Picture 1: Chris Boardman, Dan Jarvis and Sarah Storey. Image credit @SCR_Mayor
On Thursday 8th May the Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis MP, gathered together stakeholders from across South Yorkshire to hear about works to develop transport connections in the region.
Key goals were to ensure good travel times from home to work, and between the centres of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, and Barnsley. These were announced in an introductory speech by the mayor. These targets are not necessarily walking or cycling-related and so there is a risk that a push to meet them will suck up a lot of the mayor’s transport budget in, for example, extending the tram network that (if done again without good design) will endanger people on bikes. Repeated mention was made of how active travel can extend the reach of bus, tram and train services but there were no explicit walking and cycling goals. Maybe they are to come?
Walking and cycling were a key focus of the next session when Professor Steve Haake discussed active travel with Chris Boardman OBE (Greater Manchester’s Commissioner) and Dame Sarah Storey (Sheffield City Region’s new Commissioner). It was really encouraging to hear Sarah talk of her experiences since childhood, her walking her eldest child to school, and how she will lend her grit, determination and focus developed as an athlete to her efforts in Sheffield. Observations she made on the professional cycling tour of infrastructure in other countries looks set to inspire action: in response to someone talking about the difficulty of making more space for bikes on trams and trains, she said, “if they can do it on the continent we can do it here”.
If you’re worried that appointing a professional cyclist may make everyday walking and cycling seem an elite activity for the superfit there was some reassurance. Chris Boardman shared some of his experiences from over the Pennines. He brought an approach similar to training an athlete to redesigning streets. This involved giving feedback to the authorities on their performance of improving walking and cycling rates over time bringing an element of healthy competition between different areas. He also supported quick, easy fixes first to test an improvement and, if successful, engineer it in it later. He gave the example of some tree planters being temporarily installed at the end of a street, and if filtering out motor traffic proved positive the planters could be replaced by more permanent features.
Another good feature of Chris’ work that we would love to see in South Yorkshire is consultation with local communities about what their barriers to walking or cycling are and what practical steps could be taken. For some it might be a more welcoming and generously timed crossing over a major road, for others it might be a greater police presence to feel safer on the streets. One panellist in the subsequent discussion was a Youth Parliament representative from Bassetlaw who said many teenagers she knew were scared to take the bus – this is an example of where perceptions of safety must be tackled. We know that people who try riding a bike are often scared off by dangerously close overtakes, so a #closepass operation in South Yorkshire as done in the West Midlands would be worth funding. Rachel Aldred offered inspiration in the panel discussion that if these challenges were overcome then, if people in South Yorkshire cycled as much as people in the Netherlands then 19% of trips would be made by bike.
Some of the final panel discussion veered into large-scale infrastructure projects like the location of HS2 station in Sheffield, train travel times to Manchester and Leeds, or a proposed road through the Peak District. These were largely initiated by the Transport for the North spokesperson on the panel, but also some of the comments from Sheffield MP Clive Betts. At some points these were deflected with comments like “that’s a decision made by the Department for Transport”. In many ways these are beyond the budget and remit of the SCR Mayor, but if anyone is to make the case for investment in the region it is the Mayor. In hindsight we should have been more critical and vocal about these suggestions – road or rail investment is very costly, subsidises richer travellers, and detracts from public health. In one question to the panel Ian Carey, chair of CycleSheffield, did highlight the case of Seville in Spain. Imagine how far the SCR Transforming Cities funding of over £100 million could go if it were spent largely on a comprehensive cycle network?
As a prompt or rule of thumb for evaluating whether suggested designs will really enable people to get out of cars and walk or cycle more, Chris proposed two tests:
- The “double buggy test”. Could a parent pushing two kids side-by-side in a pushchair walk down this path or between those bollards?
- The “12 year old on a bike test”. Could a 12 year old safely cycle to school on their own? Are streets calm? Are junctions easy to navigate if you’re small and haven’t had driving lessons?
What improvements are needed to the infrastructure where you live to meet the “double buggy” or “12 year old on a bike” tests?
Rachel Aldred added that, while these are helpful indicators or human-friendly design, active travel is not just for the young; it benefits the elderly who may otherwise suffer from social isolation. This is particularly important to bear in mind as society ages.
The full room at our recent Festival of Debate highlighted the support for cycling as a way of tackling transport poverty as well as reducing air pollution, carbon emissions and congestion, and enabling more active communities. The full room at the Sheffield City Region Transport conference showed support, at least in words, from many at the top for communities for the same agenda. For almost 30 years CycleSheffield has been campaigning for a more cycle friendly city. With the focus brought by Mayor Dan Jarvis MP on efforts to invest in active travel and appointing a dedicated commissioner for the City Region, we are keen to see the improved infrastructure this will bring.