Covid measures need to make cycling more accessible

We’re well aware by now that due to the increased need for social distancing, the UK government has pledged £2bn to invest in cycling and walking over the next five years. This has been a welcome announcement, as it will hopefully make cycling safer in the long-run, but nothing has been said about how it could help to make bikes more accessible to everyone.

While we’d like to think that simply anyone could pick up a bike and start using it for transport, there are actually plenty of barriers that make cycling inaccessible to many people.

Whether it’s a financial barrier to buying a bike, a physical one caused by disruptive infrastructure, or concerns about safety and security, they need to be resolved if cycling will double by 2025 as planned. There’s a lot more to it than just painted bike lanes.

Financial barriers

The fact is, not everyone can afford to buy a bike.

While the government-backed Cyclescheme provides a fantastic way to help people get everything they need without an upfront payment, the scheme is only available to those whose employers take part in it.

For everyone else, however, there’s little help available to buy a bike. If the Cyclescheme is going to have a real impact on cycling figures in the UK, then there needs to be more incentive for employers to sign up if they haven’t already.

The sign-up process is already simple and easy, and free of charge, so the question is how to further incentivise them? Perhaps similar tax savings that are offered to employees, or vouchers to spend on storage solutions?

However even if more employers were to take up the Cyclescheme, there’s still the matter of buying brand new bikes, versus buying secondhand.

You can only purchase a brand new bike on the scheme, which can be more costly than getting one that’s pre-loved. So again not only does this favour the higher-paid, it also has disastrous consequences on our already wasteful throwaway culture.

The secondhand bike market is a huge resource that could benefit greatly from being included under the scheme.

What’s more, there are lots of community bike projects around the UK who recycle donated bikes and redistribute them to a low cost. If the Cyclescheme were to be extended to these types of organisations, there would likely be a significant uptake in bike sales across the country (while these organisations would benefit from some direct support).

Safety concerns

Figures show that around 59% of non-cyclists in the UK feel it is unsafe to cycle on the roads (according to Cycling UK), making this a huge deterrent for many.

The first way this could be tackled would be increased funding for cycle training schemes like the Bikeability programme. This teaches adults and children to cycle safely on the road, including vital skills like looking over your shoulder, signalling, and taking the lane.

However it’s not just the cyclists themselves who need training. There needs to be more education for drivers, to help them safely share the roads with cyclists. It should be embedded in every new driver’s training and testing, to show that they can respect and safely pass cyclists without putting their lives in danger. In addition to this, more police enforcement is required.

When it comes to safety, the biggest barrier that comes to mind is infrastructure, and of course we hope that with this £2bn investment, cycling infrastructure will be improved. What’s more, this needs to extend beyond segregated cycleways, as important as these are.

If cycling is going to be accessible for all, then this needs to include a huge array of bikes, including cargo bikes, bikes with trailers, all-abilities bikes, trikes, recumbents, and everything else that falls within this category.

Much of our ‘good’ infrastructure is created for two-wheeled bicycles. While many of these other pedal-powered vehicles can use most cycle lanes, it’s the speed control measures that bring them to a grinding halt.

A-frames, chicanes, kissing gates, narrow paths and tight corners are among the many barriers these types of cycles encounter on their daily outings.

Security issues

With a significant uptake of cycling, there will inevitably come a similar increase in bike theft, and measures need to be put in place to help prevent this.

First of all, there needs to be a lot more secure bike storage in public spaces. These should be provided anyway, as part of the government’s target of doubling 2015 cycling figures by 2025. However it’s also possible for individuals and companies to request more secure cycle parking from their local council. They just don’t often know they can (just google ‘request cycle parking [town]’) for your local council’s offering.

Employers will also come under pressure to provide safe storage for bikes at their workplaces. This could be difficult for many, as it also requires space that they may not have. Having said this, a large number of employers provide car parking spaces, and therefore there needs to be incentive to replace this with cycle storage instead.

It’s also important that all cyclists, new and experienced, know how to keep their bikes safe and secure. Educational materials on theft prevention should be made readily available through various means, and funded as part of this investment.

Who knows, perhaps one day the current subsidies that help people to store their private cars on public land could be better used to subsidise building secure bike storage and providing good quality locks to all cyclists. We can only dream.

Incentive, incentive, incentive

All of this would be for nothing if it’s not marketed to people in the right way. It’s not simply a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’, and you only need to look at Stevenage to see why.

On top of improved measures, we need a nationwide campaign to make cycling the obvious choice for travel. This means that driving needs to become more inconvenient.

For real and lasting change that will make pedal-powered travel as accessible to everyone as possible, we need to look further than temporary bike lanes and side street closures, and allow cycling to truly take over the city.

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