I'd have loved to have the first post of 2012 to be some wonderful news, guaranteed to put a smile on anybody's face. Sadly this is not the case.
I was looking into the whole debacle surrounding the proposed mountain bike paths that the National Trust aims to build at Plymbridge, when I stumbled across an article in the Guardian, published on the 28th of September 2011. You can read the article by clicking here.
While there isn't really much substance to it, the interesting (and depressing!) part is to be found in the comments. Especially one comment:
"I was in plymouth with my bike this summer. It's not bike friendly in the least. My mate wasn't happy to cycle on most of the roads (i don't actually blame him, they are ghastly and bike lane free) and i refused to cycle on the pedestrianised areas. We took the bikes for a walk a lot.
less so on the roads, in the town, or in the woods."
The comment - supported by others with the same general feel - is less about the mountain bike tracks and more about Plymouth's failure to grasp that catering to cyclists is good for the city.
It is SO frustrating! I've posted before about the economic benefits cycle tourism brings, but nobody appears to be listening. supposedly our fair city is run by very intelligent people that are experts in their fields. Why then can they not see what is so blindingly obvious?
Unfortunately, it is easy to answer that question: they don't cycle. I fear we'll never get Plymouth City Council to take cycling, and especially the appalling "cycling infrastructure" in the city, seriously unless we can get them to try and cycle around the city. Once they discover first-hand just how pathetically inadequate provision for cyclists actually is, perhaps they'll start doing something to change it.
And no, I'm not expecting oodles and oodles of money to be thrown at improving cycling facilities throughout the city (although that would be nice!) Instead, for a start I'd like decent, joined-up cycle routes to be properly signed. Such routes simply must, as far as practically possible, allow cyclists to ride to shops as this will have a measurable economic impact.
Without this, the cycle tourists that do travel through the city will simply bypass the shops, as they won't know they are there, and go on to spend their money elsewhere. A situation very much like Bideford, where hundreds of thousands of cyclists ride along the Tarka Trail that runs right through the town, but spend almost nothing in the town. Bideford has shops failing and closing down just on the other side of the river from the Tarka Trail, but they refuse to allow cyclists a safe path to cross the bridge that can be downright scary to cycle. The end result is predictable: the cyclists ride on and spend their money elsewhere.
Tourist routes through the city must be extremely clearly signed, and well-maintained, lest we end up with even more cycle tourists actively telling people to avoid Plymouth. Remember, an unhappy customer will, on average, tell another 11 people - more if they post a comment to a national newspaper!
Come on, Plymouth! Wake up! Almost every adult cyclist represents one less car to clog up the road, so even people who won't or can't cycle will benefit! And that's before we start looking at the enormous health benefits and reduction in pollution that cycling brings!
To demonstrate the pollution element, Copenhagen (already on of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world) hosted a Word Road Racing cycling event in September 2011. As a result of the week-long event, the city centre was closed to motorised traffic, which led to a 30% drop in air pollution that was so obvious that ordinary people commented on it.
Plymouth City Council set up something called Plymouth 2020 which has an explicit aim to make the city "one of Europe's finest, most vibrant waterfront cities, where an outstanding quality of life is enjoyed by everyone". This programme set itself four priorities: Deliver growth, Raise aspirations, Reduce inequalities and Provide value for communities.
The Reduce inequalities priority explicitly states "Reduce the inequality gap, particularly in health, between communities". It has been show quite clearly that cycling is a shortcut to increased health, yet Plymouth 2020 has no clear plan to increase cycling levels throughout the city.
Certainly the council's Transport department has not got a clue how to improve things for cyclists, and where they do get involved and spend money, it often only results in making things worse for cyclists. We need change, and I strongly suggest the city foots the bill to send our leader of the council's sustainable transport department, the chair of the Plymouth 2020 partnership and the leader of the council to go and spend a week with David Hembrow in the Netherlands.
Perhaps on their return they would not have the blinkers anymore that so far prevented them from seeing what massive economic and health benefits cycling offers the city.