Mon 7 May 2012
Last year I wrote a post about how the Dutch got their cycle paths. A key part of this was the Stop der Kindermort campaigns of the 1970’s. On the 28th April the Dutch celebrate their Queen’s Day, while we here in Scotland took inspiration from their Stop der Kindermort campaigns and Pedalled on the Scottish Parliament to call for safer roads for all.
The genesis of the of Pedal on Parliament can be traced back to a meeting in Edinburgh to discuss the formation of a Scottish Consulate of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, involving Sally Hinchcliffe, Dave du Feu, Dave Brennan and myself. There was some talk of taking a protest ride to the Scottish Parliament, but at this stage there was no formal plan. The Pedal on Parliament campaign really started on the 24th February, with a single e-mail to Sally and myself from Dave Brennan:
The call has gone out for cyclists to go to London on the 28th April in a show of support for the ‘cycle revolution’. I’d love to go, but I just can’t make it. Too far, too expensive, too difficult.
However, that got me thinking, surely this is the right time to push the agenda north of the border. We have a separate parliament who have yet to make any major noises about this campaign. So, I’m wondering if we need a Scottish ride to coincide with the London ride. Probably an Edinburgh ride to Hollyrood.
What do you guys think?
I’ve started writing a blog post about it, we would need a lot of support from others, and this might be a good time to get support from the Scottish press (we’d ideally have support from the Times as well). We’d obviously need Spokes, GoBike, Cycling Scotland etc on board.
Just thought I’d pass it by you guys first.
I’ll have to cancel my entry to the Kinross Sportive which is a shame!
Since then it has been a roller coaster ride, the three became seven and then eight, and before we knew it we had started a revolution. We had a website (run by Alan of Go Bike), we were getting press coverage in local then national papers, even a couple of mentions on the BBC and STV evening news. On the evening of the Spokes Hustings (29th March) Michael MacLeod of STV suggested that there could be as many as a 1,000 people turning up on the day. This was the figure we started to talk about, even though I for one didn’t entirely believe it.
Around this time we decided that we really ought to have something to give to Parliament, well, we had our Manifesto (a modified version of the one I had originally written), but we felt the need for something more. So it was that we started an on-line Petition and watched the signatures trickle in. The numbers were disappointing at first, but did give us an idea of where we where getting support from, all across Scotland. It also meant we could watch the momentum grow over time, and by the 28th April we had a little over 3,000 signatures.
We somehow managed to blag a wee bit of money out of Spokes and CTC Scotland, which paid for some flyers, using one of the posters designed by the Magnificent Octopus’ (or Andy Arthur as we know him). Andy also kindly donated the monies he was paid for designing a poster for a cycle rally in London, which paid for some blue Hi-Viz tabards for the marshals. We chose blue so that it would stand out from the expected sea of yellow, but I digress. Armed with said flyers, three of us headed for the Scottish Bike Show, where, with the aid of a wonky wallpaper table (is there any other kind?) we set about trying to reach people we couldn’t reach via Twitter and FaceBook Thanks to the Scottish Bike Show for letting us do this for free!.
As the day grew closer, so the flurries of Tweets we were sending to the world increased, as did the blizzard of e-mail between ourselves. Anth, Alan and Sara were busy organising feeder rides and recruiting volunteers to help with publicity, marshalling, etc. We were all working flat out, no one was free wheeling, and, despite the strong characters involved, there were no fallings out.
The day its self dawned, there were three laptops on the breakfast table, the e-mails and tweets were still flying, to try and encourage last minute support. Checking the Petition, we noted that we had just got past the 3,000 signature mark on-line, we had also picked up around 250 on paper at the Scottish Bike Show. About 09:30 there was a phone call from the Police to ask about numbers and arrangements for the day. The conversation went something like this:
Police: so you are expecting 300 (this was the number we had put on the original application form)
Me: um no we are expecting around 1,000 now
Police: OK we will work with that
I later heard that the police briefing for the event had said that they expected around 600 riders to take part. Some of the feedback we have received from participants since the ride has been critical of us, for not anticipating the number of people who turned up on the day. But we literally had no way of knowing how many would turn up. The petition had only just gone over 3,000, and from mapping the first part of the post codes we knew that almost 1970 of those came from the central belt, but how many of those could be expected to turn up on the day? We knew there were going to be some people coming in on feeder rides, but no firm numbers.
