30 May 2013

Elite sport or a more active community?

Felt I had to write one last letter to my Councillors:

One last comment before your meeting today -  my comments on Waterworld are pretty much summed up here

But can I also add, that as a cyclist, I am appalled that you are spending £1m on the cycletrack proposed for Jack Kane/Hunter's Hall, and not on Waterworld?  It is entirely unclear that there is any case to be made for the Jack Kane/Hunter Hall track - and many concerns about it.  It will only ever be used by a tiny minority of elite cyclists - and the best of them will go to Glasgow for the velodrome anyway. But Waterworld would support kids starting out on healthier, active lifestyles -- especially groups in the city who may not use other sports facilities.  Softplay does not fill this gap, and the market is already over saturated in Edinburgh anyway.

Both Waterworld/Commie pool and the Meadowbank/Jack Kane sagas capture Edinburgh's problem - not maintaining or marketing facilities that we have, and then promoting elite sport over fun activities that channel kids into more active lifestyles.

We're all aware of the financial challenges faced by the city, but they are the result of short term thinking and will only be solved by more long-term planning, not just plugging holes.

29 May 2013

The sad lessons of Waterworld

Fyrishof in Uppsala - now that's a swimming pool!
When the council closed Leith Waterworld, we were devastated.  My daughter, who had done baby swimming lessons there as well as regular family outings,  cried and cried.  We tried taking her to the Dalry Swim Centre for lessons but she hated it. When the Commonwealth Pool re-opened, we tried it with no more success It just wasn't 'fun'.  Her little brother has only once been to Waterworld, when he was a few months old just before they closed it.  But we do know how much fun a family can have at a waterpark. Pictures of our trip to Sweden - I was at a conference, it was the only self-catering accommodation we could find - hang on our kitchen walls. There are huge smiles on our faces.  Waterworld ought to draw people into Leith, and boost local businesses, as well as providing much needed family recreation for the local neighbourhood.

So when we heard in January that the Council would consider - support even - a community bid to reopen Waterworld, we were delighted.  It seemed like finally, things were being done differently. Which is why we all feel like we've been kicked in the guts today.  The council is going to vote tomorrow, but both parties in the ruling coalition support selling Waterworld for a derisory £1million so that a profitmaking firm can turn it into softplay.  There are already several softplays in Leith, and certainly no one is going to travel down Leith walk just to go to another one.  So this one will just take business away from the existing operations. I can't see any long-term financial logic, nor benefit to the council accepting the commercial offer.  The only justification seems to be that 'council officials recommended it'.

The council is trying to sell it as 'better than just another supermarket' and by assuring campaigners that the £125 000 which was to support their bid will still go towards 'free swimming' for primary kids.  But they don't understand that a play pool is different from lessons in cold pools with instructors yelling instructions from the side.

The comments on Andrew Burns blog are a must read. Passionate pleading for a pool that is warm, and shallow enough for toddlers.  The sloping 'beach' like entrance.  The waves and slide.  The Commonwealth pool does have a small pool for kids, but it's regularly too full and people are turned away. A pool where they can play with their kids, not watch them from the side. They put it so much better than I can.  Do read them.  

It's ridiculous that people are driving their kids to Dunbar and Perth so that they can play in fun pools, but it's even more devastating to have the council pull the rug out from under the feet of people who have been working hard to set up the bid.  

This decision has absolutely shattered the trust and faith of community activists, many of them just local families trying to work with the council to improve their local area.  For many this will have been their first taste of activism and engagement. What message have they been sent?  That the council doesn't care about them. That their elected representatives can't be trusted. That's going to be the long term legacy of this decision. And that's even sadder than all the kids who will not know the fun of playing in warm water with their parents and learn to love water and sport.

23 May 2013

Why I can't see past the obstacles to being strategic

A local politician keeps telling me to 'think strategic' and 'not bother him (and others) with the little stuff'.  He means well, but day after day I see little stuff that drives me crazy.   

I can't help but think that if we didn't have to spend so much time on the little stuff, maybe we could actually find time to think strategically? But that means getting stuff right the first time, and joining up the various policies. 

A few weeks ago, the administrator of CCE and I had a meeting with a council official about some inadequate bike infrastructure near my kids school (more about that later).  He also pointed out that the sightlines on one of the crossings in front of the school are obstructed by recycling bins - as you can see in the picture.  

We were assured it would be looked at and dealt with. But a few weeks later, it looked like this:

And then like this:

And then today like this: 

Each time I've noticed this and taken pictures, I've tweeted the relevant authorities and been assured it is being dealt with.  

Reporting faults by twitter is pretty easy, and not that time-consuming.  But as long as very simple policies like 'not obstructing pedestrians sightlines' at crossings can't be managed, how exactly are we supposed to think strategically and focus on the big picture? 

I'm not posting this to beat up on the folks who have been responding to my tweets, but to make the point that the best policies -- whether tenement recycling schemes or safer travel for schoolkids -- are only as good as their implementation and maintenance.   

