Covid-19, Coronavirus, CV19, whatever you want to call it has brought to global attention the need to swap our transport systems from our polluting vehicles to more sustainable transport where this possible, and for those able to use these alternative means. Of course, not everyone can make the transition, be that because they are simply unable to use alternative transport means through health reasons, or because their travel requirements and distances make this impossible.
However, there are other deterrent arguments that keep coming up. As you’ll know from my previous post, cycle infrastructure and its impact on safety is an important one. Largely, in much of the UK, it simply isn’t fit for purpose, and people are deterred from switching from their cars because they feel unsafe. Often, people are met with aggression from frustrated car drivers, usually misplaced, targeted against cyclists by encouragement from the media, and this only has to happen once in the early part of your cycling career and you can be deterred for life.
Covid-19 has provided that infrastructure that works WILL BE USED. Quieter roads will encourage people to go out by bike and on foot. If you make people feel safer they will cycle or walk.
Cycling is cheaper, cleaner, and in many cases it’s actually quicker. This is especially true in cities. In Edinburgh, during rush hour, the average speed of a car is just 7mph. I am a 49 year old women, who is (thanks to lockdown) a little overweight, I have health issues, but I can still average 9mph on my Brompton in most conditions. Edinburgh is built on SEVEN HILLS, so it is a long way from flat. I live on a hill, and I have to go up to get home from every single angle. That is the nature of the road system around me and the terrain. Two of the hills I have to get off and walk.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. It is well know that Scotland gets more than it’s fair share of wind, rain, sleet, and more rain. We get sea mists, we get frosts into June sometimes, it is not the tropics by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, with the right infrastructure, the right support from employers, and the right equipment there is almost no weather I won’t cycle in. The only thing I would avoid for the bus is black ice.
I am not exceptional. I don’t even view myself as a cyclist. I am a women, who happens to ride a bicycle to get from A to B and quite enjoys it. In fact, I have come to see it as better exercise than many types offered to people of my age. My knees no longer let me run, sadly. I detest going to the gym, the swimming pools have such a ridiculous booking system I have yet to get a decent swim in two years of trying, and that was when they were open! Right now, our exercise options are walk and cycle.
I do not see myself as different from many of my co-workers, my neighbours, or my friends. I like coffee and cake. I don’t particularly like wearing a helmet, it ruins my hairstyle, and if I could cycle purely on traffic free routes I would follow the Dutch example and not wear one. I only wear one because I have to face car drivers and their antics, and before you think this is going to be an anti-car rant, I have a car too. I have a small city car, it’s sitting on the drive right now, it has been since lockdown started. I have used it for work before lockdown, and I still anticipate there will be occasions when it is used afterwards. We, my partner and I, also have access to a camper van. We haven’t used it this year and it doesn’t look like we will get too either, but it is our escape into the countryside where we then might choose to cycle (or I will, he doesn’t).
I have and pay emissions tax (nobody pays road tax on their car, it’s collected through normal taxation so we all pay it). I have car insurance. I also have bicycle insurance including third party liability and accident cover. Those arguments don’t wash with me.
I am not remotely anti-car, in fact I’m know to my friends as being a bit of a petrol head. I would love nothing more than a nice V8 sitting my drive for the fun of driving it, but I wouldn’t use it daily to get to work.
It is my belief that we can and should help the environment, reduce traffic congestion and make it more efficient, and pleasant, for those who really need to be in their cars. We can all do this by using active transport wherever we can.
Some 80% of journeys in the city are less than 3 miles. To be honest, I would probably walk those. I tend to use my bike for journeys between 3 miles and 12. I would consider 12 miles in one go to be around my limit at the moment, but I would certainly not be put off by a 12 mile each way commute if required. 12 miles is around an hour of average cycle commuting (I’m slow).
So, if you drive your commute and it’s under 12 miles, and it takes you an hour, or more, then you could swap to a bicycle and save both time, and money. How does that sound? Even if you did say…three days out of five, or just two out of five to start with, you would save both time and up to 3/5th’s of your commuting costs. Let’s say your commute costs you £3 in petrol, and £4 to park, per day. That’s £21 a week saved (or £1,008 a year after we take out holidays).
You would also do your bit to keeping this wonderfully clean lockdown atmosphere we are all enjoying. Imagine what you could buy, or the holiday you could have, for £1,008 a year…
You’d get fitter, you’d probably loose a bit of weight, and you’d be able to eat more of the office biscuits without feeling guilty. You would also improve your long term health. This benefits you, your family, and the NHS.
Now, there is of course one argument that I have not yet addressed. I can hear you all, shouting at the screen: “But I live in a flat, I don’t have room for a bike, they get nicked from the stairwell, they get stolen from outside the office, where would I put it?”
Well, let me show you my bike garage:
AKA the tumble dryer cupboard, where the gas/electric meters are. There’s room for three bikes in here, possibly four if I took the shelves out. The shelves hold my maintenance stuff, my helmets, my bike luggage, gloves, locks, etc etc. My track pump is in there, my coats are on hooks on the back of the door. And of course, there is my Brompton. If I close the door, you could come into the house and not even know that a ‘cyclist’ lived here. If my bike is wet, then I leave it to dry in the hall. After wiping it down, its only going to be there for half an hour at most, before it can go back in the cupboard.
My little bike also fits in the boot of my city car, so I can take it away with me. When I went to visit my mum, a trip of some 600 miles, I took it in the boot and then I didn’t use the car again whilst I was there except when I needed to run mum about.
I would have gone on the train if it wasn’t 5x the price of getting there in my car! And I would have taken my bike with me. Travelling around her city is no different to travelling around mine; it’s quicker by bike, and no where near as hilly.
So you see, you can live in a flat and have a bike. You can take your bike on the train, on holiday, and tuck it away at work under your desk (if you have one) or even just stick in the toilets or negotiate a space with your bosses.
I’m not saying everyone can use a bike for everything, of course not. But what could you use one for? What advantages would it give you? And, you don’t know it yet, but I can imagine how much fun you’ll have.