Setting off at midday, we (Dave B and I) headed for PoP HQ, Andy’s flat just off the Meadows, to meet up with the rest of the team. This was also to be the meeting point for the non-political invited riders, namely the McNicoll’s (parents of Andrew McNicoll who was sadly killed while cycling in Edinburgh in January) and Mark Beaumont (the round the world cyclist). While there, we tried testing the megaphones we had borrowed (yes, we had 2!), only to find we had bought the wrong batteries, cue mad scramble to get more batteries and pull strings to find if we could borrow a portable P.A. system. Next, there was the phone call from Mark Beaumont to say that he was stuck in traffic on the Forth Bridge, cue jokes about telling him to get on his bike. Fortunately, the Standing Orders for the day were “Keep Calm and Carry On”, which was what we did.
Andy’s neighbours must have wondered what was going on with the constant comings and goings. Ian and Lynne McNicoll arrived with a friend (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten), we had just done the introductions when a tall figure appeared in the doorway. I looked up and thought I recognise that nose, and said “Hello Mark, come in”. The others were looking a wee bit stunned, so I set about doing the introductions as if I was introducing old friends, until I got the friend of the McNicoll’s, when I went blank, at which point the room fell silent and Mark Beaumont looked confused. Fortunately, Ian realised what had happened, finished the introductions, and we were back on track.
People filtered in and out, I left the flat for the last time about 13:30, when I received a call on my mobile from a BBC cameraman down at Holyrood, asking when we expected to arrive and what we would do when we got there. I said that people had been told to gather from 14:00 and we would set off at 15:00. He asked if there were going to be many people. I looked down Argyle Place and across to the Meadows, on the far side I could already see a crowd gathering, so I said I thought that we would make our predicted figure of about a thousand.
Across the Meadows, I went looking for people I was expecting to see, and met some old friends I hadn’t seen for years. The crowd continued to swell, we asked people to keep to one side of Middle Meadows Walk, but it was soon clear this was filling up rapidly. It was when someone told me that people arriving were backing up Argyle Place and fanning out along Melville Drive, that I started to realise that this was really BIG. However, we didn’t really know just how big yet. A conversation caught on video with the police suggested that it was well over a thousand! The new batteries for the megaphones arrived, but we found that we still couldn’t get them to work, so to tell people about the planned minute’s silence, marshals walked down the line telling people at intervals and asking them to pass the message on. It worked! When the whistle was blown to signal the start of the minute’s silence, the whole park fell silent, even people walking past stopped talking. It was a truly eerie feeling, being faced with thousands of people with the only sound being a few birds in the trees.
After the silence came a cacophony of bells, hooters and cheers! Then the ride was led off by Mark Beaumont and the McNicolls, I filtered into the line later on and rode along, chatting with people on the way. There was a wee bit of a delay getting from George IV Bridge on to the High Street, and a taxi driver in Victoria Street decided the solution was to lean on the horn in his cab. Well, until one of the police officers went and had a word with him. Generally the drivers were well natured and patient, more amusing was the reaction of the tourists who cheered and took photos. Every one seemed to be smiling.
On reaching the Scottish Parliament, the organising team all headed for a grassy knoll which stands out (the grounds in front of Scottish Parliament have been landscaped to accommodate rallies such as ours), and invited politicians headed over to meet us as they arrived. All had ridden from the Meadows, we were very happy to have cross party support. Half an hour after the first riders had arrived at Holyrood, we heard from the police that the last riders had just left the Meadows. Once everyone had finally arrived, a number of short speeches were made. However, due to the size of the P.A. system we had blagged at the last moment, quite a number people didn’t realise that speeches were happening, as they couldn’t hear them.
There was a further discussion with the police about numbers, they said at a “conservative estimate there were at least 2,500 people and probably 3,000”, this figure was agreed by many of the others who were there. There was a comment from the politicians that this was one of the biggest rallies they had seen outside the Scottish Parliament, and definitely the most friendly. The buzz was amazing and has continued for well over a week!