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I'm not a cyclist, but help me be someone on a bike

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

June was a big month for me; I became a father and a 'cyclist' which, according to the title of a recent Channel 5 programme could make me ‘scourge of the street’, but happily it seems I’m not alone.

Recent figures from Transport for London showed that cycling journeys grew by 5% in London last year. The figure is almost three times higher than the average 1.8% growth in distance nationwide.

But I wouldn’t call myself a cyclist. I’m just a Londoner who has made a pragmatic choice to change mode of transport. Cycling offers me a quicker, more reliable commute to pick my daughter up from day-care on time – with the added benefit that it’s more enjoyable than being crammed under an armpit on a train.

Like many, the primary barrier to me jumping on my bike was the issue of safety and the Mayor of London’s office say they recognise this new increase as “evidence investment in infrastructure, including cycle lanes and revised signalling at junctions, is paying off.”

The 2019 State of Cycling report back up those claims, with British Cycling members stating their belief that London is the leading region of the UK when it comes to doing the most to improve things.

That said when I went beyond my usual Quietways and park routes and headed for the City along a cycling superhighway I found it quite intimidating. Witnessing multiple examples of people jumping red lights to keep up their speed, even as a relatively young, relatively fit male, I found the behaviour of some of the more lycra-clad users quite unnerving.

It is important, of course, to remember that despite sensationalist media like the Channel 5 show-title, I feel just as intimated, if not more so, by the speeding and road-infringements of car drivers across London when I am a driving. As Sam Jones, of Cycling UK told The Guardian: “Any growth in cycling is a good thing, but we’re clearly a long way from when women, children and the elderly feel comfortable and safe enough to make those shorter local journeys.”

Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia has said, “Children are an indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all.” Surely no-one can say that a London focused on the movement of cars is one that is successful for our children.

Maybe London, or its boroughs could follow the example of Amsterdam and Dublin who have recently appointed eight-year olds as Junior Bicycle Mayors. That way, the next generation of cycling infrastructure can be designed not from the perspective of the imaginary cyclist but from a 4’3’’ view of the world.

In March, Waltham Forest, one of the three Mini-Holland boroughs, took steps toward this when they presented ten community groups with funding from the council’s first ever Community Walking and Cycling Fund. Local residents will work on projects they believe will deliver more active travel, build more community connections, and tackle social isolation.

Already evidence published in 2018 by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University has found the Mini-Hollands to have increased cycling and walking. In addition, air quality monitoring found that in 2007, 58,000 households were exposed to more than the EU recommended amount of Nitrogen Dioxide, while a decade later, this figure had reduced by almost 90%.

When my daughter is eight, I’d like to live in a city where I feel comfortable to let her cycle down the street to the local park, just like the one recently installed in Stockport as part of Greater Manchester’s wider walking and cycling infrastructure ‘Bee Network’.

Better yet, rather than prioritising drivers, or cyclists, maybe we’ll prioritise people moving.

Research has shown that public space in housing developments in England with the highest levels of outdoor play, also had the highest use by adults; maybe I’ll be able to take out a ball or frisbee onto a permanent ‘play street’, where play is prioritised and traffic is restricted to 5mph like the ones already under discussion in Westminster.

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