Sunday, 10 February 2008

Urban cycling gaining popularity

I know lots of statistics are available to show cycling, as a form of commuting, is on the increase. Many cities are experiencing improved uptake in cycling, due in part to the slowdown of journey times by car, an increased awareness of green issues and climate change and also the expense as petrol heads towards £1.10 a litre or £5 a gallon (for US readers, that's somewhere in the region of $8.33 a US gallon). How many of you are actually seeing more cyclists as you ride to work?

I'd have to say, even here in Blackburn, there are probably more people riding their bikes to work. It's not very scientific, I know, but before two or three years ago, I used to see very few cyclists in the rush hour. Now I regularly see one or two each morning and evening, even in the winter. As I'm rarely travelling at the same times, these are often different people. Therefore in my very blunt straw poll, I figure cycling to work is gaining popularity.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, if all commuters left their cars at home one day a week it would reduce the UK’s total CO2 emissions by almost 1 per cent. In the UK 71% of commuters travel by car but only 3% travel by bicycle, so there is a long way to go until we reach the level of bicycle use in countries like China or India. I know, they have the problem of increasing car ownership, but you get the picture. With the average commute being 8.7 miles, the proportion of journeys that could be cycled in less than 30 minutes must be quite high, but potential cyclists need to feel safe on the road.

Councils cannot expect the increase to happen organically and whilst I understand adapting streets to be cycle friendly is beyond the budget of most local authorities, you have to wonder whether they are doing enough when compared with many European cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin. Here, we have a lack of dedicated cycle lanes and no separation from motorised traffic. The roads are in a poor state with cyclists having to navigate pot-holes, grates and manholes and run the risk of being 'doored' when passing endless lines of parked vehicles.

Even where new developments occur, facilities for cyclists seem to come too far down the list of provisions. An example locally is our town centre, which is constantly having expensive imported paving replaced by other expensive imported paving, yet rarely are cycling facilities added.
Blackburn recently spent £1.2m on an improvement scheme at Sudell Cross and added a controversial column of light as an art installation, but no cycle stands for visitors to the local shops. Any cyclists stopping there will have to lock their bikes to the street furniture. Perhaps the planners intended all along for cyclists to park their bikes in the art work braid?

If cycling is increasing locally, from what I can see, it is happening despite any cycling strategy. Any credit should go to the cyclists not to the council. Rather than getting a pat on the back, they should be working out how much more it would increase if they really showed a demonstrable commitment to improving facilities.

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