Friday 8 May 2020

Lockdown London brings out large number of cyclists

In this period of lockdown people have made the most of the rules allowing us to go out once a day for cycling, running or walking. Suddenly large numbers of joggers are pounding the streets and parks up and down the country. My local park which is normally empty first thing in the morning when I go running, suddenly has many other keen athletes who have had the same idea as me - getting in their runs while they can be socially distant from the dog walkers and other numerous park users.

Given that we can't travel out of our neighbourhoods the roads are suddenly eerily devoid of vehicles. In my neighbourhood there are key workers like supermarket delivery vans, utility engineers, dustbin lorries, postmen and women, plus buses. But there are hardly any private vehicles.

Then when you go into central London the place is even more deserted. Trafalgar Square at 1pm on a week-day looks more like 7am on a Sunday morning. It's extraordinary.

So with such quiet roads, that has led to one thing - so many people are getting their bikes out. People of all ages and abilities are going out cycling - either one their own, with a member of their household, or as a family (as per the Government rules).

London has become Amsterdam - or even Copenhagen. Yes, I have even seen people on cargo bikes carrying their children. Mind you, that was in leafy burbs like Dulwich and Richmond.

It was even striking that when taking my bike to the repair shops for for tweaks I was turned away as the shop was already overwhelmed with so many bookings for bike servicing.

When I have ridden through central London recently I have been quite blown away by the number of cyclists wending their way around Westminster, Camden, Islington, The City.

It makes me want to quote something allegedly said by HG Wells, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

Or to quote another inspirational figure, John F Kennedy, "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

For sure it's a great pleasure to ride through London on days like these, and I am determined to make the most of this opportunity during the lockdown. It certainly adds a chink of brightness to London - despite the gloomy veil of coronavirus hanging over us.

Notably, the World Health Organization recently advised that people consider cycling or walking whenever feasible, as a way to maintain social distancing and  meet the minimum exercise requirements since we are spending a lot of time at home. Details on active transport are giving in it's information sheets on Moving Around during the COVID-19 outbreak.

There has been talk of more pop-up cycle lanes being installed in London as a way to encourage more people to choose cycling as a mode of transport, in a hope that social distancing on the public transport network can still be maintained.

To facilitate cycling in the post-lockdown period the Transport Minister, Grant Shapps announced some new measures. The government plans to install pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors in England as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund. This is the first stage of a £2 billion investment, as part of the £5 billion in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.

In London the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has said that new measures would include temporary cycle lanes along Euston Road and Park Lane, an upgrade to existing cycles lanes, as well as pavements being widened at 20 locations including Brixton and Earl's Court.
This all sounds positive news and I hope that the authorities do honour their pledge.

Furthermore, various organisations and shops are providing bicycles or cycle support to key workers (people employed mainly in the NHS, schools, supermarkets, and others providing key services).

Brompton have provided free bike hire of its folding bicycles for NHS workers, and Cycling UK via funding from the Department for Transport are providing grants to independent bike shops and mechanics to provide free bike maintenance and parts.

In any case, the weather in London has been glorious these last few months, and even on the current network, the facilities are there for people to ride their own bike or a Transport for London bike. So it is worth getting out on two wheels on London streets these days - all while maintaining a social distance, of course.

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