New Cycle Lanes: Is the 'Golden Age of Cycling' on the horizon?

Cycling in the UK -

New Cycle Lanes: Is the 'Golden Age of Cycling' on the horizon?

As schools go back this week, and more and more people return to the office, the Government is pushing hard for restoring a sense of normality in Britain, to get the country back on its feet economically. At the same time, the pandemic is far from over, and making sure the necessary precautions remain in place continues to be at the forefront of this general return. This is a difficult tightrope to walk and certain elements of society are experiencing a staggered return to normal as a result.

Public transport is such a sector where, on the one hand, it remains a staple and essential method of people getting to work, but on the other, is also a particularly high-risk vector for the virus. Local councils are trying to grip this double-edged sword by simultaneously recommending alternative forms of transport. Transport for London, for example, last week launched a new TV advert that encourages people to forego the car and instead walk and cycle on their journeys through the capital. Cycling, in particular, is being promoted, with the introduction of temporary cycle lane infrastructure; TfL has already built or is constructing more than 46km of new/upgraded lanes, with lots set to become permanent.

Local governments and private initiatives across the United Kingdom are doing similar. Bristol city council, for example, has recently relaunched its cycling scheme website, with the addition of online cycle maps and ability to book lessons, while also continuing to pedestrianise broad areas of the city. Transport for the West Midlands has, likewise, recently unveiled the Starley Network, a sprawl of 500 miles of bike routes, named after the local family of inventors who first designed the modern bicycle in the late-nineteenth century. Cycling UK has meanwhile come up with their own cycling network, with the announcement of King Alfred’s Way last week: 350km of cycle routes in the heart of Southern England.

Such widespread changes have not come without complaints, and many local councils have received significant 'bikelash' from their communities for putting in cycle infrastructure without having first consulted them. Brighton council, for example, was forced to remove their traffic calming measures, that were put in place to make roads safer for cyclists, due to criticisms about increased traffic. Councils that have meanwhile stuck to the initiative have done so with reference to studies that such measures in the long term reduce traffic overall; making roads easier to navigate for both cars and cyclists.

Cycling has experienced a conspicuous boom over the past months; the UK Department for Transport, for example, found that cycling levels increased by up to 300% between March-June 2020. Whether this will last is difficult to predict; with winter approaching and commuting returning to normal, coupled with the complaints of this vocal minority, convenience may dictate otherwise. Bike is Best, an alliance of cycling companies, has recently coordinated itself for lobbying and making sure these adopted measures become permanent, but the task of instilling behaviour changes and reducing car dependence largely falls to authorities. Indeed, if the ‘golden age of cycling’, as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has dubbed this moment is to be made a reality, then the nettle must continue to be grasped by national and local government.

Photo credits: Richard Peace

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