A supporter contacted us to ask for tips on how she can lobby the authorities to make Winchester safer for her family to cycle. Here at Cycle Winchester we take an enlightened view of the value of the so-called ‘armchair activist’, defined by the urban dictionary as:
…a person who acts like an activist, but from a metaphorical armchair — i.e., from a mostly or totally inactive, theoretical position.comealongpond2050, March 10, 2012
Labels such as “armchair activist” or “slacktivist” poke fun at what has – especially since the lockdowns of 2020 – become an important way to engage in issues we care about.
Indeed, as the Cycle Winchester operating report shows, a big part of our campaigning work is linked to online consultations.
Here are a few ways you can use scarce free time to support efforts to make Winchester better by bike, even from the comfort of your armchair.
Responding to consultations
Consultation fatigue is a thing. We definitely feel it. Some of our volunteers have been campaigning for decades and have completed countless surveys.
In the last few months, Cycle Winchester has responded to consultations on the Winchester Movement Strategy, the Emergency Active Travel Fund and Hampshire’s Local Transport Plan.
Sometimes consultations are strategic in nature and require us to write and submit online responses on behalf of (would be) cyclists in and around our city. Other times, this is more about scanning individual planning applications and making sure that the needs of cyclists are being considered.
Asking members, and those who follow our website and social media, is important if we are to persuade those in power to listen to the needs of those who either ride bikes, or would like to, e.g. if there was better provision.
It doesn’t help that consultation surveys are often poorly designed and time-intensive to complete. That’s why we have been putting together guides to help make the process as painless as possible.
While it can seem like a thankless task (where are the results of all of this consultation?!?) completing consultations is likely to remain an important part of cycle campaigning. There are of course very good reasons for statutory consultation to be at the heart of local decision-making.
We’d like to see consultation become much more of a genuine and sustained engagement, and are pushing for authorities to consult with Cycle Winchester at an early stage in cycle-related projects. However, armchair activists still have a vital role to play.
Hampshire County Council’s Draft Local Transport Plan 4 consultation is a case in point. At 140 pages the Plan is not an easy read. Nonetheless responding to the linked consultation, showing support for principles that support cycling, while pointing out the things it lacks (such as clear targets to increase levels of cycling) is vitally important. LTP4 will set the tone for transport planning for the next few decades so doing all we can to get it right is key.
It is also sometimes about playing our part in the numbers ‘game’. Lots of positive responses for initiatives to promote cycling helps show officers and politicians there is broad support. On the flip side, it makes ignoring cyclists’ needs more difficult.
Contact your councillors
Winchester City Council is a local authority district whose officers and councillors have responsibility for a number of services in the city and neighbouring areas of Hampshire including settlements like New Alresford and Kingsworthy. A full list of WCC and District councillors can be found here.
It is important to stress that WCC does not have overall responsibility for transport planning. This falls to the Highways Authority, Hampshire County Council (HCC). If you want to let Hampshire know what you think of provision for cyclists in the county, you may want to email Cllr Rob Humby, who is Leader of the Council and Executive Member for Hampshire 2050, along with the county councillor for your local division. Contact details for all Hampshire councillors can be found here.
Ward councillors (Winchester City and District) do have responsibility for some cycle and footpaths and parking locally so it is always worth raising issues with your councillor in the first instance as they may be able to help. In the recent WCC elections, some candidates made active travel part of their campaigns; a friendly email to ask how these ideas are progressing locally might be timely.
Similarly, if you know of things that have worked locally, perhaps you’ve lived somewhere with a ‘School Street’ or taken part in a local cycle training, why not float this with a local councillor. Funding can sometimes be obtained via Parish or Town Councils for this kind of activity.
We have also had some success as individuals reporting potholes, poor road surfaces, overgrown paths and broken street lighting; all of which can make walking and cycling unpleasant. Apps such as Love Clean Streets can make this easier.
More strategically, WCC has a big stake in the Winchester Movement Strategy, adopted in 2019. Keeping an eye on the progress of projects and goals in this is something we can all help with.
WCC is also the planning authority and making sure that cyclists’ needs are considered as part of future development and local planning policy-making is important. We comment on development proposals we know of that will impact on cycling. Do keep an eye out locally and either let us or your local councillors know where opportunities to improve cycling provision as part of proposed developments present themselves to we can ensure this is thought about at an early stage.
Ride your bike (and then shout about it!)
This one is all about leading by example. Seeing people riding bikes helps the wider cause in a couple of important ways. It shows those in positions of authority, who might otherwise view cycling as a niche or minority activity, that cycling is something that, given the right conditions, many people can do. This in turn helps decision makers prioritise investment in measures to support cycling. Perhaps even more importantly, being out on your bike allows those who don’t currently ride but who might be persuaded to try it, that cycling is an option.
Our rider profiles feature seeks to present the widest possible image of who cycles in Winchester. Research shows that embedding cycling in local cultures is an important part of normalising getting around by bike. The timing of these things can also be important. For instance, getting kids cycling at a young age increases the likelihood to these behaviours becoming lifelong habits.
This is one reason we are supporting measures to increase walking and cycling to and from school. We know of two Bike Buses (from Abbott’s Barton to St Bede Primary school in Winchester, and from Shawford to Westgate School in Winchester); it would be great to see these all over the city! Do contact us if you are interested in setting something up locally and we’ll link you to others.
The Mass Rides that Cycle Winchester runs are perhaps our most powerful tool to show – very publicly – that all kinds of people can and do enjoy riding. It is also about sending a message to those in power that there could be many (many) more riders in Winchester given adequate space and proper infrastructure. So, consider getting out of your armchair and joining us on our next Mass Ride planned for 30th September 2023!
If you have done all of the above and have the energy left (or perhaps you have decided you are not really a “sitting in an armchair kind of person”…) then do consider getting involved as a Cycle Winchester volunteer. We are a small but friendly group that are determined to do what we can to ensure our compact and eminently cyclable city is a more pleasant place for all kinds of people to ride a bike.
Drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on social media @cyclewinchester.