During the election, I was struck by a meeting I had with a young boy who stopped cycling to school. This boy was keen to do his bit for the environment as well as to stay fit, he had been cycling to school for some time until a near miss with a dangerous driver shook his confidence.
I think too about my own efforts to buy a bike some years back. Hopeful that living in London meant a ready supply of cheap second-hand options, my hopes were dashed when I saw prices really were high. Given that children have a tendency to grow, I can’t imagine many parents look at the price of kids bikes and think “bargain”.
Both safety and cost will be preventing parents and children from embracing cycling to school, us politicians must address that.
Cyle To School Scheme
I have attended a number of cycling events over the last decade and one thing has really stood out. These are very middle-class events. The protest groups often seem to be made up of young, middle-class, white folk. They often have bikes worth a few hundred each or vintage machines that I can’t fathom paying for.
This is, perhaps, a cruel stereotype but I believe it’s not far from the reality. Cycling isn’t an accessible form of transport as it should be. So, what can be done to drive down costs?
My employer, like many, offers a cycle to work scheme. This scheme allows me to purchase a bike through a ‘salary loan’. Essentially, they take a small amount from my wage before I pay tax. This scheme means that buying a bike cost me as much as 30% less than walking in to a shop with my wallet.
Given that the Mayor of London is about to spend hundreds of millions on ULEZ cameras, I’d be asking if there was a chance of spending some of that on a cycle-to-school scheme.
Perhaps our local schools can be supported in creating schemes that allow children to ‘hire’ a bike from them. Meaning that can return it when they grow out of it, passing it on to another child? Many of Havering’s schools are privately run academies. I am sure that they can find some money to run such a scheme.
If we can reduce the cost of purchasing a bike in the first place, many more will cycle.
Safer Cycling Schemes
When it comes to safety, there is a huge amount that can be done. There always will be. Looking at Amsterdam I can say that they far from have it right. Walking around that city is to put one’s life at risk. Even there, cyclists fly through red lights and ignore pedestrians.
But we can do something. I’d like to see two initiatives from local government. Free adult cycling proficiency lessons, and cycle wardens.
The first is self-explanatory. Find a fantastic cycling organisation who’ll deliver lessons to adults. Teach them how to cycle politely, what the rules are, how to navigate difficult junctions and so on.
The second is about making sure drivers are following the rules, such as reducing their speed and leaving space. These are both things that can be policed, without cyclists and drivers being ‘at war’ with each other.
Community Speed Watch is a fantastic scheme that sees the public team up with the police to identify speeding drivers. A similar scheme, that positions itself along cycle commuting routes, would put a bit of healthy fear into drivers and give parents some reassurance that there is someone looking at for their kids.
Similarly, variable speed limits could be put in place at key commuting times. I believe much of Romford could easily become a 20mph zone without disruption and this 10mph drop is huge when being passed on a bike.
Havering council could designate Safer Cycling Zones around schools, with signage and road markings that remind drivers there are children cycling nearby.
For too long cycling has been out of reach for the poorest and deemed unsafe by the cautious. With Havering’s dependency on cars, it’s unlikely that we can create ‘mini-Hollands’ with wide segregated cycle paths. But we can make cycling more affordable, and we can make drivers and cyclists more aware of each other.
Words and deeds
The new Labour / HRA administration should be applauded for their focus on the environment. Appointing a Cabinet Member for Climate Change is a good idea and I hope that he receives the full support of the council.
But words without deeds are meaningless and I don’t think our new Cabinet Member is in the job just to say nice things. I think he wants to make a change and I fully support him on that.
This cycle to school week, I’m asking Havering Council to look at the above schemes as low-hanging fruit that could make an impact.