Monday, 17 June 2013

Marlboroughgate: who knew what, when? Nothing -now.

We are still to hear back from Cllr "let the cyclists walk" Dobson, but one of his colleagues has posted a comment on our previous article on the Marlborough Bike Rack Debacle, here repeated in full.

Before reading it, please go and sign the wiltshire council petition asking for the cycle parking to go ahead. The more people making their feelings known, the higher the chance there is of a decent outcome.
16 June 2013 15:33

Ok the following views are a pure and personal thoughts of my own and in no way reflect the view of Marlborough Town Council(MTC).
Hi everyone this is Justin Cook responding to your invite to air my view on the cycle racks in Marlborough.

The first any of the new council members heard about the proposed cycle racks were in the first full town council meeting of the new sitting. In this presentation made my Transition Marlborough(TM)it was asked if we could vote through the cycle racks installation in that very same meeting.
Handover of power can always be awkward. More subtly, cancelling anything of the previous government's/council's plans -especially something opposed by either a large group of people or a noisy press- is a low cost means of gaining popularity. You can be seen to reward your loyal supporters, while saving money. Because it is simply cancelling work, it doesn't need anything in terms of planning, so delivers political benefits fast.
It was also agreed by all parties that the particular style of cycle rack could be installed either before or after the re-surfacing work had been carried out on Marlborough High St. This is an important point as there would be no harm in any way to the item if I as a new councillor took some additional time to carry out more research on the item and indeed ask the other parish members in the community their views on the demand for the cycle racks.
Other parish members are clearly not a viable source of information here, not with Cllr Dobson saying the cyclists should walk, and Councillor Margaret Rose, complaining of "the danger to motorists from cyclists backing out of cycle hoops at the side of the road". These are clearly people whose opinions on the matter: cyclists are the other; something to fear. This is the classic cyclists-as-outgroup theory.
I also personally asked my FB site for their views as local Marlborough people in helping me come to an informed and correct decision.

It is also worth noting that Marlborough already has two set's of cycle racks at either end of the High St. I have been keenly checking these racks three times a day (my office is in High St) and have found there to be very little use if any made of them. This in itself does not sway me as i think if we had some well placed cycle racks people would use them and indeed you only have to see the volume of cyclist's we have coming through the High St at weekends to see how this would be used.
Exactly. There are many cyclists in wiltshire at weekends -a revenue stream for places like the tea rooms, if only they were made to feel welcome in the region. That's even without considering the opportunities for people who live in the area to cycle in.
The next important point is the location of said cycle racks.
The initial feeling from TM was that outside the Polly Tea Rooms would be a good idea but there was also advice given from some full time cyclists that having the cycle racks in a high footfall area increased the risks of theft and vandalism.
given a choice between "visible cycle racks where lots of people walk past" and "obscure parking where nobody can see your bicycle get stolen", someone went for the "out of sight" option? Unusual.
There was also the suggestion from WCC that we give up two free parking bays on the the sides of the High St. This i am afraid does not work for the majority as the side bays are the only free parking people have to pop into post office, pick up cleaning etc etc.
Here we come to the crux of the issue. The bike bays were to be on the two sides of the high street -the short-stay parking area. This is clearly unacceptable for "the majority",
This is vital for ongoing economic ease of business in the town and will be protected by me personally in any role that works.
Again, the economic case which seems somewhat weak. It would be good to have some hard data on how much revenue per parking bay the local shops earn. Having bays at a high occupancy rate doesn't guarantee income for the area.

The fact that the shops weren't opposed to the proposals shows that they seem to recognise the value in expanding the capacity of the street to accept more customers -yet the council seems unable to.

