Thinking of cycling to work? It’s easy!
Published on 06 July 2020
For many of you, this summer may be the first time you've thought about cycling to work, as we know from our Park data sources that cycling has never been so popular.
What bicycle should I use? What’s the best route? How will I social distance? Will I save money? There are lots of questions being asked so Veronica Reynolds, our brilliant sustainable travel advisor, has looked at how the cycling landscape is fast changing and how you can easily jump on your bike.
Cycling is on the up!
According to data released by the Government as part of its daily briefing in early June, cycling levels increased by a whopping 300% on some days during lockdown. The lockdown has meant that unprecedented numbers have dusted off the rusty old bike in the shed and used it to get out for your daily exercise.
Many of you have invested in a new bike: a West London bike shop has reported a 677% rise in year on year sales of entry levels bikes for April and e-bike sales in the UK have boomed in the last three months. One local retailer reported that he sold eight e-bikes in 20 minutes. There are more signs that 2020 will be the ‘year of the bike’ with significant new investment in cycling across the county and at Milton Park itself.
The time is now
Policy-makers across the globe have been looking for the silver-lining that the COVID-19 pandemic might offer and have turned their attention to implementing measures that will allow us to continue to enjoy lower pollution levels, clearer skies and more space for cycling and walking in the public realm.
Cycling has never been so prominent on the Government’s agenda as it is seen as an integral part of the post-COVID-19 recovery and resilience plan. Many are saying that we have been presented with a ‘golden opportunity’ to reset our habits around over-reliance on the car for short journeys. The increase in cycling has come about mainly because people feel safer with fewer cars on the road. Many fear that as we start to return to work and school, we will revert back to pre-lockdown cycling levels with only the more intrepid choosing cycling for their daily commute to work or trip to the shops. Others say that cycling levels will fall as this extended and unusually warm and sunny Summer comes to an end.
But I believe that this doesn’t need to be the case. We do indeed have a ‘golden opportunity’ to increase our cycling levels to match those of other European countries. There are some powerful forces at play which mean that the cycling revolution is likely to continue. Firstly, people’s habits have changed. People who have started cycling for recreation have been doing so for several months now: long enough for new habits to be formed and for people to reap the physical and mental health benefits that come with regular cycling. As they return to work, many people will want to continue with their new-found exercise regime and active commuting is a sure-fire way of incorporating exercise into your daily routine.
There will also be many more people cycling, producing a ‘safety in numbers’ effect. The more people who are seen on bikes, the more others will join them as it will become ‘the norm’ for short journeys. E-Bikes (or pedal assist bikes), while still significantly more expensive than most regular bikes, have the potential to flatten hills and make longer journeys doable.
Cycling is more than just good for your health
I commute 16 miles each way most days into Milton Park on my ebike and last year clocked up 7,000 miles which I would have driven. That’s a combined saving in fuel, car tax, car maintenance of £1,450 per year!
Not only that, it keeps me fit and my early morning ride through some beautiful countryside sets me up for the day. And yes, I do it all year round. It really isn’t that bad so long as you have some good wet-weather gear. See my blog on ‘Why ebikes are good for your health’.
People’s fears about using public transport and the reduction in capacity of our buses and trains will also result in more cycling. We have already heard from key workers at Milton Park who have switched to using our free e-bike loan scheme to commute from as far away as Oxford. The e-bike loan scheme at Milton Park is one of many initiatives we have implemented over recent years to increase the mode share of cycling which has gone from 5% of the Milton Park community regularly cycling in 2016 to 11% in 2019. We run regular events for cyclists including our monthly free Bike2Work breakfasts and Bike Doctor sessions.
‘But what of infrastructure?’ I hear you cry! From our annual travel survey results, we know that the lack of decent cycling infrastructure is a major barrier to commuting by bike. Around 33% of Milton Park occupiers live within five miles of the Park – a distance that should easily be cyclable and yet many don’t out of fear of close passing traffic. Our cycling infrastructure is seen by our many European occupiers as pretty dreadful. The UK Government’s average annual spend on cycle infrastructure in rural areas in the UK is just £3 a head compared with £25 a head in the Netherlands.
£2.9 million Government funding into Oxfordshire
Well, there is some good news here too. The Government announced at the end of May that it will be giving local councils across the UK a share of £250 million to spend on ‘emergency measures’ to allow for social distancing while walking and cycling in our public places. Oxfordshire’s share of that money is £2.9 million to be ‘spread across the county’.
We have been working with the Council and local cycling groups to identify routes and parts of routes that would benefit from improvements, focussing in particular on those routes which are heavily used by existing cyclists or that have the potential to attract many more people to cycling if improvements can be made. Our proposals reflect the data from our travel surveys, based on our occupiers’ responses and where we see latent potential for cycling, e.g. routes from Great Western Park in Didcot which is actually quicker to access by bike than it is by car during peak times.
Milton Park’s Nicola Derek’s commute from Great Western Park will be much quicker in future thanks to her new e-bike (pictured above).
Nicola added, “I have purchased my first ebike and have been practising using it with my family. I’m really looking forward to using my ebike regularly to get to work at Milton Park and the uphill part of the journey will be so much easier at the end of the day.”
Emergency measures are on their way
We will definitely start to see some of these ‘emergency measures’ coming into effect in Didcot over the coming weeks as temporary cycle ways are created along the more congested routes and modal filters are put in place to allow public transport and cycles only on certain roads and cycles and pedestrians only on other routes. The second tranche of funding will be used to implement speed limit reductions through our towns and villages to further improve safety for cyclists as well as some new cycle routes.
The aim of these measures is not to inconvenience the motorist but to allow more space for socially distanced cycling and walking. It may be several months before everyone returns to work and, even then, many will now work from home more often. The roads should be much less congested, and people are much more likely in the future to avoid travelling during the peak times. This in itself will make cycling safer.
Science Vale Cycle Network already seeing improvements
In parallel with the emergency measures, Oxfordshire County Council has been working to improve the Science Vale Cycle Network around Milton Park, including improvements to the cycle routes to Abingdon and Oxford and around Wantage. Details of these plans can be found in this Council bulletin.
What are we doing at Milton Park?
At Milton Park, we have been working with our Travel Forum and Bike Users’ Group on plans to reduce the speed limit through the Park to 20mph. To align ourselves with other measures across the county, we are aiming to fast-track our plans to implement this speed limit reduction before people start to return to work in significant numbers.
We have also just opened phase 1 of the new footpath and cycleway between the Backhill Tunnel and Kelaart’s Field which will link to the newly improved Peep-o-Day Lane to Abingdon. You can read more here. I often share that I can cycle from Milton Park to Abingdon bridge in 17 minutes on an ebike. The average time during the morning peak along the A34 is 32 minutes.
Find your cycle route
If you would like to find your best cycle route to and from Milton Park, I suggest you use www.cyclestreets.org. It will give you detailed route maps on an OS map base.
You can also compare journey times and get regular journey disruption information from our Mi-Link Journey Planner.
Build your cycling confidence
Still nervous? Milton Park runs regular Cycle Confidence courses for novice cyclists and can also link you up with a ‘cycle buddy’ in your area who will accompany you on your first few rides to work and ‘show you the ropes’. If you are interested in either of these, or would like to join the Milton Park Bike Users’ Group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.