VIDEO: Just how safe are Sheffield's cycle lanes?
Hundreds of cyclists rode through the city centre last week with a simple message: 'We are too scared to cycle in our city.'
Demonstrators appealed to Sheffield Council to invest in cycle lanes, spaces, and road surfaces.
In the wake of the demonstration, I agreed to take on the city’s roads and cycle paths.
Starting on Bramall Lane just before 8am, I breeze past gridlocked traffic on the narrow cycle path. Avoiding the roundabout via the underpass, I’m onto Eyre Street, and enjoying the ride.
But the tight cycle lane keeps disappearing. Buses pull out of stops which crop up on the left. Clouds of exhaust fumes blow into my face as they do.
Vehicles pass extremely closely in places. Arundel Gate is a nightmare.
Potholes and distracted motorists looking for parking spots put me on high alert along Campo Lane. But as I follow the cycle signs up past the university, I start to relax.
This changes at the roundabout. Cars rally around its corkscrew formation, veering into different lanes with horns sounding.
There is no cycle lane on, around, or underneath the roundabout either. I push off, feeling extremely vulnerable. This is no place for a cyclist.
Down Netherthorpe Road you reach 30mph on a bike. With cars going 10mph faster, struggling to squeeze past, the stretch feels dangerous.
Gibraltar Street to Penistone passes well. Vehicles do feel close on the narrow path, but as the lane moves off the road enjoyment returns.
With no cycle lane, cars pass close and the long drag up Herries Road is a chore.
Despite heavy traffic, motorists are accommodating past Northern General Hospital and along Owler Lane and Upwell Street.
In the evening rush hour, I head up Ecclesall Road. With hardly any cycle lane, vehicles pass alarmingly closely. For a popular route, it feels sketchy to ride.
The saving grace is that motorists tend to travel slowly and carefully up the road.
Upon crossing Hunter’s Bar roundabout, a bus rattles by leaving such a small gap that a bolt of panic shoots through me.
Turning onto Abbeydale Road, I’m predicting this and London Road to be a nightmare. But now, more confident, I pedal hard, keeping speed with motorists and holding position on the road.
Without vehicles rattling past, I’m free to take in the shops, cafes and people.
Cycle lanes on roads around the city often feel very sparse, narrow, and broken. While it certainly helps having a marked path, enjoyment for me was away from the road. As such, I took in some of Sheffield’s more enjoyable riding. The interesting, but manageable terrain along the Tinsley Canal is a treat for riders of all abilities
Following the cycle path through Endcliffe Park, through fresh and luscious Whiteley Woods, past Forge Dam and beyond was also a highlight, which too could be enjoyed by many.
Getting around on a bicycle has a lot going for it. Cheap, green, healthy, fast, and fun, it’s easy to see why more people are choosing it.
Riding on our city’s roads can be truly terrifying, though.
In other news
TIPS ON STAYING SAFE ON THE ROADS
A Sheffield cycle trainer has given advice on how riders can stay safe on the roads – and slammed some cycle paths as a hindrance rather than a help.
Ken Woodhouse, who trains cyclists to ride on the city’s roads with group Pedal Ready, said the key to staying safe is anticipating every problem before it happens.
He said: “Cycling around the city is an exercise in constant risk assessment.
“With guidance and training, you can ride in such a way that you can avoid accidents.
“Observation is key – you need to anticipate every problem before it happens.
“If you are riding past a side road, for instance, with a motorist waiting to pull out, cover your brakes, assume they might not see you, look behind you.
“Mistakes happen all the time. Cyclists need to expect them all.
“You need to be on alert all the time.”
Road position is also an important factor when riding in a city. Ken said that in some situations, cyclists must confidently hold their position in the middle of the road.
He said: “If you are coming up to a junction, traffic lights, or if the road narrows, cyclists need to hold their position.”
Ken said that cyclists have to decide whether cycling infrastructure will be helpful or not.
He said: “Sometimes it is safer for cyclists to ride in the middle of the road, at the same pace as the traffic.
“When there’s a cycle lane on a one-way street or through a dead end for cars – that’s good for cyclists
“But if there’s a narrow cycle lane at the side, cyclists will use it even thought it’s not the best thing for them.”
Ken also said that helmets and high-vis jackets are not a panacea to cycling safety.
He said: “They might make riders feel safer, but the biggest factor is definitely the way a person rides.”
Another important aspect to staying safe while cycling is making sure that bicycles are well maintained.
Ken advised Dr Bike and CycleBoost, funded by Sheffield Council, which provide bike loans, training, and maintenance for riders.
For more visit www.pedalready.co.uk and www.sheffieldcycleboost.org