Opinion: Let’s remove barriers to cycling and create a place that benefits us all

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

Anna Williams (top); If Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is re-elected in March, she pledges to create a place where everyone can reach their work, home, and any amenity within a 15-minute cycle ride. (Image: Paris en Commun)
Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent

2020 is Camcycle’s 25th anniversary year and we’ve chosen to focus on the theme of ‘Cycling for All’, a goal that has underpinned everything we have done since our formation in June 1995. This isn’t about eliminating motor vehicles or forcing everyone to ride; it’s clear that cycling isn’t suitable for every individual or journey and should be a matter of personal choice. However, it is about enabling cycling for more people and more types of cycle, giving everyone who does choose to cycle safe, attractive and convenient journeys around the areas where they live and work.

Cycling for all is about breaking down the many barriers to cycling – barriers which may be physical, mental, cultural or societal. We had hoped the new year would start to bring increased progress on all these fronts, but so far we’ve had to use much precious volunteer time campaigning against new barriers – on the southern Busway cycleway near the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and on King’s Parade. Even if there are genuine evidence-based reasons for installing these barriers, we shouldn’t be mitigating the risk of one safety issue by introducing a host of new, more likely incidents on routes which are busy each day with thousands of cyclists and pedestrians.

Both of the new barriers highlight the care that must be taken if we are to build a city suitable for all who wish to cycle. The chicane barriers on the Busway cycleway were almost invisible – even in daylight for those with good vision. Their size and placing required those cycling to slalom through, not easy for anyone to do on an incline and particularly difficult for those with large or heavy cycles such as a cargo bike full of children. The King’s Parade barrier involves a small gap of just 1.2m, which includes the kerb and cobbled gutter. It’s uncomfortable for those on recumbent cycles, dangerous for those on tricycles and slippery when wet. Despite the two-way signage, it is impossible for two cycles to pass at this point.

In the previous issue of Camcycle magazine, local handcyclist Phil Carter described his experiences saying: ‘Kerbs are not my friend’. Kerbs are hard for him to navigate on a handcycle and have caused damage to his rear crossbar and suspension. In this magazine, we have two stories of cyclists who have been injured by collisions with bollards and poles in the cycle path. We also heard of similar incidents at the Busway barrier, in addition to cyclists cutting onto the Busway itself to get round or being forced to cycle with children in trailers and on tandems on busy roads because access via this route was impossible.

None of this would be happening if local authorities truly wanted to build a cycle-friendly place, and they should if they are serious about prioritising reductions in congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions, and the continued success of local businesses. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo wrote recently in Time magazine about the changes she has delivered to her city. Thanks to an expanding network of protected cycle lanes, the number of Parisian cyclists rose by a massive 54% between September 2018 and September 2019. The scheme also includes more space for pedestrians, public squares and a massive programme of tree planting. Hidalgo said: ‘My vision for Paris is as a green city where we can all breathe fresh air, share open space and enjoy our lives. That is why we are adapting our city to give more space to pedestrians and bicycles.’ This is Camcycle’s vision too, for the Greater Cambridge region. When we build a place where all can cycle, everyone benefits even if they don’t ride themselves.

Anna Williams is the Communications and Community Officer for Camcycle. This piece was originally published on 23 October in the Cambridge Independent, which features a monthly column by a member of the Camcycle team.

Read more about our vision for Greater Cambridge on page 26 and discover ways you can get involved with our 2020 campaign at camcycle.org.uk/CyclingforAll