‘Cycle County Active County’ comes to Oxford
By Robin Tucker and Alison Hill
Robin is Chair, Oxfordshire Cycling Network, and Alison is Chair of Cyclox
Six hundred people gathered in Oxford on 5 and 6 July for the UK’s biggest annual conference on enabling healthy and active travel. It’s called Cycle County Active County 2023, but it covers much more than cycling, and looks at cities as well as counties. Attendees include people from local and national government, councillors, consultants, Active Travel England, and campaigners from across the country.
Town and gown
Oxfordshire County Council hosted the event. It was held in the Examination Schools on Oxford High Street, the ‘gown’ part of Oxford, which had many rooms for parallel talks, perfect for the event. The ‘town’ was on show in walking and cycling tours that visited recent improvements to the city such as car-free Broad Street, the pilot Zero Emission Zone, and the cycle routes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods of East Oxford.
The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for attendees to share notes and exchange experiences they had in the many local authorities represented. It was particularly valuable to have a strong presence from the ‘other place’ – Cambridge – which is going through a lot of similar issues to Oxford. It too has plans for road-user charging that are meeting public opposition.
Chris Boardman: Olympic gold medallist, three times Tour de France stage winner, and now Active Travel England’s commissioner, introduced the conference along with Cllr Andrew Gant and Cllr Louise Upton.
Chris Boardman gained a spontaneous round of applause for commending Oxfordshire County Council for sticking to principles and evidence in support of active travel, despite noisy, criminal and unevidenced opposition.
Filip Watteeuw, Deputy Mayor of Ghent, gave a presentation on the extraordinary transformation of the transport system in that historic city, implemented over one weekend. It was inspiring to hear how he overcame political and budgetary challenges, and how people in the city quickly came to appreciate the changes brought by reduced traffic, creating a quieter and more pedestrian and cycle-friendly place. In Ghent more than 50% of journeys are now made by bike or foot. His on-going plans include more car-sharing, more focus on young people, with local politicians showing leadership by cycling, walking and taking the bus where possible.
What’s happening here?
The conference provided an opportunity to showcase what is being achieved in Oxfordshire, with presentations by council officers, councillors and campaigners from the county. Robin Tucker of Oxfordshire Cycling Network, for example, talked about the development of a community cycling and walking plan for Abingdon that involved 40 people. This has led to scheme designs, funding bids and routes being improved by housing developers.
In a session called ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ a mother from St Ebbe’s school spoke about her journey from vehement opposer to total supporter of the School Streets scheme. She described her anger at being stopped from driving her car to the school entrance. But with the help of another mum who sourced some bikes and helped teach the family how to ride them, she came to realise the huge benefits of cycling to school. Her moving description resonated through the rest of the conference as an example of the power of storytelling.
While many presentations were about cycling and walking infrastructure, it was great to hear Rosie Rowe from the County public health team interview three women leaders in cycling about their programmes that enable people of diverse backgrounds and abilities to fulfil their desire to cycle. We heard from:
- Annette Pattinson of JoyRiders Oxford
- Dr Dianne Regisford of Black Womens Bike (which has colourful practical bespoke outfits)
- Jennifer Tait from Oxford inclusive cycling charity CyclAbility (formerly Wheels for All)
They described how their organisations are creating moving stories of more people finding their freedom on a cycle every week.
The organisers, Landor, promised the conference would show how active travel could deliver for decarbonisation, health, levelling up and inclusivity – and we all left with new ideas and inspiration for bringing these benefits to our cities and towns.