Reasons to be hopeful?

By Oly Shipp

As I cycled through East Oxford with my kids this morning, I began to realise there may be some positives to the present worrying situation. Unrelentingly glum as these times may feel, I did notice that my immediate surroundings were transformed – hugely for the better!

You should have seen the beam on my daughter’s face when I actually agreed to let her ride her bike on the street. She has been campaigning for this for months, but until now I have always said no, as sadly our road does not yet have protected cycle lanes to allow for safe cycling. But today the normally choked route was blissfully free of motor traffic. The noise and menace of lorries, vans and hundreds of single-occupancy cars was gone – we even heard birdsong on Iffley Road!

And when we arrived at school (still open for us key workers at the time of writing), the headteacher was busy taking photographs at the entrance: “We seemed to have solved the problem of dangerous driving and car parking” he remarked wryly.

Not only were the pavements free of people-carriers; the air seemed cleaner too. Whilst that was just an impression, I later read that the National Centre for Atmospheric Science have confirmed that air pollution is falling dramatically across major cities – something that those with respiratory conditions must welcome at a time when they are more vulnerable to the virus.

I am not alone: on my ‘statutory daily exercise’ yesterday I noticed many people out walking and cycling, thankfully all well distanced from each other. This is a cause for celebration, just what we have been trying to encourage people to do to help tackle the country’s obesity crisis – an epidemic every bit as serious as our present concern, and one which will certainly not be getting better by Easter.

Many people are also now working from home, and finding that it can be done and may even have advantages. I’m hopeful that a good proportion of those poor folk who used to sit fuming in their metal boxes near my home every morning and evening won’t go back to doing that. Is it too much to hope that those who can, will continue to work from home at least some of the time? Or start cycling instead of driving, having unexpectedly rediscovered the joys of two wheels?

On a wider note, if we as a country can take rapid and unprecedented actions to overcome our present challenge, then maybe we will take similarly radical steps to tackle our even greater and longer-lasting existential threat, the climate emergency? There are already some optimistic signs, with the government quietly publishing its ‘Decarbonising Transport’ plan last week, whose ambition has been described as “gob smacking”.

Maybe some good will come from these strange times after all. Keep well, and let’s focus on the reasons to be hopeful.

We’d like to build a picture of Oxford’s cycling community during lockdown. Let us know why you are #cyclingandhopeful via Facebook, Twitter and email. Tag us in your photos and films – taken while you stay at home, during your essential travel, or once a day exercise – showing an unexpected benefit of lockdown that you would like to keep when we move into less difficult times.

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