Anna Semlyen is the current campaign manager of 20’s Plenty; she’s also the author of several books, including the highly successful “Cutting your Car Use”. We had an impromptu interview with her asking about her work (past and present) and how cycling fits in her life:
How did you become campaign manager for 20’s Plenty?
Really, it was from having been involved with the organisation for such a long time – I’d been the transport campaigner since 1997. My work involved researching all the UK organisations that were related to personal travel and sending out emails to them.
20’s Plenty recently received a grant for a campaign manager. Since I’m self-employed (some of my other activities include teaching yoga and being a transport consultant) it wasn’t difficult to incorporate managing the campaign.
How successful do you think the organisation has been so far?
I think it’s been very successful, and it’s great to be working for an organisation that has such widespread influence. There is a growing number of councils that are implementing 20mph speed limits in urban areas – Lancaster and Edinburgh have done so recently, and it’s expected that Reading will soon follow suit. Outside of the UK, New York is trialling the system and is preparing the roll out of the limit over the whole city.
Are there any challenges that particularly stand out?
Of course – recently, I requested the precise wording that’s been proposed for the 20mph question (under the Freedom of Information Act). This is particularly important, because the precise wording will affect how people react to it – if it’s put forward as a problem of police enforcement, it’ll be less likely to succeed than if it’s presented as a way of reducing injuries.
20’s Plenty is all about slowing cars down because they’re dangerous – do you think cycles are the way forward?
I haven’t driven a car for more than 10 years, whereas I’ve been a cyclist since I was seven years old. I use my bike to get to school, work and the shops – I usually end up making around three trips each day. I’m not what you’d call a distance cyclist – I make my way around town at a sedate pace. I think cycling is a way of life rather than just something you do. There are obvious health benefits and it’s great for my social life too – cycling is a great way to meet people on journeys.
So you’re just an everyday cyclist then?
Not exactly – I have a child trailer which can carry two children. We also have a “normal” trailer and a Bike Hod. We have a shed full of bikes, although’re all wheeled out at one time or another.
What do you think of the provision for new cyclists in the UK?
I recently took a nine-year-old child out for a cycle training course in York and it was brilliant – it was a huge confidence boost for them. It was only £6 for two hours too; I bought another six as prizes for other kids. I really want to spread the word!
You’ve written for Bycycle Magazine before about car/bike economics – were you surprised by your findings?
I think most people massively underestimate the money it costs to run a car. When I costed it up, I found cycling costs just £1/day (it’s certainly not free!) – this assumes you’re paying someone to maintain your bike, you have insurance etc. By contrast, it costs about £8/day to run a car, once you’ve taken into account depreciation, fuel, maintenance and so on. I think it’s astonishing that families with cars spend almost 20% of their incoming running the car. It’s a good incentive to cycle!