Kat and I were invited to talk to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign on Tuesday. Following tea and home made biscuits, I drew out some highlights from the research so far, and there was a lively and wide-ranging discussion – some of it tweeted live by Martin from the Campaign. Here are the slides I put together for the talk – plus, Kat has some reflections on one of the points made here.
Last night I attended a Wednesday night cycle ride with the Cambridge CTC. It is one of many weekly rides hosted by the CTC and run by members. Held weekly during summer months, the Wednesday evening ride takes about two hours and features a pub stop towards the end. There is no official leader or runs list, rather the route is debated at the start point and sometimes changed along the way. The fact that I turned up on a fixed gear shaped the route, and the decision was made to do a flat 36mile loop around the fens. Although parts were off road, the paths and roads was relatively smooth. It had been a pretty warm day in town so it was a relief to cycle into cooler air punctuated with short rain bursts. Overall, it was a lovely opportunity to see more of Cambridge and the countryside that surrounds it, chat to locals and experience some of the unique cycling facilities in place, such as new cycle bridges, riverside paths and solar powered LED lights on cycle paths. Oh and I also got to cycle near some very wooly cattle.
Nigel Deakin has written a great review of the ride and made a map of the route.
View 2011-08-03 CTC Evening ride to Horningsea in a larger map
Some images I took of the ride:
I cycled out to the OWL Bike workshop that pops-up in Addenbrooks hospital carpark once a week. Run by the Papworth Trust, OWL bikes ‘provides vocational training for disabled and disadvantaged people. It recycles and refurbishes unwanted bikes to sell to the public at reasonable prices.’ The bike workshop is located in a wooden hut between the new carpark and the residencies. It was busy when I arrived and the two mechanics had their hands full dealing with a line of people and bikes. I hung around for a while chatting with cyclists. Many had heard about the service via the hospital intranet or had seen notices like the one below in the bike shelters. Most were wanting simply issues fixed such as new brake cables or brake blocks and adjusted mudguards. One woman had just purchased a second hand bike. It was clearly a highly appreciated service.
I was struggling to find a cycle park at a sheffield stand in the city centre and I started chatting to someone I thought was unlocking her bike. She wasn’t, but she told me about Cambridge’s underground cycle parking stations that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are two; one in Park Street and another in the Grand Arcade. The cyclist said that the former was pretty safe place to park as the Bicycle Ambulance, a bike workshop, operated in this space so the bikes were under constant surveillance.
I found the Park Street cycle parking station easily marked and followed the signs to a multi-storey car park. In the basement I found spaces for over 200 bikes and bike lockers, charged at £10 a month.
There was also a poster advertising a scheme for swapping your bike for a stroller.
Even though I was aware of the the high levels of cycling rates in the city, I was nevertheless struck by the high visual presence of bicycles. From my fieldnotes:
The streets are full of bikes. People cycle past, weaving in and around pedestrians in the city centre. Locals shop at the market, buying fruit and vegetables and loading it directly into bike baskets. They spy someone they know and stop and chat, standing over their bikes. Tourists on bikes marked with ‘cycle hire’ stickers stop to read maps and admire historic buildings. Bikes lay scattered on the grass near the river as their owners picnic in the sun. Hundreds of parked bikes line streets. ‘Parked’, however is a deeply inadequate word to describe the layering of bikes here. Palimpsest is better. Cycling in the city feels well established, deeply embedded in place. Bikes lean against buildings, hang from decorative rails in front of historic buildings, layer up to four deep from poles and tumble in frozen formations from Sheffield stands. They tangle together at Sheffield stands to the point where it is hard to tell where one starts and another ends. In absence of space at stands, people lock their bikes and leave them directly outside shops; a u-lock in some cases, a small squiggle lock in others, simply looped around the frame and wheels. While a few are missing parts (wheels, seats, handlebars) most appear well loved and used.
Cars are a constant presence in contemporary urban life. Even if you do not drive, cars litter the streets when parked or are caught in traffic. Constantly passing by, they compose the sonic signature of urban centres. In Cambridge, bicycles occupy a similar presence. They are everywhere and in doing so they draw attention to, and in some ways usurp, the normative role of cars in conventional modal hierarchies.
The visual presence of bikes in Cambridge helps to establish cycling as a legitimate form of transport. It makes it feel normal. It is an theme emerging in interviews whereby people talk about the important role the visual presence of bicycles in the city played in learning to ride a bike or returning to cycling in their mobility biographies.
I am in Cambridge this week to conduct interviews, join rides, attend events and meetings and otherwise try to get to the know the cultures of cycling in the city. I brought my fixed gear bike with me this time, partially as I know Cambridge is pretty flat and partially because all my other bikes are a little bit broken. I’m hoping it’ll be ok on the longer rides I intend to do with local groups.
I visited Cambridge on Monday this week to start the fieldwork. Temporarily without bicycle myself, I did a lot of walking. After doing the first Cambridge interview I got the bus down to Addenbrooke’s to recruit some participants.
There were a number of different cycle parking areas, marked on the site map. I concentrated on two of the biggest; one near the Hills Road entrance and one near the entrance to A&E. I quickly got rid of a lot of the postcards and they’ve elicited a good few responses.
Later in the day I stood around watching cyclists use a junction on Mill Road, which was reasonably busy despite the poor weather. It was an interesting comparison to observations elsewhere. Especially given the heavy rain, I felt that there was relatively little ‘specialist’ clothing (compared to what you’d see in Central London, for example). A number of people were wearing jeans; some didn’t have on waterproofs. There was quite a mix of ages and genders.
Mill Road is quite narrow and at times there was ‘stacking’ of cyclists as well as motor vehicles alongside them. The road camber meant that as the evening went on the puddles in the gutter got larger and larger.
Mill Road isn’t itself a designated cycle route, but the junction where I was waiting does cross a recommended route, and there is a banned right turn open only to cyclists. I think a couple of these cyclists were turning right.
Mill Road is blessed with a number of bike shops, where I dropped off some more postcards. You can buy second hand bikes, children’s bikes, and Dutch Cargo bikes – like this one which I saw parked outside the Co-op.
Cambridge was chosen because it has the highest levels of cycling in the UK. A unique city, it is flat, dry, and historic – its core was not redeveloped to accommodate the rise of the motorcar post World War Two. Driving around the city is notoriously slow, while cyclists can take advantage of parks and river paths as well as roads and (bumpy!) cobbled streets.
Cambridge has a relatively large Cycling Campaign, with a strong web presence. CCC members set up the Cyclestreets web site which is a way for cyclists to share routes and information.Men and women are almost equally likely to commute by bicycle, which is unusual for the UK.
Cambridge University undergraduates, like those at Oxford, have traditionally been barred from bringing cars with them. Girton College states:
“Cars require a University licence (issued by the Motor Proctors only on tutorial recommendation) … Under no circumstances may an undergraduate bring a car to Cambridge without prior tutorial permission.”