21 May 2013

What's so different about cycling?

My kids seem to do pretty much everything in school - someone teaches them swimming, dancing, tennis, plus normal PE.

But, when it comes to learning how to ride a bike, although there is a prescribed curriculum, and a commitment from the council to ensuring that it is delivered to all P6s, it all depends on parent volunteers.


Cycling isn't just a sport. It's also life-skill.  It will help them get to their sports practices, their summer jobs, and to lectures at uni.  It helps us remain healthier as individuals and as a population.  It keeps our environment in better shape, and reduces congestion on the roads.

But it's not important enough for schools to actually pay trained professionals to deliver this training to our kids. I'm sure the volunteers are great, but it also means very uneven implementation - and that's before we even get to the schools that ban kids from riding their bikes to school so that they can learn how to ride their bikes....

So why is cycling the one sport/activity (as far as I can tell) that schools are expected to deliver in class time, but through volunteers?

We're not #bloodycyclists, We're everyone

If one message came out of this year's Pedal on Parliament, it's that we're not 'cyclists', we're everyone.   The wonderful Sally Hinchcliffe put this down in words and it was picked up by the Herald, and Scotsman.
This is the start of our 140+ feeder ride to the main Pedal on Parliament

We often say that cycling infrastructure needs to be for everyone from 8-80 and on Sunday friends of mine from many different walks of life - work, sunday school, pub mates - were there ranging in age from babes in arms to octogenarians (My friend Bill is desperate to know if he was the oldest again :)

Right now, on twitter there's a campaign to reclaim the hashtag #bloodycyclists.  As @citycyclists said "Let's get 'I'm one of the " trending? I bike. I don't want to be bloody because some idiot doesn't like my transport choice" This is in response to the dangerous and very foolish young driver in Norfolk, who knocked a cyclist into a hedge, lost her side mirror, and kept going only to tweet about it.

Yes. the double meaning makes it extra powerful. And some of the testimonies are very powerful. Like others, I too have been a #bloodycyclist. And I'm terrified my kids will be too.

But I'm not just a #bloody cyclist. I'm also a mum, a teacher, a member of our parish church, and most importantly a voter.

We're not #bloodycyclists. We're everyone.

16 May 2013

Why we need to Pedal on Parliament

Map showing detail for this section of the journeyThere's a lot of craziness involved in planning pedal on parliament, but right now, my biggest headache is how to get a group of families safely along the 1.75 miles between Harrison Park and the Meadows. 

All of the route - except the little section that you can see here -is off-road.  But that little section between two wonderful family-friendly routes includes one of Edinburgh's least cycle friendly intersections.

Last year we had some nice policemen come along and stop traffic for us.  Which was great, except that apparently this year, they won't do that.  So, we're stressing and kind of hoping we won't have 120 cyclists like we did last year. Cause it will take us ages to cross at that rate, even if we all dash across on the green man. But the bigger issue is that most days, we all have to negotiate dodgy intersections like this one.

This illustrates why Pedal on Parliament is so essential - it is ridiculous that families with kids don't feel safe cycling between the canal and the meadows.  How can we expect them to go anywhere in the city if they can't do that?  The good news is that the City of Edinburgh recognizes this problem, and it is near the top of planned infrastructural improvements as part of their Active Travel Action Plan.

But this is only going to actually be implemented because the Council is committing 6% of its transport budget to Active Travel, with a planned increase of 1% each year until they reach 10%.

Edinburgh is one of the only municipalities to spend this high a proportion of its budget on cycling.  But the effects are clear - in increased numbers of cyclists every year. This shows what can happen if the Scottish Government also commits itself to a target of 5% of the budget for cycling and 10% for Active travel, as we call for in our manifesto.

But we need to get to the Meadows first in order to ask them to do so - any volunteers to ride with us?   https://www.facebook.com/events/150599691787564/

10 May 2013

The H-word

How many of us wear helmets so that when we get squashed the judge can't say it was our fault?   I know I'm not alone in doing this.

But as I wrote a letter to the procurator fiscal (you can too) about the leniency shown in the sentencing for Gary McCourt for the death of Audrey Fyfe, I found myself even less able than normal to justify this position.  And for several days this week I have left my helmet at home.

I don't need (nor want) to read any more studies or studies about the health benefits/disbenefits of helmets.  I've not changed my mind on that.  But I am angry that the judge had the temerity to claim that her not wearing a helmet contributed to her death, when there is absolutely no evidence to back that up. The only person responsible for Audrey Fyfe's death is the man who was in charge of the powerful machine that hit her bicycle. And we need a legal system that acknowledges this, and holds careless and dangerous drivers responsible for their actions.

So, for the moment, I am helmet-less.  I will probably revert -- especially in the dark winter when even my short commute feels perilous -- but right now, this is my small gesture in support of Audrey Fyfe. I only hope I'm still cycling when I'm 75.