'Golden age of transport choice' for Sheffield - but will drivers agree?
Dame Sarah Storey is keen to play down suggestions of growing conflict between drivers and cyclists - as record sums are spent on bike lanes in Sheffield.
The region’s Active Travel Commissioner does not think there is more aggression towards riders due to new measures that challenge motorists’ domination of the roads.
The gold medal winning Paralympic cyclist says there is no ‘us and them’ because most riders drive too.
This is despite a photo emerging of an overtaking motorist making a rude gesture at her. It was snapped during a police ‘close pass’ operation on the A57 which saw officers stop 20 - almost a fifth - of 110 overtaking drivers.
The day after we chat The Star is sent a video of a van passenger throwing hot chocolate on a rider.
Reports are up because more cyclists have cameras, Dame Sarah says.
In 2020, Sheffield City Region was awarded £166m to improve public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.
Some £50m was for Sheffield - an unprecedented sum - resulting in projects across the city. All of them will disadvantage drivers.
Dame Sarah thinks that, as well as the physical changes, there needs to be a similarly huge shift in thinking.
Drivers are not a majority in society, most people are driven and a third don’t even have access to a vehicle, she claims.
This freedom to ‘go where you want, when you want’ is a privilege that should be available to everyone, including wheelchair users trying to use buses and kids who want to cycle to school safely.
The new funding, for ‘Connecting Sheffield, ’ is a step towards that.
She said: “The car is seen as entitled to use the road in a way that no one can touch. My plea is to look at things differently, there are a lot of people who are in effect trapped and don’t have that independence.
“If you only spend money on one form of transport everyone has to use it. These proposals could herald a golden age of transport choice.”
Today, there are ‘sustainable travel’ schemes planned in the city centre, Neepsend-Kelham, Darnall-Attercliffe and Magna-Tinsley. More public transport improvements are planned on Abbeydale and Ecclesall roads.
The city also has bids into the Active Travel Fund to improve ‘cycling routes routes and reduce traffic in local neighbourhoods’. It includes plans for a Sheaf Valley Cycle Route out to Woodseats and ‘active travel’ neighbourhoods in Crookes and Nether Edge.
In Sheffield city centre, some £13m is earmarked for pedestrianisation and bus improvements.
Division, Leopold and Surrey streets have already had major traffic restrictions. They were introduced last summer and have since been incorporated into ‘Connecting Sheffield’.
But plans to permanently close Pinstone Street are under threat.
Last month, Labour called for it to be partially reopened to electric buses, in response to complaints from passengers, many of them elderly or disabled. A decision must be made by the council’s ruling Executive by the end of the year.
The Green party, which is sharing power with Labour, opposes reopening.
Green councillor Martin Phipps says all the schemes are justified due to the climate emergency alone. But bike lanes also benefit those on low incomes, because cycles are cheap compared to a car. And the health benefits are well known.
He added: “Everyone now says climate change is a big issue. We need to get across the message this is how we tackle it. It is frustrating, but there is always opposition.
“We’ve had a century of spending on transport schemes that favour drivers. And some see cyclists as a nuisance. But when they are segregated with their own lane, that’s not an issue.
“A lot of people say they don’t feel safe cycling. Should we be pushing people into unsafe situations?
“There’s a misevaluation of the benefit of drivers to business. People think a busy road is good for business but often cars just drive by. Cyclists and walkers are more likely to stop because it’s easier - they don’t need a parking space.”
Mr Phipps has previously warned removing the Pinstone Street restrictions could cost the city millions because many funding bids have been approved and lodged on that basis, including the £15.8m Future High Streets Fund. And the Government has warned it could halt all active travel funding if schemes are removed ‘prematurely,’ without evidence or consultation.
Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed urged the two ruling parties to cease their ‘endless arguments’ about Pinstone Street and focus on the rest of the city.
He added: “With the extra funding coming into the city there is a real chance to take a leap forward in improving cycling, however it appears the two ruling parties on Sheffield City Council are at odds in terms of the future direction on two small sections of road within the city centre that were originally closed to traffic to aid social distancing during the lockdown.
“The council has a real opportunity to develop cycling in the east of the City and the Sheaf Valley that should be further developed and prioritised not get into endless arguments over Pinstone Street.”
Emily Griffiths, a campaigner for Cycle Sheffield, said: “Getting more people cycling would help address so many problems in Sheffield, from air pollution to inactivity, from climate change to obesity, and from transport poverty to mental health.
“Sheffield has consistently failed to meet its own cycling targets. For it to be a place that feels safe and easy for anybody to cycle it urgently needs to invest in infrastructure. Evidence from around the world shows investing in this way benefits local business, community cohesion and public health.”
Earlier this month, Mayor Dan Jarvis submitted bids to Government worth more than half a billion pounds for improvements to make public transport, walking or cycling their first choice for travel.
His demands included giving buses priority on roads, 600 miles of new cycle lanes and renewing Supertram.