Ian Carey, a nurse at Northern General Hospital, and Emily Griffiths, an expert in data protection, are two leaders at Cycle Sheffield. They believe pedal power could be a solution to many of the city’s biggest problems.
“The consequences of not investing in cycling are ongoing congestion, air pollution and inactivity which causes enormous harm to individuals and communities,” Mr Carey said.
Around only two percent of all trips are made by bike in Sheffield compared with 27 per cent in the Netherlands – known as the most cycle-friendly country in the world.
They said with electric bicycles and Dutch style infrastructure, Sheffield could get around 25 per cent of commuters cycling.
Mr Carey said: “We spend hundreds of millions on roads across the region. If we diverted a relatively small amount of that towards active travel it would transform Sheffield and the rest of South Yorkshire.”
In the council’s transport strategy, published last year, they set a ‘desired outcome’ of holding car journeys where they were, increasing public transport use by 22 per cent, walking by more than three per cent and cycling up by a huge 570 per cent by 2035.
“The solutions are relatively simple and could be done inexpensively, we just need the political willpower, which hopefully we have now with Julie Dore and Dan Jarvis but communities have got to support them too,” Mr Carey said.
One solution they propose to prevent car use, encourage cycling, reduce emissions and make the streets safer would be modal filtering – which is closing off certain areas so only certain types of transport can pass through – making it easier to cycle or walk and impossible to drive.
Ms Griffiths said people could achieve this just by putting a line of wheelie bins at the top of the road during school run times and potted trees to close off certain streets.
The duo said the goal was not to stop car use altogther but to make active travel easier. In an ideal city, campaigners would like to see segregated cycle lanes, kerb separated cycle routes and more pedestrianised parts of the city. They said just some of these would make a big impact and encourage people to leave cars at home, Mr Carey added: “If we build it, people will use it.”
Earlier this year Sam Wakeling, a Sheffield designer, created a sketch of what a pedestrianised Division Street would look like. The image went viral when posted on Twitter and Mr Wakeling said the ‘brilliant’ response was ‘a really good sign that things could change for the better’.
Mr Carey said the problem is the city is designed for cars, not active travel, and once political leaders change their view on the city things would fall into place.
He said: “There needs to be a good network. There are bits of infrastructure that are OK-ish but it’s not connected and not necessarily going where people want it to go.
“If you live out in the suburbs and you want to get in to the city centre there isn’t a nice, easy route that you can take that’s well signposted and takes you directly to where you want to go.”
Even with better infrastructure, they said it could be a challenge to encourage everyone to stop using their cars.
In its transport strategy, the council said that in response to a consultation, 13 per cent of car drivers (75 people) said they would prefer to cycle when making their most common trip.
Mr Carey said the vast majority of car journeys in Sheffield are only five kilometers and a big proportion of those are less than two kilometers.
He added: “Even an unfit person can walk two kilometers in minutes. People are taking their kids to school in the car in less than two kilometers and it’s crazy – those kids are not getting exercise and are breathing in the fumes – it’s madness.
“It’s just going to create misery for those individuals and their communities in the future. We have to make it easier for people to cycle than it is to get a car.”
Ms Griffiths added there also needs to be safe places to park bikes at work and schools.
The council said with support from the Department for Transport and the City Region, Sheffield would be one of the first cities in the country to develop a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan.
Under these plans, the council said the first priority will be to connect the suburbs to the city centre, starting with Broomhill, Highfield, Sharrow and Nether Edge.
Mr Carey said: “Cycling is for everybody, we want to dispel this myth that it’s only for the fit and the brave – you don’t have to be fit and you don’t have to be brave.”