Cycle to Work Op-ed

Today is Cycle to Work Day, a national initiative which encourages people to leave the car at home and commute on a bike. Helping more people cycle, walk and use public transport are key priorities for the Sheffield City Region and something I am personally passionate about.

A lot of us remember our first bike and the freedom it brought us, I know I do. And that doesn’t go away as we grow up – during the summer break I’ll be spending time cycling with my family, enjoying the off-road trails across South Yorkshire. Cycling is fun, gets us outside and is a great way to explore our beautiful countryside.

The whole family can reap the benefits of leisure cycling, whether its babies in carriers, toddlers on balance bikes or grandparents using e-bikes, we can all enjoy that feeling of the wind in our hair as we cycle through South Yorkshire’s stunning scenery.

Not only is cycling fun, but it can also be part of the solution to so many of the problems we face on our roads. But despite one in ten of us cycling for leisure each month, it’s often only ‘brave’ people who cycle to work. The majority of people still choose the car as their main form of transport, despite 40% of journeys in South Yorkshire being less than a kilometre.

The questions we need to ask are why people aren’t choosing to cycle for their daily commute, and what can be done to help people leave the car at home and choose to cycle, walk or use public transport?

Congestion is on the increase in our towns and cities, with the average driver spending 178 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. Poor air quality is damaging our health, with children facing the biggest health risks from polluted air. And we’re in the midst of an obesity crisis – nearly a third of adults are now classed as obese.

Bikes do not pollute our air, riding them helps to keep us healthy and active, and they’re much cheaper to run than a car. But despite so many benefits to our health, our environment and personal finances, just 1.2% of daily commuters travel by bike in South Yorkshire. It is important to remember the next generation of cyclists too. Just 1% of 5 – 10-year olds and 3% of 11 – 16-year olds cycle to school, according to Cycling UK.

To help make South Yorkshire a place where people cycle, walk and use public transport I have appointed Dame Sarah Storey, Britain’s most successful female Paralympian and 31 times para-cycling world champion, as my first Active Travel Commissioner. Sarah and I are passionate about helping people to leave their car behind and take to two wheels, walk to their destination, or use our public transport network.

To help shape our work on active travel, Sarah and I have made four pledges: we will be led by our communities; we will enable Active Travel rather than encouraging it; our infrastructure will meet minimum standards and we will ensure cycling and walking are fully accessible.

Our region lacks genuinely safe cycling infrastructure, which is often inaccessible for children, older people and people with disabilities. This is why I’ve put cycling and walking at the core of my £220m Transforming Cities Bid to Government. If approved, half of the money will be spent on active travel infrastructure across our region.

With Sarah, I am working alongside other Metro Mayors and their Active Travel Commissioners to tell Government that we need to make active travel a reality not an ambition. We are now seeing more recognition of the importance of active travel and supporting infrastructure from organisations, including Transport for the North (TfN). I have ensured that TfN is now strongly advocating the benefits of encouraging active travel, and is working with partners to integrate high quality active travel infrastructure into new projects across the North, which will help cyclists and walkers travel with safety and ease.

Car has been king for too long, often at the expense of the safety and journey times of pedestrians and cyclists. I am committed to helping people leave their car at home and making South Yorkshire a place where more people cycle, walk or use public transport, whether that be to work or school or in their leisure time.

This Cycle to Work Day I hope those that do take to the roads have a safe and enjoyable journey. For those who choose not to, I hope through my work in our region you will soon feel safe and confident to choose cycling over the car for your daily commute.

To find out more about my work to get more people cycling in South Yorkshire, follow @CycleWalkSCR on Twitter and Instagram.