I don’t have much spare time and I don’t really even have much of a social life these days. There is a reason for this and it’s that I have woken up. Woken up and opened my eyes. I sometimes wish I could go back to not giving a damn, and just living my life, but I can’t go back now. I see the same glazed expression in my friends’ eyes as I’m sure others used to see in mine. It is the look of someone who has been cornered in the kitchen at work by ‘the campaigner’, ‘the bike girl’. Just over a year ago I didn’t ride a bike, except for on holiday. Now I have people avoiding me or apologising to me when I see them in a car.
It’s pretty odd really. I started riding a bike for transport when a new job meant I had to travel to the city centre each day and was transformed from somebody who didn’t give a toss politically, to some kind of sustainable transport maniac. The more I ride, the more I see how movement has and is being designed out of our city and the effect this has on our communities. We park our cars as close to our front doors as we can get them, walking only a few metres before shutting our front doors and turning our back on the outside world. Yet one third of households in Sheffield do not have access to a car.
People talk about the war on the motorist, but what about the war on the human being? More people were killed last year on South Yorkshire’s roads than as victims of violent crime. The Jasymn Chan memorial crossing is still not built almost a year on from when the 14 year old was hit and killed by a speeding driver. Elsewhere pedestrian crossings are being removed to ease traffic flow. We may be the Tour de France city, but less than mile from a section of the route plans for a pedestrian and cycle crossing were scrapped because of fears they would delay motor traffic.
I do not really campaign for ‘cyclists’. Cyclists already ride bikes. The people I campaign for is everyone else. Everyone else who drives to work every day because there is no practical alternative. Without cycle and walking routes which are safe, enjoyable and convenient to use then there is no incentive to get people out of their comfortable climate-controlled cars.
The council spends money on subsidised bike schemes, but without the commitment to making a safe, pleasant and comprehensive network of cycle routes then this will only go so far. But these are times of austerity I hear you say. As we speak cities across the UK are building cycle infrastructure which is pushing the boundaries of anything we’ve yet seen in the UK. This was made possible by Cycle City Ambition funding: £30 million, later upped to £77 million and then an additional £114 million. Sheffield was the only major UK city who failed to even submit a bid for the cash.
The 2013 Get Britain Cycling report recommended a cycling spend of £10-20 per person per year. In Sheffield we currently spend £1.89. We’ve got a long way to go and we’re moving at a rate which makes snails look fast. It’s not just slowness, there seems to be actual resistance at a local level which must be overcome. Even with all the government funding in the world it’s still Sheffield City Council who are responsible for all the roads in Sheffield bar the M1 motorway.
So what am I doing about it? I’m asking for anyone else who feels the same to join me, get on your bike as we take to the streets to call for change in our city. The Big Ride on Saturday 25th April will see hundreds take to the streets on their bikes to call for safe Space for Cycling. Join us.
Words: Emma Metcalfe, head of the Space for Cycling campaign in Sheffield.
Photo 1: © Paul Truin
Photo 2: © @geckobike
Space for Cycling: The Big Ride
Saturday 25th April 2015
10.30 for 11am start