A Happy Cycling New Year
By Alison Hill
There is much that we won’t want to remember about 2020. But for Cyclox, wanting to see so many more people of all ages and backgrounds choose to cycle, there were some reasons to celebrate in these otherwise bleak times.
At the very start of the year before most of us were aware of what was heading our way, the county council published Oxford’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan – which is a blueprint for implementing changes to our streets to encourage cycling and walking – and we hope will shape much of what will be built.
Then in March the pandemic threw us headlong into chaos. The need to get out and about on our roads while socially distancing saw lots of people turned to cycling. So many people dusted down their bikes and took to the city streets and the country roads. Bike shops, providing essential services and therefore allowed to stay open during lockdown, were struggling to keep up with the demand for bikes and for repairs.
At the start of the first lockdown it was evident that people were avoiding public transport. Keyworkers though still had to get to their workplace and Cyclox worked alongside Active Oxfordshire to set up a Bikes for Keyworkers scheme. The response to this scheme was astonishing. We raised £14,000, we received lots of donated bikes, we mobilised 20 volunteers to repair those bikes, with the result that we handed out 300 free bikes to keyworkers. It was a heart-warming initiative, and surprised us all with its popularity.
Nationally, the pandemic prompted the government to recognise the need to promote cycling as a serious means of transport. It has issued what could be a game changing policy on cycling infrastructure, the Cycle Infrastructure Design, which sets out the definitive standards for cycling. It is committing to cycle training for all children. It also created an emergency active travel fund that councils could bid for, to change street layout to improve cycling and walking.
Oxfordshire County Council failed in its first round of bidding, much to the despair of active travel advocates like Cyclox, but got its act together for the second round, and received more than it bid for. During the year as the pandemic surged, so did interest in low traffic neighbourhoods. As a result, much of the funding that the council received will go towards implementing low traffic neighbourhoods across east Oxford, Headington and Jericho during 2021. There will be the inevitable opposition, but if the county council can hold its nerve, many more people will be encouraged to get on to their bikes.
Another good piece of news is that funding has also been found for implementing school streets.
Could all this be the tipping point? We are anticipating much greater commitment by national and local government, and increased pressure from local communities, for cycling and walking?
So we hope that 2021 will be the year that we see more people cycling, more safely and more often in and around Oxford.