At last night's Council Cabinet meeting, it was agreed to extend the trial on allowing cycling in Darlington's Pedestrian Heart for a further nine months, until November 2008, to allow for a Disability Impact Assessment on cycling in the town centre, an educational programme on responsible cycling to be carried out and inter-generational work with older people on concerns about cycling to be carried out.
The full report to Cabinet, and its recommendations, can be read on the Council website. It is an excellent, detailed report and covers all of the arguments for and against cycling in the town centre and I'd recommend all members read it (at least once!). It is also worth reading the appendices, which include an excellent map of where cycling is and isn't allowed (option 1 is the map you need) and the views of various interested parties.
Six months ago, I would not have been surprised if cycling had been banned last night. There were large numbers of councillors whose instinct was to ban cycling in the pedestrianised area, and a very vocal group of members of the public regularly writing in to the Northern Echo calling for a ban.
For the last six months, Council officers have worked incredibly hard to enable cycling in the town centre and we as a campaign have tried to produce evidence that cycling in the town centre is safe, rather than relying upon instinct or generalisations.
However, probably the biggest factor leading to the acceptance of cycling by the majority of the public has been the behaviour of almost all cyclists using the pedestrianised area for the last six months.
There is still a lot of work to be done in the next eight months; one Councillor last night stated that children were "often" not seen by cyclists! I think this demonstrates the level of unthinking, anti-cycling attitudes still present in some areas, making sweeping, serious generalisations without any factual basis.
Last night's decision, despite not being an outright decision to allow cycling, should be seen as a big step forward and very positive outcome.
Based on all the evidence, the only rational outcome is to allow cycling in the pedestrianised area as any other outcome is either more dangerous or unworkable. However, we understand why the trial is being extended and will endeavour to work with the Council in order to reach a sensible outcome in November.
Update: The Northern Echo: Councillor’s warning over ‘chavs on bikes’ is a report on the Cabinet meeting. It's a strange report, as you'll see if you read my comments below the article.