I was very interested to read your “Ride and cycle to work” article, which I enjoyed and welcomed with its positive attitude to cycling and the health benefits that it can bring, but after 45 years of cycling to work and making trips around the British Isles, it raised a number of unanswered questions for me.
Around 45-50 years ago, Sheffield was a relatively safe city to travel in and around by bike. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Sheffield had good bus services, there were not so many cars and the clean air act had greatly improved air quality.
In the 1980s, promotion of car ownership, deregulation of the buses and increases in bus fares led to a huge increase in cars on the road and a corresponding decline in air quality. The perception of cycling still being “a bit of a novelty” contributed to the failure of planners to incorporate a proper cycle system when planning Supertram and so the seeds were being scattered for what we have today.
Air pollution at record levels, (not mentioned in this article), severe restrictions on the levels of space for cycling, double parking of cars all around Sheffield making many roads, in reality, one-way streets, very poor and limited cycle lanes and lack of signposts for genuine alternatives to major roads and, of course, potholes, are just a few of the problems that new cyclists will encounter.
The greatest problem we have, though, is the lack of political will to plan and invest in cycling infrastructure.
We seem to be satisfied with encouraging people onto the roads, but not too concerned about their safety and wellbeing. Simply encouraging people to cycle to work is not a solution. Lack of infrastructure is a huge problem for all of us and the council cannot keep postponing major decisions that will improve conditions for cyclists.
If the council is serious about improving conditions for cycling, I suggest they look at how other countries deal with the problems.
I particularly recommend that they take a good look at the Swiss national cycle network.
The Swiss have had a good system for many years and the decision to mark the Millennium with a project to connect the whole of Switzerland to cycle routes is an inspired one.
The Swiss appointed a Government Minister for Cycling to oversee this plan and it provides for all age groups and varieties of bike, trikes, rickshaws and tandems, (and rollerbladers in certain places).
As a result, huge numbers of people cycle, leading to increased fitness and well being with improved air quality for all.