I still get a childlike kick out of freewheeling

By Xavier Brice,
Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice on a bicycle

"Hills aside, there is at least one stand out difference between cycling in the Netherlands and the UK – the quality of the infrastructure that makes it so easy for people to cycle."

This morning, like every morning when I leave my house for work, I will jump on my bike and cycle to the railway station. Now in its fifth year, Cycle to Work Day are asking why you cycle to work, so here’s why I do it.

I cycle to work because it puts me in control. It’s not timetabled but, unlike my train journey, I know exactly how long it will take me: 5 minutes there, 8 minutes back – I live on a hill.

I cycle to work because it’s quick. Often, I’ll notice somebody I know in a car pass me, only for me to arrive at the station first as they get held up in traffic – that’s on the way down the hill of course.

I cycle to work because it makes me feel better. After a long day I’ll inwardly groan at the thought of cycling up the hill home – it’s a steep hill – but without fail I will walk through my door happier and with more energy than the times I’ve taken a bus or a taxi up that hill.

I cycle to work because it helps keep me fit. If I come back from a holiday where I’ve not done much exercise then that hill feels quite a bit harder. It might only be a few minutes a day, but it does make a difference.

I cycle to work because it’s cheap. My bike cost £100 (second hand) and the lock cost £40. Daily car parking alone is £6. On that basis alone cycling pays for itself in a few weeks.

I cycle to work because it’s fun. I still get a childlike kick out of freewheeling down the hill, and a feeling of satisfaction when I get to the top of it in the evening. I’m struggling to think of when my rail journey last put a smile on my face.  

Who wouldn’t want to do something that is cheap, quick, gives you back control and makes you feel better? And as a society why wouldn’t we want everyone to get to work in a way that takes up little road space, improves the physical and mental health of the population and creates no air pollution or carbon emissions?

Well, the obvious point is that with the average round trip commute in the UK at over 1 hour 30 minutes not every journey is cycleable. But 1 in 5 could be. The UK government-endorsed Propensity to Cycle Tool estimates that under a ‘Go Dutch’ scenario nearly one in five people would cycle to work.

What is the ‘Go Dutch’ scenario? It’s applying Dutch levels of cycling to the UK – but adjusted for hilliness. And hills aside, there is at least one stand out difference between cycling in the Netherlands and the UK – the quality of the infrastructure that makes it so easy for people to cycle.

I’m relatively lucky, as my route to the station includes some passable dedicated cycle path and lanes on the busier roads. At the station there is good quality cycle parking with CCTV coverage – similar to the one we delivered with partners at Edinburgh Haymarket station. It shouldn’t come down to luck about where you live. Unfortunately, it does.

In London, where Dutch-style infrastructure has supported record increases in cycling, investment stands at close to £17 per head.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced a doubling of their investment in walking and cycling to an amount equivalent to around £15 per person. In Manchester and Birmingham, the new Metro Mayors, Andy Burnham and Andy Street, were elected on ambitious pledges to make it easy for people to cycle in their cities. Andy Burnham followed London’s Sadiq Khan in appointing a Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester - Chris Boardman - coupled with a pledge to spend £17 a head on cycling in the city region, matching the figure proposed in London.

Meanwhile funding in the rest of England is at around £6.50 per head and in Wales around £4.

We are a long way from achieving the “1 in 5” cycle commutes and change isn’t going to happen overnight. This Cycle to Work Day, many people will be testing the pedal approach to the office for the very first time. If you’re one of the lucky ones and are already enjoying the benefits of cycling to work then why not help a friend, neighbour or colleague discover all the good reasons to jump on a bike.

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