On the march …

Was I or wasn’t I? On the march that is. No I wasn’t but let’s say I empathise, with reservations.

The march was a road closure (Station Road in Histon) under the banner of Extinction Rebellion which gave school children the opportunity to cycle and walk safely along the road between the Infants and Junior schools.

The Extinction Rebellion poster advertising the event talked of it being ‘reclaim the streets – Histon’ to ‘let families travel to the Infants’ school by foot or pedal’. And that’s what puzzled me. Extinction Rebellion is making a big fuss about the climate emergency and need for the government to ‘tell the truth’, ‘act now’ and go ‘beyond politics’. That’s a big issue and I’m largely with them on that. But this event seemed to be about the school run problems on Station Road and that’s another issue and big locally. So why confuse them?

So: issue number 1 the climate emergency. By all means demonstrate but please don’t hijack a local issue and don’t run it with outsiders. It would have been more effective in publicising issue number 1 if Extinction Rebellion would have blocked the High Street!

Issue number 2 can be sorted out within the community by getting Parish Council support for changes to traffic flows on Station Road. A time limited TRO has been suggested but that would need enforcing. I’d prefer making the road one way southbound* maybe just between Dwyer Joyce Close and West Road (with appropriate street furniture). Ideas for alternatives gratefully received.

*I have gotten a little confused between north and southbound. I mean southbound. The previous ‘experiment’ was effectively one way northbound.

6 comments

  1. My 5 year old is not particularly good at cycling and not the safest person on a bike in the world (I do still like her a lot though). As a family we believe that the safest place for her to be when cycling to school is on the carriageway of the B1049 ‘a notoriously busy and congested trunk road’ as the alternative of Station Road is far more dangerous. When this is the case surely something in the village, something in the organisation of our society is broken.

    There has been a lot of criticism that the purpose of the extinction rebellion ‘mass scoot, cycle and walk’ event in the village was unclear. Was it about climate change or was it about safety on the streets? It was about both. In an ideal world the banners used would have said ‘safer streets’ or ‘cycling safely’ but there was insufficient time or resources to do that (see below for comment about the action’s timing) so we used what we had and that allowed something to happen, rather than the nothing that has happened for the last 4 years my children have cycled to school.
    That said most of the lack of clarity arose in advance of the event. From people commenting on a poster and interpreting it as they wanted then criticising the possible interpretations. ‘We don’t understand is it about safety or is it about climate change?’ Is it not possible it’s about both simultaneously? Can you not see the connection between a world where motor vehicles dominate everything and climate change?
    When Extinction Rebellion targeted BP there were no cries that it was unclear what they were trying to do because even if you drive BP out of existence what about the coal powered fire stations? You’re not going to stop climate change by shutting down BP alone, but when you’re protesting you have to make some decision about where you are going to direct your protest it has to be specific. The issue in this village that was being addressed was how we have allowed cars to dominate our space and if we wish to save the planet we need to make safe spaces for non motorised vehicles and pedestrians so that people learn to and can use alternative means of transport, because the message could not be simply connected to climate change in a 5 word slogan does not mean it is not valid. These are not the only reasons for supporting getting out of cars locally there are other completely valid reasons but the message already seems too complex for the community so we didn’t even mention air pollution and health. The media demands simplistic messages well there was no simplistic sloganized message here there was a coherent argument which lead from creating safe spaces for cyclists to fighting the climate crisis.
    A few months ago Cambridge County Council stated that they wanted to create clean air zones around schools, which is very admirable but I have seen literally no action regarding that in this village. Perhaps this is because the Council doesn’t want to annoy the communities or disrupt car users. If every community in Cambridge applied for a traffic restriction order the county would understand that there was an appetite for this type of systemic change and dare to legislate accordingly, rapidly and dramatically. Extinction Rebellion understand that we cannot just pootle along as we are, slowly reducing our carbon footprint. To save ourselves and our children there has to be major systemic change. This will require many different approaches and arguments but if you demonstrate from the ground up that this is what people want you make it possible for the government to make brave decisions. Once you start demonstrating how life could be if there were more car free spaces locally you shift the conversation and you get closer to those communities asking for Traffic Restriction Orders to support cycling locally. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and assume systemic change is a naïve whim for idealists but when WWII broke out the country changed overnight. Radical reorganisation of society is possible but we are nowhere near it despite parliaments and councils across the country notionally declaring an emergency. In an emergency you act quickly.
    The event was massively criticised for the level of personal disruption it caused, believe it or not the date was specifically chosen to be the least disruptive time of the year. It was at the end of the school year, in the summer when the maximum number of people are already out of cars, private schools have broken up, exam season is over, in all honesty the schools are winding down. We deliberately chose to run the action at the end of the summer term rather than the start of the autumn term when there are over a hundred foundation stage children just a few weeks into school.

    Did Extinction Rebellion hijack a local village issue for their own gain? This all assumes that Extinction Rebellion are ‘other’, dirty eco extremists without jobs, ‘out of towners’. What if, dare we believe it, Extinction Rebellion activists actually live in our own community? And what if they are a handful of parents or members of environmental or political groups as were the people supporting and some participating in the action? Yes some people who helped came from outside the village they shared their knowledge and generously gave up their time and helped shepherd our children safely to school but make no mistake this was a Histon & Impington village XR action designed by members of this community to benefit this community AND the future of the planet. Is it so incredible that people who think that the climate crisis is absolutely terrifying live in this community? That people live here think if we wait till 2050 or 2045 as the Lib Dems propose to be carbon neutral we will have cooked ourselves and unnecessarily subjected ourselves and countless other species to the type of existential risk that will mean unprecedented loss of life on the planet.

