Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Bikes are in and cars are out. This seems to be the new motto echoing through government at the moment that can only be good news for both planet and people. In the midst of the current pandemic many have picked up cycling, some in order to reach work whilst avoiding busy public transport, others simply to allow them to go further afield whilst exercising. The need for social distancing has rapidly changed the manner in which we travel. Concerns around maintaining personal space, packaged with worries about returning air pollution levels, has provided the urgency needed for the government to finally invest more heavily in promoting cycling as a mode of transport.
During the pandemic the numbers of people cycling has drastically increased, with the transport secretary citing 70% increases countrywide. Quieter roads have allowed many (perhaps more nervous) cyclists the opportunity to get out and about and gain confidence without the fear of crabby drivers, looming buses and whizzing taxis. However, with lockdown easing, the quiet roads are not destined to last.
As countries come out of lockdown across the globe, there have been several moves to create infrastructure with which to support and maintain the surge in cycling. Berlin has already created over 13 miles of new bike lanes and 50 new miles are underway in Bogotá. Paris is set to create 400 miles of cycle lanes alongside a €20 million countrywide scheme to offer all citizens €50 bike repair vouchers and in Athens 50,000 are to be allocated to pedestrians and cyclists, including a 4 mile ‘grand walkway’ to connect the main archaeological sites. It is clear that our government has many places to look to for ideas on how to implement such infrastructure.
In a Greenpeace commissioned poll, YouGov found that 58% of the public supported introducing cycle lanes on all main roads in urban areas. It is clear that the there is a significant public interest in a transition towards more a bike friendly enviroment. This drive coupled with the quieter roads has created a unique opportunity to redesign our streets and make the switch to accepting and encouraging cycling a permanent fixture in British life. A move forwards from the current sporadic and poorly maintained cycling infrastructure is long overdue.
It is promising that the governments and counties across the UK announce plans to invest in such changes. There is hope for the future of cycling in the UK. This is shown in the UK government plans announcing a £2billion investment to overhaul bike and walking links in England. This will include over 250 miles of new separated cycle routes, under so called “Mini-Holland” schemes and over half a million £50 bike repair vouchers to repair bikes and return them to the road. In Scotland, the government has pledged £10 million to set-up temporary traffic infrastructure made up of pop up and widened cycle lanes in order to allow for more socially distanced travel. Meanwhile in London, Sadiq Khan has closed off many roads in order to allow streams of people to cycle as lockdown is eased, a step in the direction of a new transport dynamic.
Whilst some of these plans are temporary, they open up the option for these to become a permanent part of the travel networks, if well received. When life returns to a somewhat more normal sense; I hope that the policy and projects introduced to encourage increased cycling in Britain, an unexpected and welcome benefit of the pandemic, are continued and help transform the way that Britons travel.