WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS AN OFFENSIVE ACRONYM
In the same way that the Department for Transport had Cycling England to keep at arms length at national level, so it holds with Highways Departments and Cycling Officers at County Council level.
From a cycle campaigning perspective, Highways Officers are often like Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army; often spoken of but never seen. You will however be familiar with their work all around you from stunning seaside paths to safe, direct town centre links. You get the chance to comment when these incredible schemes have already been designed and programmed to be built. This is called ‘consultation’ to compliment their range of extensive sustainable strategy consultation solutions, as we have seen before.
You may be lucky enough in your campaign group to get a visit from the County Cycling Officer. This role has to be the most tragic in Local Government; if they were put anywhere else in the World of cycling, they would be a valuable asset as they are usually very nice, proactive people with an exhaustive knowledge of cycling infrastructure. They probably thought they could join their council with a view to changing things for the cycling good before encountering deeply car-centric Local Councillors and a Highways Department that sees cycling infrastructure as something poor people or vegans with a fetish for beads might use. The job role ends up being a combination of Harbinger of Doom and Eunuch. They are sent to cycling forums and meetings for the following reasons;
- to explain why the crappy scheme set out before you is being built and why you should consider yourselves lucky to have it.
- because the highways departments know that the schemes are crap and can’t be bothered to hear feedback, however constructive, for future schemes as cyclists demands will only push project costs up and goes against their training.
- to explain why the entire cycling budget has been cut and is now reliant on Developers money.
- to tell you why your hopes and dreams of a modal shift toward to cycling using proven continental methods will never happen. This will be told with a simmering, but castrated fury (Male Officers) or a simmering, but close to tears look (Female Officers).
It would be wrong to say that all Highways Departments are hostile to cycling and walking; some are certainly hostile, but many simply don’t know how to cater for other non-motorised transport modes (that ironically were there first). Cycling doesn’t fit into their engineering education with all its computer generated models and road enhancement guidelines. As a result, they shovel cyclists off the roads onto converted pavements, thinking they are doing the right thing in the name of road safety, without taking any road space from motorists. Cycling, as a result, becomes more dangerous and unappealing to the masses. Cyclists choosing to remain on the roads (that they also pay for) sometimes get verbal or physical abuse from motorists and simply face a more dangerous road environment due to motorists not expecting anything else to be there.
In summary, I like to affectionately call them Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes and I think you should too. A wonderful example of Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes may be found in Waltham Forest and for Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes at their worst across the UK, you must visit Pete Owen’s magnificent compilation for Warrington Cycle Campaign here.
Deepest apologies for the harsh acronym. But I’m right.