Professionals are the stars of cycling’s transformation
A home office is still a pipedream for the majority of British workers, and most employed adults find themselves commuting to work 5 days a week, 48 weeks of every year. Whether a tube across London, a tram through Manchester or a train through the Fells – the means by which we reach our place of work has a profound impact on our daily lives as well as the lives of those around us.
Commuting in the UK has long been dominated by the car; it’s comfortable, perceived as quick and shields drivers from the worst that the British elements can throw at them. But times are changing and an increasing number of people are now choosing to cycle to work. In the same way that London’s congested transport network has pushed commuters onto two wheels in the capital, busy motorways and congested roads have had the same effect in towns and cities throughout the country. Add to this an increased awareness of the cost of living and car ownership, as well as the desire to be environmentally friendly, and the recipe for an explosion in pedal powered travel is there for all to see.
But very few areas of the UK have experienced what could be called high, continuous levels of government support when it comes to cycling. That’s not to say there haven’t been some places in the UK where government policy and local initiatives have combined to great effect. Cambridge now has near continental levels of cycling commuters and the cycle superhighways in London are making slow, disgruntled progress. The driving force of change can be seen in the people combining the cost, congestion and environmental considerations above and turning to bikes in cities such as London and Cambridge – commuters astride the saddle.
Transportation authorities are responsible for creating and managing the infrastructure that keeps Britain working, so when professionals decide begin changing their travel habits they are duty bound to take note. More than just consoling irate travellers on their Twitter feeds, transport departments have a huge part to play in creating transport policy that allows efficient business and a happy workforce. Cycling has not had much luck in recent years and, while successive governments have declared support for two wheeled transport, very little has actually materialised.
But the rise of the commuting cyclist has bucked the prevailing trend and has put commuters in a unique position to catalyse government policy – election or no election. Commuters drive the economy and the growing support of the business community, no doubt led by cyclists in the ranks, has been pivotal to successful schemes and initiatives all over the UK (London’s superhighways gained a large amount of support after major London businesses declared support for them). The ‘Boris’ bikes that have become as common a sight as buses in the capital were installed for the this exact reason – to get workers round the congested city more quickly.
The will to cycle is there, but the ability to do so is being stunted by inadequate infrastructure. Between 2001 and 2011 the percentage of commuters stayed steady throughout the UK (though went up significantly as more workers moved into the country) but grew massively in cities and towns where investment was largest – growing by 80% in Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. Repeated surveys have shown that up to two million people are ready to begin commuting, but safety fears stop the vast majority – particularly women and the older generations. The 'cycle to work’ scheme is a great example of top-down policy pushing more people towards cycling, but the true test lies in commitment to infrastructure for everyone, rather than discounts for individuals.
Where governments lead, commuters will follow (and vice versa). It’s only by both groups working together that we will achieve a happy, environmental and healthy transport network – for drivers and riders alike More stories