I’m not one of life’s protestors. In fact, I can’t remember ever having protested about anything in an organised way before. There must be something… [pause for thought / reflection…]. I once joined a teachers’ march in France during a six-week stint in Nice while training to be a teacher myself but I only went along with the lady I was staying with in order to be polite. And anyway, French teachers (as opposed to teachers of French) do tend to protest at the drop of a chapeau. I still can’t ever remember protesting about anything on home soil. Not even whilst at university. I really should get out more (and shout ‘down with the ****’). Anyway, yesterday, probably for the first time in my life, I protested!
The ‘protest’ I joined was organised by Reading Cycle Campaign. I say ‘protest’ in inverted commas as for obscure legal reasons that were pointed out by some pedant on Facebook, calling the protest a ‘protest’ may lead to issues with the local police. I’ve just said that I should get out more but some people on Facebook really do need to do so. Anyway, once the ‘protest’ had been officially cancelled and replaced with the ‘not a protest but a fun ride around Reading’ ride, about one hundred local cyclists (including yours truly) set off from the banks of the Thames to protest, sorry, leisure ride around the town. It was a jolly event and it was nice to chat to some people who I had only ever previously exchanged 140 character messages with on Twitter. It was also good to see who Adrian Lawson is. He is the main man at Reading Cycle Campaign and I often read his columns in the organisation’s newsletter. As organisations go, it is very good value; £3 per annum for a subscription which gets you four newsletters every year and that nice smug feeling inside that you are actually doing something positive about something that you care about, in this case, cycling. But perhaps I should elevate my activism to more than reading the newsletters and feeling smug. Now I have actually been on a protest (sorry, whatever it is called…), I am tempted to go along to one of the meetings that the group hold every month or so and actually contribute my thoughts.
The point of the ride yesterday (I think I’m on safe ground just using the term ‘ride’) was to raise awareness as to how Reading Borough Council is (or is not) spending the money – some £20 million – it has been allocated by central government to further the use of sustainable transport in the town. I have to say that we haven’t seen many changes so far but we are promised a new bridge across the Thames for pedestrians and cyclists! The problem is that these two groups won’t be segregated (I’m not quite sure why that is such a necessary thing) and also that the bridge at its narrowest point is only a few metres wide which will make it a tight squeeze (I am more inclined to think that this is the bigger issue of the two). Elsewhere in the area I don’t see evidence of much changing at all. The council have plans for a bike hire scheme akin to that in London but I’m not convinced that this is much more than a vanity project by the council. Surely in a medium-sized town like Reading it is much more important to encourage those who live within cycling distance of the centre of town (and there are a lot of those) to travel from home to work or the shops by bike. When most of them probably already have access to a bike in their garage or shed, a cycle hire scheme isn’t going to encourage them. Safer routes might.
On that thought here are a few pictures from Saturday’s event. The first one is a screenshot of how the Reading Cycling Campaign Facebook page currently looks showing me holding my fist in the air exalting the masses to demonstrate. Well, not quite… The second picture shows what I was really doing. I am still clearly an amateur protestor at heart.