10 Jun 2017 Life on Two Wheels – Supporting Bike Week
In support of this years annual Bike Week (10th-18th June), Director of Research at Food Active Robin Ireland has written a blog piece about the benefits of cycling, and the challenges faced by those using it as their mode of transport.
I can’t imagine life without a bike. I do my shopping on my bike, I go to footie on a bike, I go to work on a bike …. well, you get the picture. The only time in my life when I don’t remember cycling – I even remember my fab tricycle with its own ‘boot’ as a toddler – was when I lived in Birmingham in the first half of the 1980s. And OMG, that was motor city. Lots of gleaming inner city motorways and Spaghetti Junction for goodness sake. And that’s it really. Whilst the good burghers of Amsterdam and Utrecht were designing their cities for people and not purely for vehicles, we did our best to wreck our inner cities from Glasgow to Manchester with huge roads carving through local neighbourhoods. The legacy is clear with air pollution at terrifying levels for those unfortunate enough to live, work or go to school in their proximities.
Cycling is brilliant. It helps you to interact with your neighbourhoods that being stuck inside of a steel box never allows you to. It helps keeps the weight down whilst you are simply going about your daily business. It helps clear the head whilst others around you are freaking about rush-hour congestion and parking. And the sense of freedom it gave me as a youngster still remains fresh.
This isn’t a manifesto for Middle Aged Men in Lycra. When I have visited Copenhagen or Den Haag I just see ordinary people of all ages dressed in their usual clothes getting around …. by bike. What ridiculous conspiracy have we allowed to develop that apparently we have to wear high viz and a helmet to pop a mile down the road to the newsagent. How many times do we have to hear, “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”, as we narrowly manage to avoid ending up on a car bonnet.
And forget that old canard that local businesses loses custom if car parking and access is restricted. There is no evidence to support this. Any more than the Olympics promote participation in sport (they don’t). In fact the best legacy of the London Games is probably the burgeoning cycle infrastructure allowing thousands of Londoners to whizz around their city.
As my knees go and it’s a constant challenge to keep up my ParkRun participation, my bike is becoming a mobility aid. There is no reason why I can’t continue cycling into my eighties. When I took my daughters on holiday to the Netherlands years ago and persuaded them to cycle along a lovely bike path to Leiden, my eldest said – as we observed lots of fashionable teens biking in different directions: “Dad, if it was like this at home, I’d cycle all the time”. Having volunteered on a Merseyside Cycling Campaign stall during the wonderful Sky Rides when a traffic-free Liverpool encourages thousands to dust down their bikes and have a go, this is a lament I have heard hundreds of time. Whilst people are scared (and very poorly protected by the law) from having to share their road space with cars, lorries, buses and the ever friendly taxis (irony) we are going to struggle to encourage more onto their bikes no matter how good it may be for their health (mental as well as physical).
There is a challenge ahead for all those designing our towns and cities. We need green space, we need clean air, we need room for our children to play safely outdoors and for all of us to be able to walk and cycle without fear. And yes, this may mean restricting car access (as well as speeds) and building an effective cycling infrastructure. Didn’t see this raised as an election issue? I thought not. On your bike …