Cycle star calls for more investment in Sheffield

The Outdoor City gave a sigh of relief this week when the government confirmed that getting out for exercise once a day to run, ride your bike or walk was a good thing in the current crisis.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 1:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 1:59 pm
Cycle to Work Day: Cycle commuters on the Cobweb Bridge near the Wicker

What’s called ‘active travel’ covers so many different aspects of what we do as people, says Dame Sarah Storey, Sheffield City Region active travel commissioner.

“It’s not just about getting people to and from work in the most efficient way possible, it’s also about the contribution it has to other agendas,” she says, adding that inactivity in the UK is leading to many more people having too many years of their life in ill health.

“In a situation like we’re in at the moment, the more people with underlying health conditions, the greater the stress becomes on the NHS.

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Cycle to work day

“So at this point, active travel, and investing in active travel, becomes even more vital.

“It’s an investment in people’s futures, and it’s an investment in our NHS.”

As we come out of the current tragic situation, she says ‘people may have a reference point about why building activity back into people’s lives is so vital’.

Last week, as the crisis began to unfold, the city region and South Yorkshire’s Love to Ride active travel network held a video conference with some of Sheffield’s more progressive companies learning how to enable more staff to get about on foot or by bike.

Rummuters (running commuters) in Sheffield: Kate Scott (right) with Jane Langham and Pepper in the Botanical Gardens

When the crisis is over, the lessons learned should enable more companies to get walking, running and cycling too.

The new HSBC building, on Charter Row, Sheffield city centre, for example, hosts a gym-style washing, changing and kit storing area.

HSBC’s Andy Wrigley says the local office has quadrupled the number of people who cycle to work in the last few years, thanks to a few simple interventions.

He says the main thing is to put someone knowledgable and enthusiastic in charge of enabling active travel in the workplace, who can then ‘build a community’ of staff to help and inspire each other.

Dr Honey Smith (left) and Dr Aarti Bansal on their way from work in Weston Park

Taking part in British Cycling events like Let’s Ride, or loaning bikes through CycleBoost gets more people thinking about travelling by bike, and although companies need showers and secure kit storage for cyclists and runners, he says: “You don’t necessarily need a huge budget, or health club-like facilities.”

Steve Frazer, from city centre landscape designers Urban Wilderness, says its cycle storage was simply rethinking the hallway in their small Victorian office.

And Darren Hardwick, from The University of Sheffield, says initially controversial ‘demand management’ measures to allocate car parking by an employee’s need, and charging for spaces, has raised funds for showers all over the campus, built a centrally heated bike parking hub for active travellers, and set up e-cargo bike deliveries, among other initiatives.

“People are often shocked when they don’t get a car parking space, but it helps when we explain how it helps people travel in other ways to make car parking more efficient.” he says, adding that the effects are striking.

Darren Burrows at the Mott MacDonald drying room for staff

Since the changes started more than 20 years ago, car commuting has halved to only 30 per cent of trips, whereas people commuting on foot or by bike currently stands at 36 per cent of the workforce.

Zoe Hepworth, from Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens, says walking helps staff calm down before work starts.

She says: “I find you can leave the craziness of home at home, clear your head, and plan what’s going to happen when you get to your desk so you’re ready to sit down and start your day.”

Current times will allow businesses to plan and think ahead, while taking their daily exercise, said conference organisers Love to Ride.

Dame Sarah says: “I was very pleased the Prime Minister included leaving the house once for a walk, cycle or run as part of the new restrictions.

“This is a very generous offer to help maintain the physical and mental capacity of the nation during this unprecedented time. It is now vital that everyone respects this and does not try to bend the rules. If they do, the privilege will be removed and that will have an even greater impact on us all.”

Bike storage at Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens