Cycling without barriers

Active Oxfordshire is passionate about breaking down barriers to help more women get started with cycling.

By Paul Brivio, Chief Executive of Active Oxfordshire

Many of you reading this blog will be eagerly awaiting the county’s plans for how it will use Oxfordshire’s share of the national pot of £250 million for ‘pop-up infrastructure’ – bold, quick-to-implement, and low-cost solutions to encourage walking and cycling for safe social distancing.

At Active Oxfordshire we’re doing the same, but after conversations we’ve had with women from across the county, who have either recently started cycling, or are hoping to return to the activity it has confirmed our view that building the infrastructure is just part – albeit an important part – of the picture.

Suffia Hussain, of Cowley, recently received bicycles for her two sons through a partnership programme run through TRAX and the Oxford Hub. Suffia cycled a lot when she was young, but her reasons for not cycling were more complex than just cycle lanes.

That’s not to say, safer routes for cycling isn’t a major barrier in itself.

“Getting on the road, I’ve lost my confidence in that department,” said Suffia.

Because I’m a driver, I see a lot of the drivers and how they behave toward cyclists. There’s so much traffic out there, going at super speeds, especially around Cowley where I live. They’ll draw up close, or be very impatient and they are quite unkind, especially to cyclists.

But there’s more to it than just that. It’s often easy to get in the mindset that owning a bike is cheaper than owning a car, and as about forty per cent of car journeys are less than 2 miles, then bikes are affordable – but as Suffia said that’s not her experience.

I was given a car, and it helps me with long journeys. I’ve three children, and it’s the initial outlay [on bikes] for me and them, and then helmets and any maintenance or repairs that gets expensive. And there’s quite a lot of bike theft in Oxford, I’m afraid to save up the money, get the bike and then have it stolen.

“I remember once taking my little daughter’s bike to be repaired and it needing a new tyre that cost more than the bike, so then we ended up scrapping the bike and not cycling.”

As we seek to find new ways of travelling while effectively socially distancing, access to a bicycle becomes a real issue of inequality. If you live in a ward on the southern or eastern fringe of Oxford, census data shows you are less likely to be riding a bike than others in the city.

It is an issue that Active Oxfordshire, with Cyclox have sought to address for our health and social care workers with the #BikesForKeyWorkers scheme and as we come out of lockdown we’re keen to explore more of those barriers faced by people who are not yet cycling. Cost, maintenance, road confidence and knowing how to find your way. That way, as and when Oxfordshire’s ambitious plans to improve our cycling infrastructure unfold, we can make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to make use of them.

You can listen to Suffia talk about her experience of cycling on the Active Oxfordshire podcast episode #5: Women’s experiences and barriers to cycling in Oxfordshire.

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