Getting more people on their bikes in Sheffield

Cyclist and Star reporter Rachel Clegg.
Cyclist and Star reporter Rachel Clegg.
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The list of pros for cycling is enormous.

It burns 600 calories an hour, it means you can travel three times faster than walking and as many as 20 bicycles can fit into the space taken up by a single car.

The list goes on.

But cycling’s converts don’t need to be reminded of push biking’s plus points.

I’ve been zooming around Sheffield on my bike for seven years. It’s fast, refreshing and makes you feel energised, fit and healthy.

I would even go so far as to say it’s remedial for the common cold, although perhaps I’m pushing it there.

Yet, cycling stalwarts like me aside, few people in Sheffield dabble in this long-standing method of transport.

Sheffield Council says the number of cyclists in Sheffield has doubled between 2001 and 2011, but where are they?

Considering Sheffield’s population exceeds 400,000, there are relatively few cyclists on the roads, and few bikes parked up in the city centre.

Consequently, Sheffield Council is launching an inquiry into cycling in the city, asking individuals and organisations to come forward with suggestions for ways to increase the number of Sheffielders using two wheels.

The council has already been under pressure from local cycling organisations to create safer cycle routes, and now it’s started to act on it.

Coun Cate McDonald, who’s heading the inquiry, says: “It’s a cross party enquiry and we’re talking to all the stakeholders in the city – whether cyclists or motorists – anyone who has something to say about cycling in the city. We are asking people three questions, including what specific actions have helped increase the number of cyclists in Sheffield, what issues are preventing people from getting into cycling and what three actions would increase the number of cyclists.”

The inquiry’s been a long time coming.

Having lived in York, which is one of the country’s most cycle-friendly cities, Sheffield has a long way to go. In York there are cycle lanes throughout the city centre. In Sheffield, they are few and far between, and when there are cycle lanes, they often end suddenly at random points.

But before the council even begins with cycle lanes, it must address the city’s appalling road surfaces.

Take London Road and Abbeydale Road – my cycle route and one of the city’s arterial roads – it’s atrocious.

There are huge crater-like potholes at the side of the road, so big that I often wonder whether it would be easier to cycle on the moon.

When it’s wet, these chasms in the road can be dangerous, as there’s no way of judging their depth.

And then there’s the lack of spaces to park a bike.

Apart from a handful of bike racks at either end of Fargate, city centre bike parking is limited to lampposts and drainpipes.

If the council wants to attract more people to cycling, it has to provide secure parking facilities.

Only last week, in daylight and on a busy city centre street, my lights and seat were stolen.

Simon Geller, a member of Cycle Sheffield which supports and promotes cycling in the city, agrees.

He said: “We need more segregated cycle lanes in Sheffield and the roads need to be better-maintained.”

One of the key issues for Simon is the lack of integration on public transport. “We need to improve that if we are to get more people cycling.”

I’d have to agree.

I used to commute between Sheffield and York by train, with a bike, and to take my bike on the train I would need to make a reservation more than 24 hours in advance.

This wasn’t always possible, as my job at the newspaper was unpredictable.

But the reservation system doesn’t acknowledge the fact that people have busy, fluid, unpredictable lives and there were many occasions when I wasn’t allowed to board with my bike.

The same goes for buses.

A trip to the country with a bike would be a perfect day out.

But there are no provisions for bikes on buses.

And, what’s worse, there are hardly any bike racks in the bus station, so if you are running late for a bus and you’re armed with a bike, you’re left with nowhere to put it.

Retired doctor and keen cyclist Bing Jones said: “It’s incredibly difficult to take a bike on public transport. In Berlin the buses and trains have ample space for cycles so you just turn up with one and get on.”

For 61-year-old Bing, a retired blood and transplant associate specialist, cycling has kept him fit and healthy.

“There is a demonstrable health gain from doing any exercise. But cycling is particularly good for health gains, which include reducing the chances of heart disease, strokes, type two diabetes and even cancer.”

Other benefits from cycling are improved mental health, as physical activity is proven to reduce conditions such as depression.

Bing is passionate about the benefits cycling brings to our health, and is keen to see Sheffield as a more bike-friendly city.

“In this country only two per cent of journeys are done by bike. In Holland 30 per cent of journeys are by bicycle yet there are hardly any accidents. The more people there are cycling, the safer it is,” he said.

The council says its inquiry into improving cycling will be presented to its cabinet in February or March.

But, according to Coun Cate McDonald, there could be improvements made in the short-term future.

Apart from the potholes, the thefts and the lack of integration with public transport, cycling in Sheffield is a no-brainer.

“I’m 58,” says Simon Geller, “But I don’t feel it at all. Cycling definitely keeps you feeling young.”

For details about how to submit your ideas and opinions about improving and encouraging cycling in Sheffield, email Coun Cate McDonald at cate.mcdonald@sheffield.gov.uk

There are various organisations and programmes across the city which help and support new cyclists.

Sheffield CycleBoost is a three-part support service for residents and employees in the city. Its services include bike-loan programmes, maintenance classes and cycle skills training.

For information http://recyclebikes.co.uk/cycleboost/sheffield/dr-bike-clinics-2013