Encouraging more families to cycle is key to cutting congestion
It was a little over ten years ago that I rediscovered cycling. Though I had learned to cycle for fun as a child, there were many new experiences when it came to cycling for transport as an adult. First, I needed new routes: the main road routes that were well-signed and easily followed were acceptable as a pedestrian but much more intimidating on a bike. I soon noticed the problems with cycle routes that ran on and off pavements, gave way at every side road, and gave up entirely at difficult junctions.
I realised the difference between cycle racks which supported a bike and allowed a secure locking point, and those that left bikes fallen on their bent wheels, or at risk of returning to a forlorn single wheel and no bike frame. Things I had never thought about before I cycled were obvious when I had to deal with them myself.
Cycling with children has again thrown me into a form of re-learning how to cycle around Cambridge.
I recently had twins. They were early, so we hadn’t quite got around to arranging for a new cycle to accommodate them by the time they arrived. In those early days Cambridge suddenly shrank to what was within easy walking distance (not a lot in our particular location at the time).
We took some buses as well, but with only a 50% success rate for finding a bus with space for a double pram, every trip was a lottery. Or to avoid missing appointments I padded the itinerary so generously that trips took twice as long as necessary, and timing the frequent feeding of two small babies was difficult. It was a day of glorious freedom when our new bike arrived, and suddenly we were able to travel on our own schedule again.
But cycling was now different. Routes I was content to cycle on my own on a standard bicycle needed reassessment. Busy main roads I might use (unhappily) on my own required second thoughts when carrying our children. However, our new cargo bike would also struggle to fit around the chicanes on the quiet off-road paths I had previously used. Irregular surfaces that were irritating before now resulted in constant jolting of the passengers.
Parking is also a new experience. Cycle parking in Cambridge can already be fraught in busy central locations, but now a great many of the existing spaces were also off-limits because we couldn’t get our bike close enough to the stand.
As a cycle campaigner I have been involved in the push for accessible cycle parking for tricycles, tandems, bikes used as mobility aids and other cycles, and I was still surprised at just how much more limited the parking options were.
It has been a delight as well. The babies are instantly settled by the movement of the bike and happier travellers than in their pram. We decided on electric-assist for the cargo bike, anticipating growing children and increased shopping loads into headwinds and over bridges, and we have not been sorry. In fact the e-assist is so much fun that my partner has barely been allowed on the new bike!
Cycling has given us comparative freedom to travel about the city, but there is still a lot to be done to make this an easy and obvious option for everyone, not just the determined. Enabling family cycling is a key part of reducing the number of short car journeys which congest the area, and contribute to air and noise pollution.
In the meantime, we’re looking forward to the next challenge: getting the children cycling on their own bikes!
Hester Wells is a Camcycle trustee. This article was originally published on 3 October in the Cambridge Independent, which features a monthly column by a member of the Camcycle team.