Darlovelo’s history goes back to May 2004, when local cycling advocate Mike McTimoney set up the Bike Darlington blog. Then, in January 2005, Darlington Cycling Campaign was launched. Its chair, Richard Grassick, posted these thoughts at the time:
Well, the meeting came off with about 12 to 15 people turning up, plus a few more who emailed in support but couldn’t make it. I thought a good turnout for a first gathering, and most people seemed positive about the idea of a united voice for cyclists in Darlington.
I still think it’s sad that so many cyclists don’t want to challenge the current thinking that cars should always get priority when it comes to traffic management. As many at the meeting said, if you want to get from A to B in Darlington using the cycle network, it’s like negotiating a series of jokes – from “Cyclists Dismount” signs to idiotic diversions for cyclists at roundabouts (the Woodlands Road roundabout at Cockerton taking the top prize for Total Lack of Cycling Perspective).
Yeh, it’s not “cool” to ride a bike to 6th Form, sure there are a lot of people in Darlington who would rather buy a Porsche and live in debt for the rest of their lives than be seen dead on a bike, and yes, we need to change hearts and minds on this one. But I’m sorry, somewhere in there we need to offer other priorities in life. Maybe “carism” should be challenged like racism or sexism.
The following year saw the launch of a great opportunity for cycling in Darlington, with the local authority’s participation in the Cycling Demonstration Towns (CDT) project. This involved substantial extra funding for cycling from central government for what would turn out to be 6 years. The core aim of this project – and indeed of cycle campaigners – was to increase the modal share of cycling in the town from a miserly 1% to a level that would make cycling “normal”, somewhere around 7%.
The first results from Darlington’s CDT work were announced at the Cycling Campaign’s Darlington Cycling Symposium in March 2007. They showed a very promising jump in bicycle trips between 2004 and 2006 by 66%. Even more encouraging, car trips dropped from 41% to 37%.
As the CDT project progressed, the Cycling Campaign sought to liaise with the local authority when new cycling infrastructure was proposed, and to represent the cyclist’s point of view regarding its design. This was developed via the council’s consultation mechanisms, the Transport and Cycle Forums. But engineers’ thinking was – and still is – highly car-centric, with a key unspoken rule that road space for motorised traffic should not be compromised. As a result, whilst good cycling infrastructure has appeared here and there, its coherence is compromised in equal measure at key points.
Then, in 2011, both the Transport and Cycle Forums were abolished. Cycling Campaigners were left “on the outside”, as the local authority pursued new funding for a series of softer measures. In 2012, Darlovelo agreed to merge with Darlington Cycling Campaign, in an attempt to concentrate scarce resources in one organisation, and to enable cycling campaigning to survive what is clearly, with drastic austerity measures hitting all public spending, a difficult period in the town.