If there is any good to come out of this crisis, let it be a cycling revolution
PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 August 2020
We still have no idea how the pandemic will play out, how long Britain (and the rest of the world) will have to in the shadow of Covid-19, and what will emerge in a post-Covid future.
But I can’t help feeling that a change in the way many people work will be central to that – allied to a change in how we get around our urban areas. And if anything good at all is to come out of this dreadful crisis we have been through, it might be a change to relieve the pressures of commuting and the scourge of congestion.
And I really hope Suffolk County Council has the courage of its convictions and makes meaningful changes to road networks in the county’s towns to encourage more people to take up cycling as a normal mode of transport.
This will be controversial. I’m sure there will be far, far more people saying “don’t block off roads” than will initially welcome plans to create new cycle routes.
But I do hope the county sticks to its guns and goes ahead with the most radical schemes it can to encourage as many people as possible to get cycling.
No one wanted this opportunity – but the fact is that the reduction in the amount of traffic, especially at rush hours, has made cycling a far less daunting prospect for many people. Road planners must not miss this chance to make life easier for people on cycles because of timidity.
I know cycles are only a minority of vehicles across the country – I’ve seen figures saying that between 3-5% of traffic is pedal-powered – but there is evidence that the numbers have risen over lockdown and that has to be encouraged both to reduce congestion levels and improve general fitness.
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To do that, more traffic-free routes have to be created. The county council has made a good start but I really hope that the new money it is applying for from the government encourages it to get on with more changes.
Personally I would like to see the Bramford Lane bridge closed to general traffic – it would be a clear signal that Bramford Lane is designated as a cycle priority route from the north west of Ipswich to the town centre.
Many people would not like this – but we do have to get away from the temptation to pigeonhole people as “motorists” or “cyclists.” I’m always going to drive more miles than I cycle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the issues facing cyclists. And over the last few years I’ve come to realise that the quickest and most convenient way of getting from my home into the town centre is on two wheels.
But it’s also clear that there is a real hatred (not a word I use without thinking about it) felt by some drivers towards cyclists.
I’m not sure about the reason for this and it does strike me as being totally irrational. This manifests itself especially on social media – and the other day I was being copied in on a thread which included someone who was clearly very upset by the fact that cyclists don’t need insurance to take to the road.
In my experience, those who complain about cyclists not having to have insurance really are looking for a reason to justify their dislike of pedal cycles. In nearly 40 years in journalism I don’t recall covering or even hearing about a court case in which a cyclist was held to be at fault for damage to a motor vehicle.
I do recall a tragic incident in another part of the country involving a pedestrian who was killed in a collision with a cyclist – but in that case the cycle was not road legal anyway (it had no brakes) so any insurance the rider had taken out would have been invalid!
And if you start asking for insurance for a human-powered cycle, what’s next? Insurance for parents pushing children in buggies? Should pedestrians need insurance if they want to cross the road?
What we need is understanding that the roads are there for all users. They aren’t just there for cars and lorries (car tax and fuel duty are not hypothecated taxes set up just to maintain the road network) they are there for all road users – whether you’re polluting the atmosphere with exhaust gases or not.
We are now seeing a reduction in traffic and a lowering of pollution levels in some of the worst areas of the county. Surely it is the responsibility of all road users to maintain this trend and at least consider other methods of travel.
And while measures to encourage that might not be popular in the short term, in future years I suspect many people will be asking themselves what all the fuss was about!
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