This blog explaining LCC’s new ‘pathway’ approach to local group campaigning was originally published in longer form in our ‘London Cyclist’ member’s magazine…
Over the last few years London has shifted dramatically on active travel. The delivery of cycling projects and so many other good things, while faltering, has been in the right direction and, at the start of the pandemic, at unprecedented speed. But the results are still far too patchy. So we’ve been thinking hard about how to get each and every borough moving faster and forward. Ultimately, that boils down to the political will to deliver on active travel, climate emissions reductions etc. of the council. But there is a lot borough groups can do to improve the level of political will on these issues a council has.
Building on our local election Climate Safe Streets campaign, and work by Dr Megan Sharkey for the University of Westminster, plus that of Chris Kenyon, Cycle Islington, we have distilled down the journey boroughs tend to go on towards becoming a cycling hotspot into a ‘pathway’ of just four stages. These relate directly to the level of political will of the borough council – but it will be the actions of the borough group that help gain political will we’re focusing on.
Each move from stage to stage, with the borough group acting to improve the council’s level of political will, might well take time and a lot of effort, but is doable. If we’ve got this right, you should know roughly where your borough currently is and what we have to do next after reading this. And this isn’t a sprint – the journey from stage 1 to 4 is unlikely to be done in less than a couple of years.
We’re increasingly tailoring our mentoring and information around these key steps, for instance via the Campaigning Resources section of the LCC site. This is a free to use, but sign-in required, area of the site where we put all our advice and expertise for campaigners – you can access it if you’re working to decarbonise your city’s transport network and make active travel the norm whether you’re in Bromley, Birmingham or Berlin.
The first step to a successful local campaigning group is to ensure it’s not just a tiny band of lone voices in the wilderness. Of course, you need a campaign to rally people to (your Climate Safe Streets most immediately achievable, but reasonably high-profile ask is the most obvious starting point). But you will likely need to focus on new members before you fulfil that campaign successfully. So build a campaign to rally people to – then go get those people involved.
Where do you advertise your group meetings? What does your social media feed look and feel like? And why should people want to get involved? Make your campaign and meetings lively and welcoming. And reach out not just to cyclists, but to people who’ll agree with your group aims, and build coalitions too.
You’re missing a huge audience if you only speak to those who look like you. So talk to everyone and aim to enable anyone from any walk of life to attend meetings (as long as they’re keen on more cycling being a thing, rather than less). ‘Diversity & inclusion’ means being a more inclusive group – that doesn’t put people off attending and indeed goes out of its ways to bring people in. To go further, consider focusing on communities that are impacted most negatively by car dominance – have the worst roads, the worst health outcomes, the lowest access to cycling – often the people in your borough least likely to own cars, and who may well actively benefit from cycling’s affordability. And make sure when someone walks in to a meeting, whatever their walk of life, they’re greeted and gently try to make sure they walk out with someone to talk to or something to do that suits their interests and skills.
“When someone is just beginning their campaigning journey, help them reflect on their experiences and skill sets: what can they bring?” Divya Sharma, Cycle Islington
So, you’ve the bones of a functional group — you’re warm, you’re welcoming, new people are joining and you’ve got a core campaign that is engaging. Now you need to turn that into a win. You need to be able to point at something in the borough and say ‘we did this — and you can help us win the next thing’.
At this point the win won’t likely be miles of high-quality cycle track or half the borough covered in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). This isn’t the time for big visions and long delays on action from council or you. Start small and simple and ask for good (enough), now.
Try not to get too caught up in holding the council to account over whether it has achieved the DfT’s technical, new cycle infrastructure design guidance and its high funding bar. What you’re looking for is a scheme that either gets lots more people cycling (and ideally a wider range), makes current people cycling far safer, is really good value for money, is a big leap for the council, or is just really cheap, okay-ish and doesn’t make putting in a better scheme later impossible.
Obviously, if a scheme won’t achieve any of the things above, you need to oppose it — but even that should be done to maximise your outcome, not just annoy a councillor enough to tune you out. ‘If only you could do X, Y or Z to improve this scheme we could support it’ is useful framing.
To get something happening, you’ll mostly need to target the council leader (the cabinet portfolio holder for transport and officers are useful, but far less important). The leader controls the purse strings, sets the agenda and largely says yes or no to schemes. Spend most campaigning time and effort on them. Try and get a meeting — even better, try and get them out for an hour-long, one-on-one bike ride of the best and worst of the borough.
Make sure you show some good the council has done: an old modal filter, parklet or a School Street. But, yes, also show them a road no one in their right mind would let a 12-year-old child ride on and explain why and what their role is in doing something about that.
