We all know that we have a growing obesity crisis in this country. We all know that traffic congestion is getting worse, and that the fumes (and invisible particulates) are poisoning our air and ourselves. We all know that the more traffic there is, the less safe we feel walking or cycling around and even more so letting our children walk or cycle around. So what are we doing to break into this vicious cycle?
My recent encounter with the M4 and other busy roads as I walked along the Kennet and Avon canal left me thinking a lot about alternatives to motorised transport, and the daily choices we make.
I’ve pretty much given up hope of our government (at either a national or especially my local level) doing anything about it.
Which leaves me. Myself. I. To take action to try to make things different.
One thing most of us can do is to use our bodies for our transport whenever possible by walking, cycling, scooting, skateboarding, roller skating…. You get my drift.
I’m lucky enough to live in a city with pleasant off road places to walk and to cycle, and in a part of the city where there are back-road routes to most of the places I want to go, and to be healthy enough to walk and cycle wherever I want to go.
I’m unlucky to live in a city with a council (Bath and NE Somerset – or BANES) that says it believes that people should walk, or cycle, or use public transport, and only then use cars; but does (designs and spends) in ways that always prioritise car use, ensures that public transport (where it exists) is prohibitively expensive, and considers all cyclists as lycra-clad fit men speeding everywhere reckless of anyone else’s safety or well-being.
As for wheelchair users or others with limited mobility (people pushing prams for example), well, forget it. Because provision that will be good for you might also be good for cyclists. And the council seems to want to deter them (lycra-clad whizzy speeders, dangerous to one and all...), despite what their policies and strategies might say.
Um, actually not all of us (cyclists) are like that. In fact, not many of us (cyclists) are like that. Most of us just want to go to the shops, or to school and back, or to work and back, or visit friends, or just go for a ride – safely, actively, and without adding to the (motorised) traffic.
I’m nearly 60, I’m reasonably fit, and I want to travel actively. Therefore whenever I can, I choose to walk or cycle. I have visited many many other European towns and cities where this is regarded as a Good Thing, to be encouraged and is designed into the environment.
Not here in Bath though. For more years than I care to remember CycleBath and others have had polite and lengthy conversations and meetings with Council officers and members urging them to design in cycling (and walking) at early stages of planning. They’ve provided them with examples, research, facts, figures, benefits, you name it they’ve done it.
There have been small, teeny tiny gains and improvements. A few of the council members and officers actually believe that cycling and walking are indeed part of the solution not the problem. But most apparently don’t, and oh my goodness, so so so many missed opportunities, mistakes, and downright crass designs that have made traffic congestion in the centre of Bath worse not better, and continue to make cycling on pretty much any of the main (road) routes into Bath desperately dangerous.
Which is a shame, because Bath is a beautiful city in a beautiful area, with some fabulous off-road routes in and out of it. The assumption that it has hills and is therefore un-cyclable ignores the facts that the city centre is in a flat river valley, and that people all over the place cycle up hills by taking routes carefully chosen to avoid the steepest routes (e.g. using contours).
BANES could choose to do what Freiburg did all those decades ago and transform itself into a Green City. They are involved in agreeing planning conditions for new housing provision on former MOD sites around the city, as well as other housing developments. Prioritising and improving provision for cycling would be a good starting point. They could extend our thriving tourist trade into Green Tourism. Sadly, at every point they choose instead to ignore and pass up these opportunities.
Still, despite our local council, I propose for you a wonderful few days cycling visit to Bath, travelling here by train (we’re well connected), and spending a day on the Bristol to Bath Railway path (a great day out to another great city, getting better every day for cycling – Bristol that is, not Bath!); another day on the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath to Bradford-on-Avon; and then a third day (and even a fourth if you have the time) going out using the Two Tunnels Greenway and the Colliers Way – to Mells, or to Frome. Or at this time of year, a gorgeous visit to the nearby Somerset Lavender Farm (in Faulkland, just 1.5 miles from the Colliers Way). Each of these rides comes complete with several tempting refreshment stops along the way.
We cycled out to Mells on Sunday to celebrate Malcolm’s birthday. A family ride with youngest son and wife, along the Two Tunnels path to the end (at Midford), then on to the Colliers Way through Shoscombe and Radstock, turning off to Mells. We ate pizza from a wood-fired oven in the delightful Walled Garden, then suitably refuelled we cycled back, stopping only for a drink at the Hope and Anchor at Midford.
Despite my despair about BANES’ lack of commitment to cycling, Bath has some great places for leisure cycling (which are also used a lot for commuting). It is also absolutely possible to cycle in the city centre – you just have to have your wits about you and take care. And honestly, it really is worth it. Especially when each one of us on our bike means one less car on the road, even if just for today.
It could all be so different. And I believe that each and every one of us can help make it so, with the choices we make each day.