Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Coventry Society & Cycle Coventry

I've just sent the following article to the Coventry Society - Coventry's civic society:

"Too many people in the UK feel they have no choice but to travel in ways that are dangerous, unhealthy, polluting and costly, not just to their own wallets but also to the public purse. Urgent action is required to address Britain’s chronic levels of obesity, heart disease, air pollution and congestion." (Parliamentary Report 2013 "Get Britain Cycling").

Removing the barriers to cycling is one of the ways of tacking these problems. Unfortunately Coventry has been going backwards in this respect, with cycling's share of journeys to work falling from 2.8% to 1.6% in the ten years to 2011. During the same period other British towns and cities have made progress. In Bristol the share of cycling in commuter journeys grew from 4.6% to 7.5% and in Oxford from 14.9% to 17% over the same period. Yet change is coming. Cycle Coventry has begun!

Cycle Coventry is a three year £7M project to improve Coventry's cycle routes and change its population's attitude towards cycling. Public consultation is already being held on plans to improve the road across Hearsall Common by widening the pavements to support shared cyclist/pedestrian use. Tarmac is being laid to provide a virtually motor traffic free route between the University Hospital and Longford Park via Henley College. Further infrastructure improvements are in the design stage.

Changing attitudes is as critical as building infrastructure in these early days of transforming Coventry into a cycle friendly city. Cycle Roadshows are being held at business parks and the universities promoting the message that cycling is for everyday journeys as well as for sport and recreation. There's also training courses; on cycling in traffic and on basic cycle maintenance.

Although not a central part of Cycle Coventry, I believe that reducing traffic speeds in residential streets to below 20 mph and removing through motor traffic would greatly encourage the take-up of more walking and cycling at the same time as improving the street environment.

I hope that Cycle Coventry is just the beginning of a "virtuous circle" of substantial increases in the number of cycle journeys leading to increased spending which in turn stimulates more cycling. The parliamentary report mentioned above suggested that cities the size of Coventry would need an annual spend of £3-6 million to meet its target of increasing cycle use fivefold to 10% of all journeys by 2025, and 25% by 2050.

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