If the leader won’t come on a ride, go for a walk, or just keep trying stuff aligned to what appears to make them tick. Whether it’s social justice, fiscal responsibility, healthy kids or the climate, chances are cycling is a win for that. Again, as part of this process, pick your easiest-to-deliver Climate Safe Streets ask and push them on that.
A win on anything will make noise about your campaigning with the public, gee up your existing members to get more involved, and give politicians more confidence they can do this stuff and get good results and praise. Which all makes the next step much easier for them.
Of course, any win — even if it’s a single modal filter, a parklet, or a School Street — comes with opposition and risks of wobbles or missteps of the politicians. That’s why going through the journey of a scheme or two will not only build confidence for politicians, it’ll also tend to build trust for them in your group, as you act as an expert on weak points in the scheme and champion for the schemes despite their weak points.
“There is no path to trust and action if you treat politicians as an enemy” Chris Kenyon, Cycle Islington
This is one of the stages on the journey groups struggle with the most. You’ve got your first few wins under your belt, but they’re not miles of gleaming cycle tracks or giant LTNs. Now is the moment to get the council to step up — it is a climate crisis after all!
“Listen and understand. Try to be the adult in the room with councillors. Be people councillors can trust and be easy to deal with,” Michael Robinson, Hounslow Cycling Campaign
You’ll need to be confidante, expert external voice, chief cajoler and cheerleader all in one role. The moment a few half-decent schemes come along, grab a pair of pom-poms and go crazy. Because councils even delivering so-so schemes tend to get noisy opposition.
Everyone will hate the council suddenly and politicians often buckle under this pressure. And the last thing they need at this moment is to be shot by both sides. In other words, you cannot get to great schemes without a few average ones.
Behind the scenes, yes, you may well need to say stuff like ‘this scheme is good, but…’ with a long list of caveats, but you must back it up by saying something like ‘we support this scheme overall because it will get lots more people cycling, but we urge you to consider X, Y, Z urgently’. In public, you’ll need to be less nuanced and more effusive — because you can be sure those opposed to the scheme will be loud and numerous.
This is however, the stage when technical expertise is most needed – you’ll need to be able to scrutinise and assess schemes and adept at constructively cajoling councillors and officers to ‘do better’. After the dust has settled from each scheme, you can again point out your expertise, fix the gaps and get the council to learn from mistakes, so it does the next schemes better, bolder, quicker.
“When giving critical feedback always start with some praise” Charlie Fernandes, Brent Cycling Campaign
Once the campaign to win political will at a cabinet level is over and borough officers are skilled and experienced at delivery, there will still be gaps to fill. Yes, that means gaps in the cycle route network, but importantly also likely in the representativeness of your group.
“Reaching our communities is not that difficult. But people may find it hard to trust you. That’s why LCC should make the most of local partnerships and support groups like ours who work with communities in their own language,” Belgizar, Londra Bisiklet Kulübü
If all your meetings are in the south of the borough, and car ownership is higher in the north, chances are there’s roads there yet to be tamed. And a whole bunch of potential campaigners out there that never hear from you, who don’t even feel they’re represented by you.
Similarly, while we want all borough groups to always be doing outreach (see Stage 1, above), it’s fairly clear that the arrival of really good infrastructure rolling out at pace is the point at which it gets a lot easier to diversify the kind of people who cycle.
There are also often huge inequalities in health outcomes between the richest and the poorest in the borough. Often this is due to hostile roads, car dominant environments, pollution levels etc. You should be seeking to focus on the areas with the worst impacts from Stage 1 as part of your work on equality, diversity & inclusion. But when you’re at Stage 4, any remaining gaps will likely be starkly highlightable on this basis.
After you fill in geographic and demographic gaps? We’ve yet to work out stage 5 — and it’ll be interesting to see which borough gets there first. But, hey, the Dutch still have cycle campaigners there too!
“During a session for children with disabilities, one of the little girls didn’t seem to have any issues at all. It was only at the end when we got off the bikes that it became clear she had cerebral palsy and could hardly walk at all. This is why I want safe streets, why we do what we do,” Mariam Sayed, JoyRiders Britain
To hopefully simplify the entire approach and make it really clear that what stage your area is on relates to the level of political will and delivery your council shows, but that then determines what the best courses of action for your group are also, we’ve produced this handy infographic…
We have created step-by-step guides for each stage in the Campaigning Resources section of the LCC wesbite. As we mentioned above, you’ll have to create a free account to access the pages, but if you’d like to use the Pathway Approach for your campaigning, including an assessment to determine what stage your council is on, start here.
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