On the Women’s Cycle Forum

On Saturday I went to the Women’s Cycle Forum, organised as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. The idea was to have a panel of women, unlike most cycling forums which tend to be male dominated with perhaps a “token woman”. Men were welcome to join the audience, and a few did, which was good. When I saw it announced, I thought I should sign up, because it was obviously a Good Thing, so I did. Then I began to worry. Given that I already cycle, I’m not someone that’s worried about cycling on the roads as they currenly are. I’m a bit of a scruff, mostly, so all of this Cycle Chic stuff leaves me a bit cold and feeling as though I’m letting the side down if I don’t cycle around with perfectly coiffured hair and elegant make-up (I have better things to do with my time than coiffure my hair, and I think I last wore make up for a wedding in April 2013). So what could I contribute? And what was I going to wear? I started off contemplating a summer dress, and then decided it was too long so went for jeans and a nice bright top and then realised that the top is Pink, and wearing pink is a bit problematic (that’s a whole blog post in itself) so then I went for a blouse that my sister gave me that has balloons on it.

Phew.

The forum itself was interesting. Each member of the panel introduced herself and said a bit about what she does & what her (cycling-related) interests are. I’m not going to talk about them all as that will be reported elsewhere. Then we got into groups – each panel member went to a table and we all split ourselves between the tables according to which person we thought we’d like to talk to. As far as I could see, the split between the tables was fairly even – which just shows how diverse people are, in terms of what they think is interesting and might like to talk about some more.

The discussion at our table is what I really want to blog about – this is going to be a bit of a memory dump as I don’t have a lot of time to craft this into anything better! I joined Rachel Aldred who is a member of the London Cycling Campaign and does academic research into transport with a particular emphasis on cycling. We talked about infrastructure and about how to get good infrastructure.

One of the people at the table was from Dumfries and she told us that there are lots of nice cycling paths there but they don’t tend to link up. She also said that there are just too many cars and if there were fewer cars then the roads would be more pleasant to cycle. She told us that they took some of their local councillors on a bicycle ride to see the good bits of infrastructure and also the problems and gaps.

The “token man” at our table was actually a very useful person to have the ear of, as he is the cycling officer (or something like that) at the council…  we talked a bit about the new project on George Street. Apparently it is being done as cheaply as possible, as an experiment. This is why it will just vanish at the roundabouts, because they don’t have the money to do anything better. I pointed out that getting on and off it, especially at the Charlotte Square end, is a problem. (In fact, I came that way to the Forum. To get on to George Street from Princes Street, you need to be in the right hand lane as you go up South Charlotte Street. The road surface is very bumpy, it is slightly uphill, the road markings have nearly vanished and it is a good idea to signal right as much as you can as well as cycling as fast as you can. I had a taxi driver overtake me on my left and then pull up in the ASL in order to get to the red light for the right turn before me. To be fair, you can’t really see that there is an ASL there any more… Is it very surprising that one of the women at our table (who’d come with her friend) doesn’t feel safe cycling on the roads? I don’t think the taxi was likely to hit me, but it was an unpleasant moment – and why would you choose to be cut up by taxis instead of sitting inside a car?) Anyway, the thing our cycling officer said was that we just have to keep campaigning for better…

Then there was free food and a chance to network. Unfortunately I had to go home and feed Wonderful Boyfriend, because we were getting up early in the morning to go to a triathlon (I was racing and he was helping). Next time I would make sure I didn’t have to leave in a hurry! Actually, next time I would try and persuade W.B. to come too. He conforms to all the stereotypes as a cyclist – fit, confident, fast, always cycled. Yet he is still at risk from being hit by a car. He would be much safer on segregated infrastructure. But that infrsatructure has to be really good for someone like W.B. to use it in preference to the road. And how do we get infrastructure that he can share safely with all the other kinds of cyclists there are out there?

Anyway, I am glad I went along to the forum. I think it was a success, and I hope there will be some kind of follow-up event. One thing I did think was that most of the discussion at my table was not really female-specific – if you saw a transcription of our discussion you probably wouldn’t be able to say much about the gender of the participants most of the time (apart from when I said to the unfortunate cycling officer “Oh, you’re the person who put out the document with the line about “less confident cyclists, including women”… ” – to be fair to him, I think the response he got to that line was pretty much why he was at the forum…).

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