“We’re doing this to show there is support for more space for cycling and walking,” said Dexter Johnstone from cycleSheffield, one of the ride organisers. “We’re not just middle aged men in lycra, there are all sorts of people here, including lots of families and kids. People are asking what kind of Sheffield are we building for people in the future?”
With an estimated 450 participants, this was the biggest Space for Cycling ride so far, after three previous rides following the campaigners’ new route around the developing active travel network in the city centre.“We’re seeing some really good small high quality schemes in Sheffield,” Dexter said, “but what we need is a network.”The aim of the ride was partly to demonstrate the level of support for active travel in Sheffield, not least to the prospective councillors and mayoral candidates in the forthcoming elections, he said, noting that both national and local governments now have ambitious targets for more people cycling and walking for shorter urban journeys.“And you have to remember that active travel can be walking, wheeling, scooting and cycling. The type of cycling infrastructure we want to see can also be used by people in wheelchairs.”
Ride marshal Tammy said: “Investment in infrastructure is needed to improve active travel, clean air, good health and safety.” Tammy has two children, and said cycling in Sheffield feels hard for a family, so she only really feels comfortable cycling with her children in local parks. “Which is a shame, because using the roads to cycle around gives you more freedom.”
Originally from London, she says the capital currently feels more progressive in its levels of segregated active travel facilities, and Tammy doesn’t see Sheffield’s hills as the deterrent to cycling many critics of local cycling strategies claim them to be, but feels that protected, segregated routes on hilly main roads would increase cycling for less confident riders.
“E-bikes and bikes with really good gears are fine for hills,” she said, “but safer infrastructure means slower riders wouldn’t see hills as an obstruction, where they might worry about cycling slowly among faster moving cars and traffic.”Tim Woolven and Kira Lunsford are also family cyclists.“We want to show there are alternatives to a car led city,” said Tim.
“We’ve seen some improvements in Sheffield recently, but we want to see things moving a bit more quickly now,” said Kira. “Put it in and people will use it, that’s been proved now in countries all over the world.”
Saturday’s ride was a cheerful, slow moving spectacle, and among the ‘burn fat not oil’ and ‘safe streets for all’ posters were dozens of modern cycles seldom seen in Sheffield ten years ago, most with pedal assist motors, carrying children, older cyclists, luggage and even extra bikes in some cases. Spectators were viewing a growing industry, supported by local people prepared to invest a fair amount of money for a future-proof urban transport machine that makes people happy.
As Tammy and the marshal team guided riders across the inner ring road, drivers smiled and laughed rather than hooted while they waited for the lights to change. “I love it! It’s fantastic,” said a father driving his kids in a van.
“Very good, I support more space for cycling,” said Heung, as he photographed the procession from his car.
“As the Outdoor City, Sheffield should be following up with better provision for cycling and walking,” said pedestrian Conrad.
Dexter Johnstone warned that some cities have experienced a ‘bikelash’ to new active travel schemes, but said that for reasons ranging from climate change, congestion, air pollution to the cost of inactivity to the NHS, the future of urban transport in cities has to be walking, cycling and good public transport.
“So I’d encourage councillors to be strong, and if we do get a bikelash here, to ride it out.”