It’s been a busy few weeks for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign. We had our Bike Message challenge, with a Bike Curious family cycling day following hard on its heels. With that out of the way, it was just the small matter of our weekly summer rides, which have grown and grown over the four years we’ve been running them and can often muster a couple dozen adults and kids, which makes quite a sight massed along the cycle paths of Bigtown.*
Over time, the summer rides have become, if not a well-oiled machine, then at least a machine whose chain is not bright orange with rust (unlike some of our participants’). The routes are all tried and tested ones that it’s possible to take a five-year-old on a bike along without the ride leader suffering palpitations. Starting at a local park, they almost all run along the river, over a nice foot and cycle bridge, which connects us via a quiet residential street to a choice of traffic-free or almost traffic-free routes north, west and northeast. The bridge is the only one which crosses the river in town that doesn’t have cars, a flight of steps, or a cyclist dismount sign on it. It is, in short, essential to making our summer rides the enjoyable, unstressed experience that we hope will encourage more families to get active, which just happens to be one of the coonsil’s stated goals too.
So guess which bridge the coonsil has decided to close for the duration of the summer, starting yesterday, without warning us?
I give up, I really do. As a cycle campaign, we’ve tried not to be too much of a giant pain in the backside of the coonsil although the coonsil might differ on that point. We’ve tried to keep our powder dry for the big battles while trying to cooperate over matters of joint interest. Running family-friendly rides, for instance, or our annual bike breakfast to bring together cycle commuters, councillors and officials in a celebration of cycle commting. In return we receive precisely zero cooperation from them. The only time we’re ever consulted about anything is when they need to show community support for a funding application in which case we’re shown the completed drawings with a week to go and asked to give our approval. The rest of the time, if we want any warning about anything happening (good or bad) we have to keep an eye on a website which, while not exactly on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’ (to shamelessly steal from Douglas Adams), isn’t exactly anywhere obvious either. Like the coonsil’s own website, for instance.
I’ll tell you this. In five years as a local campaigner, the biggest victory we ever won was after some anonymous nutters covered the town in colourful reflective knitting which got us into the ‘and finally’ slot on Reporting Scotland and resulted in the quiet removal of several barriers and chicanes after a decent interval had passed. Nothing else – not polite emails, not letters to councils, not meetings with officials, not quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying with national organisations, not trying to work in partnership, not anything – has been anything like as effective as holding them up to ridicule on the evening news.
They should consider themselves warned …
* Although we rarely are massed because we’ve had quite a decent success in getting novice cycling families to join us which is great but means that they are usually on bikes that have spend the preceding 12 months in the shed, and so after about 15 minutes the ride has usually split up while one mechanical issue or another is sorted.