown might cause.
So far it has painted two narrow cycle lanes over Reading Bridge, much to the disgust of those already cycling, and of no use whatsoever to people thinking about swapping the bus or the car for the bike. And that’s it, oh and it painted Thank You NHS on London Road and planned to install a bus lane. Not the two way segregated cycle lane that road really needs.
So my decision to quit in the face of an impossible task of getting the Council to take cycling seriously was vindicated.
I am of course sorry to go, but as I was already a keen and determined cyclist nothing the Council would do would be of much use to me.
When I started I wanted the town to be a pleasant place for my kids to cycle.
I wanted my neighbours to be able to ride to the hospital where they work (it’s a mile away).
I wanted clean air, a drop in pollution, less congestion and perhaps even cycle facilities I would use myself.
My kids all have cars. My neighbours drive to the hospital still. One drives to work in a school less than half a mile away. The air is back to its old polluted self and the roads are as congested as ever. Reading bridge is temporarily closed and there is not one single encouragement from RBC to get people to ride instead of drive.
12 years in and I know I have failed, it needs someone with massive amounts of energy and I simply don’t have it any more. If I was to represent the Campaign on yet another Council workshop I would not be able to do so politely. Better not to do it at all.