It’s just after 8am on a damp, miserable autumn morning as I enter the communal bike shed outside my flat. The shed was built through funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) after residents in the block thought a dedicated space would be better than letting the bicycles fill hallways and stairwells.
The racks are half empty at this hour, despite the weather, and I know it is much easier to remove my steed now than it will be when I try to squeeze him back in later in the evening.
As I turn out onto the main road on the newly-installed segregated cycle way, I reflect how in just six years this road has changed from a snarling snake of sputtering traffic packed in nose-to-tail to a largely empty road, graced only by the occasional hum of a low emissions vehicle.
If anything, it is the bike lanes which display an element of congestion as a shoal of teenage cyclists pedals down the opposite side of the road towards school. Since the roads have grown safer, and the Department for Education started promoting the benefits of cycling both in terms of student attentiveness and health, there has been an upsurge in youth cycling. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear groups of young people discussing the merits of this bike over that, much like they did once upon a time when video games were more popular.
I turn off the main road to enter the most pleasant part of my daily commute. Opened last year, after careful consultation with both walkers and cyclists, a new way of crossing the River Wey in Guildford exists which cuts minutes from journeys and has opened up one of the greener areas of the town for cyclists and walkers.
It’s now peak commuting time, and my route to work is filling up with a steady stream of cyclists and walkers on their way. As the rain lifts to gentle sunshine, grimaces change to beams of smiles upon the faces of those using the path. Despite any initial objections raised about having a mixed route for cyclists and walkers, there is no conflict as people of all ages and backgrounds cycle and stroll considerately around each other.
The new cycle network sees me more or less straight through to CTC’s offices and locking my bike up in the secure storage, I head for my desk and the first of many cups of tea.
I have a meeting with the new cycling Tsar (Dame Sarah Storey has just been appointed following a successful first four years by Chris Boardman) set for the afternoon up in London, and I decide to book a place for my bicycle through the National Rail “Book-a-Bike” website. Unfortunately, though perhaps not too surprisingly, all 12 slots on my planned train are already filled. Not worrying unduly, I click the option to make sure I can pick up a bicycle at Waterloo from the train station’s bike hub. While of course I could have used one of London’s iconic hire bikes, I have always preferred the cheaper (and lighter!) offerings that most rail stations now offer.
With the weather still looking good in the afternoon, I decide to cycle to Worplesdon, a nearby station outside of Guildford. Since the speed limit on the majority of rural roads has dropped to 40mph or lower, the route does not feel as threatening as it once did. I am met now with the familiar sight of elderly cyclists pedalling sedately towards Guildford as I head to the station.
Leaving my bike in the secure cycle parking facility, I wait for my delayed train, musing that even if we are beginning to sort out cycling in the UK, perhaps one day we might do the same for our trains! Arriving at Waterloo, I pick up my hire bike and head for my meeting over in Westminster.
Since opening in 2016 this route has been an unprecedented success..."
CTC Campaigns and Communications Officer
As I cross Westminster Bridge, I briefly join the East-West Cycle Highway. Even at this stage of the day it is busy, filled mostly by tourists, who instead of swarming the pavement are now just as likely to be on two wheels, and fleets of cargo bikes, which have now replaced lorries in much of central London during the day. Since opening in 2016 this route has been an unprecedented success, reinvigorating the Victoria Embankment and making the north bank of the Thames once more a thriving hub of activity. It is hard to think how once it was thought to be so revolutionary back when initial plans were unveiled in 2014, but now it is pretty much the norm in cities throughout the UK.
My meeting with Dame Storey revolves around the next steps for UK cycling. Cycling has had cross-departmental support since 2015, and the benefits have really begun to show. The Department for Health earlier in the year attributed the end to the nation’s obesity epidemic to the increase in cycling. The rejuvenation of small town centres across the country as they became people, rather than car, friendly has also seen financial commitment from both HM Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government towards furthering the reach of active transport options. The House of Commons has unanimously voted in favour of raising the £10 per head annually to Dutch levels of £20 a head, and now we are looking to roll out the success we have witnessed in urban environments into more rural settings.
On the train home, headline news in the Evening Standard sees the UK recognised in the top 3 places in the world for cycling, with speculation that the next year we could even be above the Dutch."
CTC Campaigns and Communications Officer
It’s raining as I get off the train and pedal back home in the October dusk. I’m not fussed though as I remember how in 2014 cycling in such conditions used to be. Department for Transport marketing campaigns and the revised Driving Test have taught drivers and cyclists alike to be more courteous and understanding towards each other. Together with the other cyclists along the way, I am no longer a unique phenomena on our rural roads and I make it home damp but happy. How times have changed…, I think.
If you would like to see a similar vision for UK cycling, take action with CTC’s Funding4Cycling campaign by sending a letter to HM Treasury and your MP at www.funding4cycling.org.uk