Coventry could be on the road to becoming a cycling city again if it is backed with further investment and political will, the city’s Bicycle Mayor Adam Tranter believes.
The city has a rich cycling history with Coventry’s Starley family considered pioneers of the modern-day bicycle in the 1880s, but it’s a history Mr Tranter believes has been ‘forgotten’.
He pointed to the likes of the Netherlands which has more bikes than people; and the recent cycling boom in Paris which is looking to make permanent 31 miles of temporary cycle lanes which opened during the pandemic. The city’s Mayor has outlined a vision to make every street in the French capital cycle-friendly by 2024.
In Coventry, work is well underway on a 1.7 mile segregated cycle route from Coundon – which will be the first of its kind in the city – while a consultation is open on a 3.75 mile route in Binley. Mr Tranter lauded both schemes as “country-leading”.
The pandemic has also prompted pop-up cycle lanes by the Canal Basin and University of Warwick while further plans for a segregated route along Foleshill Road were announced last week.
Transport for West Midland’s have also announced their cycle hire scheme will launch in Coventry at the end of March, which Mr Tranter has described as “great news”.
But the city’s Bicycle Mayor believes even more can be done.
“So much has happened recently that gives us reasons to be hopeful that Coventry could once again be a cycling city,” he said.
“But it will need continued investment, political will, and a change in the way we use our streets to fully realise our potential.
“Coventry was once the centre of the cycling industry globally, but then we sort of forgot about it.
“In a city dominated by private cars, even for short journeys, we now need to embrace other ways to get around because of climate change, air quality and the benefits of being active; we would do well to look at some of our past to help shape our future.”
The pandemic rapidly changed people’s cycling habits with quieter roads prompting more to get on their bikes.
Research from the The Bicycle Association in December found sales grew 60 per cent since March.
As lockdown restrictions have slowly eased, vehicles have returned to once-empty roads but Mr Tranter believes the cycling boom will continue if people are provided with the right infrastructure.
He said: “The pandemic has been a real shock to everybody and it has made a lot of people think about how they travel.
“At the start of the pandemic many people had the opportunity to cycle in effectively 1950s levels of traffic and there were hardly any cars on the roads. When we ask people why they do not cycle it is generally because they don’t feel safe.
“We know people want to cycle as we saw everybody doing it last year. Cycling was up 400 per cent in some places and while every other mode of transport decreased massively, it came back to the fact that cycling felt safe as we didn’t have to share the road with cars.
“Now the traffic is getting back to normal we need to provide safe spaces for people so they can continue to ride their bikes. It is up to us and if we keep building this stuff and keep the momentum then I think people will keep cycling.”
The council has said the Coundon cycleway will be the first of its kind in the city and eventually lead to a network of cycle superhighways across Coventry.
Mr Tranter said: “These are likely to be some of the best cycle lanes in the country. They really are on shape to be country-leading in their design and that’s really impressive.
“So we are starting to see a bit of a network and it’s important to note that this network is only the very start of it.
“Often for journeys under two miles 60 per cent of people drive so we need to get those short journeys to cycling and even walking.”
The introduction of the West Midlands Cyle Hire scheme in Coventry will make bikes available for 5p a minute, which Mr Tranter believes will help encourage people to ditch the car for short journeys.
“When we talk about people cycling, those short journeys can make a real difference to how we feel and to the environment,” he said.
While pleased with progress so far, Mr Tranter said the work must not stop there.
He added: “I would like to see low-cost measures that will help us build a full network because no one can afford to have cycle lanes everywhere and nor is it appropriate to have cycle lanes everywhere.
“We need cycle lanes on the key arteries going in and out of the city like it is happening on the Binley Road, Coundon route and potentially on the Foleshill Road.
“Everywhere in between we need to start to look at other measures that can slow traffic down and prevent people using SatNavs to rat-run through people’s residential roads so those roads can become loads more calmer so kids can play outside and people can cycle through them and walk through them.
“If we did that we could actually build quite quickly a city-wide cycle network where you have the big routes and everywhere in between where people can connect and that is the missing piece which I would love to see happen in the city. It is really important so you have a genuine network which everyone can use rather than a few good lanes which are good for some people but don’t meet all the needs of everybody’s journeys.”
Mr Tranter launched a mini 15-minute documentary on Coventry’s cycling history and future this month. ‘Where the Bicycle was Invented (and Forgotten): Coventry’ can be viewed on Youtube.
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