Again, it comes back to this outgroup concept. There is the majority -implicitly those those who drive- and the minority -the cyclists - and they are disjoint sets. The idea that someone who has a car may actually opt to cycle in to the high street doesn't occur. Instead it's "the cyclists", categorising people by the transport options they make on specific journeys.
I felt strongly that WCC should give up two paid parking spaces in the middle for the racks to make it fair for everyone. It is worth noting that a particular councillor from MTC is indeed engaging with WCC to this end on behalf of TM and the cyclists.
This isn't necessarily a bad idea. It is better than the "let them walk, they are fit" message. Some requirements here would, obviously, be:
  • Secure parking for bicycles, not the "wheel benders" that provide no security guarantees at all
  • Enough space to actually support parent + child journeys. That means the ability to safely park a bike + trailer. If the layout does not support that, there's a message there, "families are meant to drive".
  • Safe crossing from the bike racks to the shops. 
And of course, a serious attempt by the council to deliver this in a timely manner. This summer is lost already.
My personal experience with business and money is that good research and preperation is key to making good ongoing business decisions that make sense over the long term. What makes my blood boil is quick emotional decision making not based on good research and decision making. Then the inevitable happen's and we need to re visit the item and spend more money upgrading or moving such item. This is a big waste of everyone's money and a waste of time.
That's valid, as long as it isn't just an excuse to make some short-term populist decisions at the expense of the long-term quality of life of the area.

One particular thing to flag up here is that if money is going to be spent improving signage to the existing low quality bike racks -that will destroy the whole "don't waste money on decisions that need to be revisited" argument.
So again i am not against the cycle racks but wanted more time to think it through and come to a good decision for all.

I just want to make sure that the cycle racks go in the best possible place for cyclist's and car users equally as it's not just the cyclist's that have a say in this.
Did the cyclists get a say in where the car parking went? When? What about the pedestrians? So please, drop this "balanced" story, it isn't defensible.
Also i must say that the emotional rhetoric that has been thrown round this is really blurring the lines of good debate and i for one will NOT be rushed into any money expenditure decision by anyone period. I have no problem spending budgets set out for the town but will not be rushed into making decisions based on a emotional volume.
We look forward to the delivery of some well placed, high quality cycle parking, and will visit the region when it arises.

For anyone from Marlborough reading this, thinking "What why should we care what an underground cycling group near Bristol say", we know which of our colleagues in the military-industrial sprawl of the North Fringe live near Marlborough, Calne and Swindon. They don't just expect parking near their post office, they expect a traffic free route from their rural homesteads to work, and end up stuck on the A4174 instead. The lifestyle and transport choices those people have made have a direct impact on the quality of life on residents and colleagues who actually live close their workplaces. These are people demanding millions of pounds spent on new motorway junctions, a widened ring road and new bypasses -which is why arranging for some modal shift for their transport choices matters so much for S  Gloucs.

We don't expect them to cycle to work from Wiltshire to the N Fringe -though if they work in Bath or Swindon, that may be possible. What we would like is them to take the train instead, though as we've seen, First GW don't like bicycles parked at their stations; Swindon is no better. The combination of folding+train -that works.

To close, then:
  1. If you live in town, contact your parish councillor and make your opinions on the matter known.
  2. If you cycle through the area from time to time -and currently feel unwelcome, sign the petition
  3. We shall keep an eye on Marlborough. As part of the commuter catchment area, they come within our remit.
As for the councillors of Marlborough Town: you need to recognise that your actions are visible on a national scale. So far some of your statements "danger to motorists" and "cyclists are fit enough to walk from other side of the high street" have made you sources of ridicule. Please don't dig yourself deeper into a hole. Try to come up with a plan that doesn't just help the existing cyclsits, but encourages people who live in the town to try getting to the high street and back by bicycle and foot, rather than driving there and expecting to find an empty parking space.


  1. Interesting comment about 'the existing cycle parking is empty, a clear sign if ever there was one that the existing provision is poor particularly given the number of cycles locked to railings closer to where people actually want to spend their money.

    If you mean the parking at the far end of the high street (handy for the library but a trek to the shops) or the two sets of wheel bender racks at the other end (not secure for anything) then I guess you're right. Even the local bike shop only has wheel bender racks so clearly they don't look for trade from people who want to cycle to their shop.

    The best racks in town are at Waitrose, but these are hidden way from the high street so not much use for passing tourists.

  2. Certainly an interesting idea, build cheap, crap cycle infrastructure then point out no-one uses it as an excuse not to spend anymore time, money or road space on it. Wonder how many other similar strategies have been applied to other fringe/minority pursuits.