Thoughts on ‘Wales – a cycling nation’ conference
At some point I’ll put together a more eloquent response to the ‘Wales – a cycling nation’ conference than this one will prove to be – my head currently feels like its being beaten like a steel drum – but in light of yesterday’s event, I thought I’d better cobble down some shorthand notes. I was asked to chair two of the day’s events, a workshop to discuss targeted application of public pressure and a round table discussion on ‘promoting cycling in your local area.
So, in proper shorthand style – I’m off to make my zillionith cup of coffee and hide behind a closed office door – here are my thoughts:
Opening remarks – Excellent. Plenty of commitment from the men at the top and in particular First minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones.
Morning workshop (cycle friendly employers) – Joined this workshop to help out with numbers, but very interesting nonetheless. Glad to hear of real success at the Patent office in Newport, GE at Nantgarw and The Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Address by Dr Ruth Hussey, Chief Medical Officer for Wales – Medical support for the Active travel bill and healthier lifestyles and prolonged good health through cycling. Though it wasn’t addressed in Dr Hussey’s presentation, I was particularly interested in the psychology of this message – how do you reach out to the communities that need it most, without patronising or lecturing? A map of Wales highlighted that the South Wales Valleys were most in need of lifestyle changes for health reasons. Is exercise in general (and cycling in particular) an issue raised by GPs as part of their regular meetings with patients? i.e. ‘Tell me how you’re feeling……have you managed to get your 30mins exercise each day?’ (the recommendation is actually 30 mins x 5, but let’s not be picky).
Lunch – always welcome
Round table discussion – Chaired by the impressive Phillip Darnton of the Bicycle Association, the discussion centred around business opportunities as a consequence of cycling, with occasional side tracking into issues of cycling uptake and bikes on trains. There can be little debate that business opportunities exist in abundance at the moment, though perhaps it is less clear how the cycling pound can be best harnessed (and with my ‘We’re all in it together hat’ on, how it can be harnessed to the benefit of all).
Workshop – Alongside Geoff Rone of the GB cycling embassy, I chaired the workshop ‘Increasing public pressure for better routes in your area’. An interesting discussion that can be distilled into 7 ‘top tips’:
1. Identify a supportive councillor.
2. Coalesce a force and gather momentum.
3. Be disciplined in presenting a case.
4. Hanker, chase, nag for a seminar to dicuss specific issues and give the ‘man on a street’ a platform.
5. Don’t ‘pebble dash’ the council with demands, complaints or gripes (it’s not helpful and can (dis)colour views).
6. Seek opportunities to present well though out cases e.g. the recent Cardiff development plan represents an opportunity to place sustainable travel at the heart of the dialogue.
7. Find the ‘key’ person in the council. Public pressure only works when the right type of pressure is exerted in the right type of places.
With particular thanks to David Naylor of Wheelrights and the representative from Swansea council.
Round table discussion: Promoting cycling in your area - I chaired this one, area’ alongside Jane Lorimor the National Director for Sustrans Wales, Geoff of the GB Cycling Embassy and Steve Fry of M2 sports management. This is a huge area for discussion, shoehorned into a 40 minute time slot, so whilst we talked a lot about the benefits of segregation and removing barriers to cycling, we had less time to explore opportunities to promote cycling through other means. As an example, I’m interested – again – in the psychology of the message. To my mind a positive role model is at least as influential as a strip of red paint (…and they come in many flavours and needn’t originate in cycle sport; Cycle chic is one movement that I feel does much to positively influence urban transport). It was a very vibrant conversation nonetheless, with the panel embracing the questions that were posed.
Closing address – Phillip Darnton the Executive Director of the Bicycle Association closed proceedings with an impressive, accurate and articulate polemic <paraphrasing warning!> ‘You’, he told us ‘Are not the people we need to convince. We are preaching to the converted. You’re not normal. You prefer bikes to cars and most people love their cars. We need to convince them that cycling is not inherently dangerous and represents a viable and sensible alternative’. Hear hear.
The Welsh government organised ‘Wales – a cycling nation’ conference is due to return in September 2014. Top image: The Hayes, Cardiff