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The urban cyclist

Cycling in cities and towns is more popular than ever


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The number of cyclists riding in the UK’s towns and cities has risen since the introduction of the congestion charge in Central London and the love affair with two wheels that the London Olympics triggered in 2012. Many cities in the UK have held cycling events when cars have been banned from the roads which have been immensely popular with thousands of riders. Events such as the Great Manchester Cycle is a typical mass participation cycle event which offers three different routes around the city using a 13 mile circuit, including motorways, which is closed to all other traffic. In 2013 8,000 cyclists took part on the day.
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Some 750,000 people use a cycle to get to work, either directly or as part of a journey, for example by cycling to a station.  Cycling has been popular in university towns for many years, in Cambridge 43% of the population cycle at least three times a week, and other cities that are popular with cyclists include Oxford, York, Bristol and Norwich. Although cycling has increased in popularity in the UK only 2% of journeys are made by bike.

Investment in cycling

In August 2013 the Government announced a big investment in cycling in the UK with the announcement that £94bn would be spent on trying to increase the number of cyclists in the UK, local authorities have also announced an investment of £54.5m to try and raise awareness of the benefits of cycling.  Eight areas, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Birmingham, West of England, Newcastle, Cambridge, Norwich, Oxford, Peak District, Dartmoor, the South Downs, and the New Forest will all benefit from the investment. 

Examples of how the money will be spent include a city-wide cycle network of 56km of new or improved cycle paths in Manchester and the introduction of 20mph zones in residential areas close to cycle ‘spokes’; a new segregated Super Highway from east Leeds to Bradford City Centre and secure cycle parking facilities; 71 miles of new cycle routes in Birmingham with segregated cycle facilities and lower speed limits; the creation of a new pedestrian and cycle promenade running east to west across Bristol; the creation of an Active Travel Centre in Newcastle where people can go for cycle maintenance, parking and information; parking for 3,000 bicycles at Cambridge station and a new direct foot/cycle route between the station and the Cambridge Science Park; and in Oxford the Plain roundabout will be made safer and more attractive for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Safe cycling in cities

While the rise in the number of urban cyclists is welcome it is also clear from statistical evidence that our roads have not been designed with the safety of cyclists in mind. During 2012 the number of cyclist deaths rose 10%, and serious injuries were up by 4%. HGV and lorries pose a particular threat to urban cyclists and it is clear that new technologies such as in-cab satnav systems that warn drivers of areas where there are likely to be a lot of cyclists, the fitting of extra mirrors on lorries and HGV, and the proper enforcement of road traffic law are essential measures that must be taken to protect the ever-growing number of urban cyclists.

Sharing the road

The vast majority of cyclists are car drivers, and most drivers of four-wheel vehicles share the road with consideration towards cyclists. However, some drivers could usefully increase their awareness of cyclists, especially in towns and cities, if more people are to be encouraged to take up cycling, with all its attendant benefits to health and well-being. While the design of urban spaces and roads needs to be improved to improve the safety of cyclists there are things that drivers can do to help cyclists. These include giving cyclists enough space on the road when passing; observing lane discipline at all times and signalling correctly; being aware that cyclists might have to swerve out of the way of potholes, oil on the road or other hazards; being aware of blind spots that may conceal a cyclist, and that cyclists and motorbikes might pass a car on both sides in congested traffic. Car drivers should avoid parking in cycling lanes and should always check for cyclists before opening their doors. In the same way considerate cyclists ought never to jump red lights, ride on the pavement or use their mobile phones while cycling. 

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