    It’s been asked why this action took place under the banner of Extinction Rebellion, it’s a local event why didn’t we organise it as a locally community event? For two reasons, firstly I don’t think it would ever have happened as the conversation would have rapidly lead to the requirement to have a formal road closure and that this costs £400 and it’s going to cause so much disruption and you have to apply for it and perhaps we should start a fund raiser etc etc. Secondly the level of venom, vitriol and specifically personal abuse that discussion of this action sparked on the local community facebook page, ‘the hub’ of the village is such that no rational person would ever willingly subject themselves to it. The number of people quite happy to play ignorant in order to criticise the fact that they may or may not be subjected to some slight inconvenience was not entirely surprising but as ever very disappointing. Different ways of doing this event were discussed but the more developed the ideas of how to do this became the clearer it was that it would take a very brave person to stick their head above the parapet on this issue in this village which happily declares itself to be incredibly friendly and supportive. In all honesty the Extinction Rebellion name provided a cloak of anonymity for the organisers of this action which enabled them to do something which I believe has significantly moved forward the conversation regarding permanent safer places for non motorised vehicles in our village.
    Repeating a similar action on the High Street would be wonderful, if someone wants to take this on I’ll happily hold a banner. I’ll just wait for the call to action from someone else but the level of personal abuse was bad enough for this action.
    The event caused frustration, confusion, disruption but judging by the response from parents a whole lot of families loved the opportunity to safely navigate down Station Road without constant fear of cars and vans and that’s a gain for the planet.

    Like

    • tnx Ros. I’m with you on just about everything and especially with your disappointment in those who criticised the event because of its disruption to the community. If there’s one thing we have lots of in H&I it’s disruption and we generally get through it. I will move ‘better traffic management’ up the agenda at the Parish Council and work with you and Huw to get broader community buy-in.

      Like

      • Councillor Jenkins has had many years to proactively make a difference to the question of congestion around our schools at drop off time. Now Extinction Rebellion take the lead and actually do something, Councillor Jenkins jumps on the bandwagon and starts to pontificate about what should be done. With respect Sit, you’ve had years to manage this issue and frankly nothing has happened. Extinction Rebellion May indeed be conflicting two issues, but at least they are doing something about it. Now it’s your turn sir. Show us some action..

        Like

      • I’ve OKd your comment even though you’re somewhat anonymous ..

        You’re right of course. I’ve had a little over 14 years to sort this out but let’s look at it history and context. As people will recall a sort of one-way north bound system was trialled in 2006 and caused all sorts of problems with big queues back along the High Street. Since then we’ve regularly looked at options and sadly never come up with an idea that was affordable and/or garnered sufficient support. Problem is Station Road is too narrow and the footpaths are currently not really good enough (although that’s about to be largely sorted). Add to this the desire of residents to be able to exit at both ends and the challenge of supporting our businesses and you can see why this is a difficult nut to crack. Now we’ve got another nudge to look at it again but trust me it’s not the first time I’ve jumped on this particular bandwagon.

        Of course the situation now is quite different to the one we encountered 10 years ago. Nowadays we do not get queues in the High Street and the recent works at the Rose & Crown junction appear to be delivering the expected benefit (but wait until the winter to confirm this). Plus we’ll have the improved footpaths so maybe now is an opportune time to look at it again.

        As I’ve said in the blogpost I think maybe one way southbound would work but only with street works to condition motorists to drive slowly. But even then I worry about the petrol station and the Histon Fryer loosing business.

        Like

  2. Thanks for your overally support on this David. I accept that there was some extent of genuine confusion in messaging, but I also find it quite staggering that people seem to have found it so difficult to understand that climate change and road safety are linked issues (air quality too- but thank goodness nobody tried to throw that one in!)… a massive overarching point being the need to have less cars on the roads and the need therefore to incentivise and facilitate sustainable transport. There remains a need for more awareness raising on these issues, but its also true that some people were deliberately labouring the confusion point in order to just generally disagree with yesterdays event. My six year old got the reasons for the event without any problem and did not seem to have any problems linking more than one issue.

    I am delighted that Extinction Rebellion came to our village. Yesterday showed people that there are ER members and ER supporters living amongst them…and that was clearly unsettling for some people, but really stimulating and inspiring for others. And I hope that the fact that the event was so professionally, safely and respectively managed will bust the myth some people had about ER. Maybe some people joined in yesterday who have never even thought about these issues much before, or ever been on a protest and they might be inspired into more action. And hopefully more still were pressed to consider how they make their journeys in the morning and how they might engage with making our roads safer. I am delighted too that kids got to do this. I want my children to know that they have a voice and experience the different ways in which they can make their voices heard. This event dovetailed really nicely too with some things the juniors have been doing at school lately, the local youth sustainability group and, of course, the youth climate strikes.

    I am glad that the Parish Council have taken this up to explore possible solutions….I hope its also possible to engage the schools and to develop some concrete sustainable travel plans with them- including for the new infant school.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s