Call for cyclists to ‘share with care’ on Bridge Street
Temporary cycle routes from Congleton's two high schools to the town centre and allowing “safe” cycling through the pedestrianised Bridge Street are the latest suggestions for the use of active travel funding from the Government.
Cheshire East Council's walking and cycling champion, Congleton councillor Suzie Akers Smith, wants the temporary cycle routes in place by the start of the new school term in September.
She said headteachers Ed O'Neill and Jim Barlow from Eaton Bank Academy and Congleton High School respectively were in full support of increasing the number of children actively travelling to school come September.
Coun Akers Smith said Cheshire East received £619,000 to put in temporary cycle lanes and infrastructure aimed at encouraging the uptake of walking and cycling in particular, by making it safer.
The announcement came as new figures from the department of transport showed the number of people using a bicycle for work or leisure in England had rocketed since the lockdown began on 23rd March.
The data revealed that daily bicycle use rose by an average of 50% on working days during lockdown, while the number of weekend and bank holiday bike riders shot up by 136% over the same period.
Overall, cycling has risen by an average of 78% during the course of the lockdown, according to the research, even though the number of cyclists on the road initially fell during the early stages of the quarantine in late March.
Doctors are also to be allowed to prescribe bike rides to tackle obesity, with the UK now the country with the fourth-highest BMI in Europe for both men and women, with only Malta, Latvia and Lithuania having more people who are overweight or obese,
Coun Akers Smith, a former Conservative representative who stood as an Independent at last year's local elections, has been championing the Government's drive, with emergency funding, to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians in the covid-19 era.
She has already called for the closure of Mill Street and West Street in Congleton to through-traffic to take vehicles away from the town centre.
Now she is mounting a bid for the latest measures she believes could lead to further funding for permanent solutions to ensure cycling is safer on the roads in and around the town.
She said: “It is my view that a number of temporary improvements would encourage the uptake of cycling. If successful, they could be made into permanent features. They would supply evidence to enable Cheshire East Council to support an application for Government funding.”
Coun Akers Smith put her suggestions to a meeting of Congleton Town Council's Integrated Transport Working Group on Monday night.
A report to the group outlined a “cycling safari” she did last Monday with Coun Robert Helmsley and Anthony Bolding, of Active Travel Congleton. Starting at Eaton Bank Academy and ending at Congleton High School, they looked at routes from Lower Heath, Buglawton, Mossley, the town centre, Astbury Mere and West Heath.
The aim was to look at the existing infrastructure and consider how it could be amended and improved to make it safer and, if possible, traffic-free, “to achieve the least interaction with vehicles”.
Coun Akers Smith has done similar cycling safaris in towns throughout Cheshire East to see their road provisions for cyclists.
Her report said: “Having attended over 20 cycle safaris so far, the provision to create safe cycle routes to schools has severe connectivity issues at main artery junctions and there are a lack of connected cycle paths and routes that provide a traffic-free/safe travel alternative. It is my view that a number of temporary improvements would encourage the uptake of cycling. If successful, they could be made into permanent features.
“They would supply evidence to enable Cheshire East Council to support an application for Government funding.”
Along with a temporary cycle route from the town centre to both high schools, Coun Akers Smith also wants advance stop lines at junctions “to send a message to drivers that cyclists are important and need to be prioritised and it gives them time and space”.
She said she also wants cyclists permitted to pedal through Bridge Street, which she said would prevent children having to cycle on Mountbatten Way, a dual carriageway. Coun Akers Smith described that measure as a “share with care” scheme that would require “education about cycling dead slow”.
She added: “Cycling too quickly through Bridge Street when there are pedestrians about is anti-social behaviour and is something we are looking to address through the anti-social behaviour working group and Cheshire Police.”
She explained that Active Travel Congleton was engaging with residents about the new “share with care” philosophy, and results showed that more than 95% of cyclists shared the space considerately with pedestrians.
She said she also wants adjustments to the priority at roundabouts by reducing the access to one lane only and creating space around the perimeter dedicated to cycling.
Her report concluded: “The covid-19 emergency funding for active travel is there for towns to be bold and change the environment, to prioritise active travel and safety for vulnerable road users. We will only receive further funding to create permanent changes if we take away road space and put in cycle lanes that protect children. People, especially children, want to travel the most direct route and not have to go around the houses to access a 'safe' cycle route.”
Coun Akers Smith told the Chronicle she had tried to achieve funding over the last four years for cycling initiatives, yet received no money at all.
“I am now asking the town council to create a budget for cycling/walking initiatives to support what Cheshire East are trying to achieve,” she said.
Responding to the department of transport figures showing a spike in cycling popularity since the lockdown, the borough's cycling and walking champion said: “I am delighted that people cycling for work or leisure has rocketed. As the borough cycling and walking champion, I couldn't be happier.
“A significant outcome of this uptake of cycling is that the prime minister, Boris Johnson is committed to making sure that we continue this progress, which is why the Government has committed hundreds of millions of pounds to create safe, segregated cycle routes and pay for improvements to safety at roundabout and junctions.
“Both Cheshire East Council and Congleton Town Council have committed to fight climate change. Reducing vehicle use for short journeys is key to achieving progress to reduce congestion and improve air quality. We have no choice but to do all we can to support the Government’s ambition to help people cycle and walk more.”
Coun Akers Smith added: “The Government has also announced that doctors can prescribe cycling to overweight and obese people instead of medication to help them lose weight. We need to put in safe infrastructure if we are to help people achieve improved fitness, which is why it is important that Cheshire East Council implements the temporary cycle lanes to enable children to cycle to school, and other people to feel safe cycling. If we are bold in these measures, the Government will provide even more money to make these cycle lanes permanent. A bit of a ‘try before you buy’ scheme.
“Once people start to cycle on safe, connected cycle routes, their confidence grows, helping them to start cycling on the roads. Each time someone cycles on the road it is a vehicle journey not taken.”
Tim Johnson, who runs Sideways Cycles on Talke Road, Alsager, which repairs bikes and sells accessories, said: “We've been very busy during the lockdown and sold out of some items that we can't get hold of to replace, such as odd-sized inner tubes. There have been all sorts of difficulties with the supply chain but as long as I can use my hands to repair things we will be alright.” But Mr Johnson who has been running Sideways Cycles for 30 years, believes the cycling boom on the back of the lockdown will not last.
“Everybody has got to get back to work and will have less leisure time and we've got the great British weather, too - we were blessed during the lockdown,” he said.