There was good news for cyclists in East Lancashire last week as our councils revealed plans to invest £8 million in cycle routes. And with the first stage of the Tour de France set to pass through Skipton in July, it’s an exciting time for the two-wheeled traveller in this part of the world. So can we expect to see masses of drivers ditch their cars and jump on a bike instead? Not until the roads are made safer, says reporter and bicycle commuter Lawrence Dunhill
EVER since Chorley’s Bradley Wiggins peddled his way to a historic victory in the Tour de France in 2012, cycling has surged in popularity on this side of the channel.
Go up to the Pennine moors on any dry Sunday morning and you’ll see dozens of ‘wannabe Bradleys’ spinning the wheels of their shiny new road bikes.
Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council are right to try and capitalise on this unexpected enthusiasm for human-powered travel, and certainly seem to be doing more than most local authorities to encourage cycling.
The benefits are obvious — more people on bikes means more healthy people and fewer cars on our already crowded roads, which also means less pollution. It’s a pretty neat way to at least injure three birds with one simple rock.
But while lots of people are now cycling in their free time, which perhaps ticks off the health benefits, there will only be fewer cars if people start using their bike to get wherever they would normally go in a car.
For all the efforts being put into the Connecting East Lancashire initiative, including a ‘Weaver’s Wheel’ type network around Blackburn and a scenic course through Rossendale, these seem unlikely to make a meaningful dent in the number of people commuting by car.
When I first moved to Darwen last year, I was pleased to see much of the journey into Blackburn town centre could be taken along the River Darwen Greenway, but after one ride down this so called ‘wildlife oasis’ I knew it wasn’t a viable option.
Aside from it being quite a big detour along the scrubland behind Ewood Park, the potentially menacing gangs of teenagers dotted along the route meant it didn’t quite feel safe enough to ride every day, especially after dark.
So I’ve stuck to the relative safety of the A666 ever since, which also has the benefit of being the quickest and flattest route. Yet, as anyone who has ridden a bike knows, cycling on our roads can also be pretty terrifying.
The main problem is the lack of any meaningful help from the road markings and layout, which are geared almost completely towards motorists. Sure, you get the odd cycle lane, but they never seem to cover more than a couple of hundred metres before inexplicably saying ‘END’.
Whalley resident Brian Cookson, who was elected president of the International Cycling Union last year, agrees that more needs to be done to make East Lancashire’s roads more attractive to potential cyclists.
He said: “I think a lot of good work has been done but it needs more in terms of investment in infrastructure. I appreciate things are difficult financially at the moment, but countries where cycling is popular have had that investment in infrastructure. You can see the difference it’s made in London in recent years.
“It would help if there were more dedicated lanes and better junctions, but, perhaps more than that, cyclists need respect from drivers too.
“If you take a risk on a bike you’re probably only risking your own life, so there’s more responsibility on drivers to be safer and recognise that cyclists and pedestrians are a lot more vulnerable.”
Having cycled on Britain’s roads since I was a kid I’m pretty confident on a bike, but do still worry about doing it on a daily basis. So I can understand why many people wouldn’t even contemplate cycling to work and back.
The only way our councils will persuade motorists to try it is to make the roads safer, like in Amsterdam or Berlin, and even London, where consistent and clear cycle lanes have brought swarms of cyclists on to the roads. Riders can then feel more confident, and more like equal road-users, rather than a nuisance to drivers.