Is The ‘Golden Age For Cycling’ Already Over?

As I have been doing ever since the lockdown started, today I went out for my daily exercise. It’s no longer my ‘permitted’ exercise as it seems that things are back to normal in terms of getting out and about, as long as we keep our 2 metres of distance. In the main, people seem to be sticking to that. This morning I set off on what would become a 20km walk to the Ryburn and Baitings reservoirs making the most of the warm day. There were a good number of people out and about despite it being Monday; I was certainly not alone.

Then I looked online at social media and the news. Today saw the ‘non-essential’ shops reopen and the long lines of people queuing was a depressing sight. Tonight on the news a woman explained that she had taken a day off work to ensure that she could visit her local Primark. I was immediately reminded of this wonderful cartoon by Robert Thompson that appears in the current edition of Private Eye:

In response I posted a few of the pictures I’d taken on my walk to Twitter with comments inspired by the cartoon:

First of all can I say that I understand that the economy needs to get going again and an important part of that is the shops reopening, especially in Britain where so much of the economy is service-based. I have no truck with that (although taking a day off work to head off to queue at Primark seems a little excessive…). But it is worrying how quickly some people seem to be reverting back to their old ways. Remember a few weeks ago when Boris Johnson stood up in parliament and talked about a ‘golden age for cycling‘? All the talk of creating safe space for walking and cycling that would transform the way we live our lives? A real silver lining to the black cloud that has been the Coronavirus.

Yesterday I spent about two hours highlighting potential changes that would help develop better safe spaces for walking and cycling in my local area of Calderdale via a portal that has been created by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

“The West Yorkshire Combined Authority and our partners want to understand which areas in our region could be improved to help the public travel more easily by bike or on foot, and to provide more space to travel safely while social distancing. Our interactive map will allow you to highlight issues that you are experiencing when travelling by bike or on foot and to suggest where improvements could be made to make these journeys safer, including increasing space for social distancing.”

WYCA: Safe Streets for Walking and Cycling

The map itself can be found here and, should you live or work in the Calderdale, Kirklees or Wakefield areas, I would encourage you to add your thoughts. Here’s one of the entries – one of the longer ones – that I added concerning the A640 New Hey Road that connects Outlane / Junction 23 of the M62 with the centre of Huddersfield:

“The entire length of New Hey Road is very dangerous for cycling. This is despite it being a very wide road and already having a cycle lane marked on the road for much on the length of the road. Alas cars park intermittently along the entire length of the cycle lane rendering much of it less than useless. Cyclists have to constantly enter the lane of traffic. It is safer simply to ignore the cycle lane and remain in the traffic. The risk of being ‘doored’ is high as the cycle lane runs adjacent to car parking for many stretches of the road. The cycle lane / road itself is very poorly maintained. Pinch points (bollards, crossing etc…) are regular features of the road. With quality design and significant investment this road could be a fantastic example of how different methods of transport can coexist. There is plenty of space but so much is wasted with hatched off areas in the centre of the road. A large number of people live on either side of the road, there is a large secondary school on the road and others very close by. If we are not willing to invest to create quality safe space for walking and cycling on this road, then tinkering around the edges elsewhere is simply a bit of window dressing.”

Andrew P. Sykes, WYCA: Safe Street for Walking and Cycling portal

A couple of weeks ago – during the lockdown – this was the attitude of one van driver to creating safe space for cycling. He parked his vehicle in the cycle lane as I was approaching him IN THE CYCLE LANE and when I asked if he could move it and explained why it wasn’t really on for him to do what he had just done, he told me that he needed someone in the shade to eat his lunch. It was almost comical:

Am I just wasting my time? Are we all wasting our time filling in forms and online consultations when the willingness for the wider population is not to embrace anything new but to revert back to their old ways as soon as they possibly can? We’ve already seen the number of cars on the road seemingly return back to normal levels. The people are eager to get back to Primark and I don’t have an issue with that but in other areas – safe space for walking and cycling – I am worried…

Categories: Cycling, Photography

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9 replies »

  1. There have been promises made for the last 4 decades, none of them kept. Here in Worcester we have a particular problem – the iffy geezer who is council cabinet member with responsibility for transport has a passionate hatred of anything cycle-related and sometimes writes letters to the local newspaper with this viewpoint.

  2. Iโ€™m going to try and be optimistic. Traffic is sadly creeping back up to pre lockdown levels, not surprising given the advice to avoid public transport. However, I have never seen so many people of all ages on bikes, family groups, older people and the usual Lycra warriors. All of them look happy, many are discovering the joys of cycling for the first time. They will feel the benefits we all know cycling brings both physical and mental, hopefully some will use there cars less in the future. There was never going to be a sudden seismic shift overnight, but this crisis has given cycling a big nudge. Of course not all the promises made by central and local government will come to pass, but some will, another nudge ! There is also much more awareness of air pollution now, a few months of cleaner air in London has made people realise what we could have. Increasingly Government will be tackled in the court re itโ€™s environmental responsibility, as in the 3rd Heathrow runway case – another nudge ! Donโ€™t lose heart, smile and enjoy the cycling

    • Well said Adria. You are 100% correct and ‘nudge theory’ is a tried and tested way of making big changes. It’s just that a bit of revolution isn’t also needed. And that’s what New Hey Road in Huddersfield requires… I live in hope! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. It’s inevitable that the major roads will get busier. Personally I always avoid them where possible and often wonder why cyclists use them when there may be an alternative, accepting that’s not always the case.
    The positive to take out of this is I’ve seen many more people out and about on their bikes and I’m sure some will decide it’s preferable to the car. Home working is also likely to increase taking cars off the road.

    • I agree with you on almost everything you say John except for the fact that cyclists should be finding alternative routes. Yes, sometimes that’s great (along a tow path for example or a disused railway line or simply quiet country lanes) but in urban areas we need to move to the situation where different modes of transport share the same (or almost the same) space. We shouldn’t feel obliged as cyclists to be pushed onto tortuous backstreets just to get from A to B to C. You and me probably feel comfortable doing that but we have to accept that it is also the thing that’s stopping others who don’t currently cycle as seeing cycling as a viable, mainstream alternative to the car.

  4. Yep I think the period in which I thought cycling would get a foothold better in the UK is gone… I was so pleased to read that the UK was considering more cycle/walking paths ,,…. no change just seems as if those could have been empty promises again .

  5. Sadly I think so Andrew. I really liked the quiet Hampshire roads and I didnt mind the odd brief spell on an A road. Last Saturday the A roads were busy and you had to be really alert. Earlier in the year you could almost daydream cycling along. I suspect despite all the rhetoric, climate change etc people will just go back to their old ways. I hope we are wrong.

What do you think?