The sun shone brightly from a near-cloudless sky on Saturday morning, and it could not have been a better day to take a gentle meander by bicycle to a local park. And that’s exactly what we did, because Saturday was the day of our ‘Small Ride’, a cycle ride to celebrate how Space for Cycling will give everyone, whatever their age or ability, the choice to make and enjoy their everyday journeys safely by bicycle.
It took just fifteen minutes for the small group of participants to pedal the short distance (about 2 km, 1.2 miles) from the delightful Trinity Square, in the commercial heart of Sutton town centre, to the tranquillity of Cheam Park, with its lush grass dotted with resplendent horse chestnuts, beech, sycamore and oak trees that now, at the height of spring, are looking their finest.
But our ‘Small Ride’ was no ordinary cycle ride, because, for one day only, these “cyclists” were to be cocooned, protected and surrounded by marshals, the music man Patrick (playing out the songs and the beats), and police community support officers wearing hi-viz jackets. Consequently, as we edged our way from the traffic-free space of the town centre and onto the one-way Sutton gyratory, before heading west along the A232 towards Cheam, we managed very briefly to turn a road, that what would normally feel quite hostile and threatening to anyone on a bicycle, into a smooth surfaced, and rather pleasant, cycle-path. The children loved it, the mums and dads loved it, everyone loved it. We had, effectively, created our own temporary, but dynamically changing, space for cycling.
But all too soon the ride was over, and the normality of the situation returned. With the protection gone, cycling seemed to revert to an activity that was once again only suitable for those who are extremely fit, highly trained and daring to battle with traffic on busy roads. Going home, the riders were no longer just ordinary people making a short local journey, and using what could be, in the right conditions, a highly appropriate choice of vehicle. Once again, cycling, as a form of transport, felt like a largely unloved, highly marginalised, pursuit.
So how do we turn that around? How do we elevate cycling so that it becomes a normal activity? How do we provide Space for Cycling? Well, you can help bring cycling to Sutton by taking a look at the Space for Cycling website, and asking your candidates standing in the council elections on 22 May to consider some ideas that could make a big difference. Get Sutton Cycling are asking candidates in Sutton Central ward, for example, to support improvements that will make the approaches to town centre cycle friendly. Specifically these improvements could include the introduction of safe, and highly-visible, access points, along with protected space on the gyratory. In Cheam ward we are asking candidates to support the major upgrade of the cycle paths adjacent to St Dunstan’s Hill, as well as consider the introduction of a 20mph speed limit in Cheam village. And, as many “quiet” residential streets can carry inappropriate levels of traffic often at inappropriate speeds, we are asking candidates standing in Sutton West ward to support the trial removal of through motor traffic from a number of streets, including Robin Hood Lane. All of this will help create convenient routes and streets that are much safer and conducive for cycling, whether to work, to school, or for shopping trips and other daily transport needs. Hopefully, the journey beyond 2014 will start to change for the better.
On Saturday, 17 May, there will be a ‘Big Ride’ in central London during the morning. If you would like to ride part of the way there, you could take the train to Crystal Palace and join Croydon Cyclists at 10am. Meanwhile, if you would like to know more about Space for Cycling, the CTC have produced a useful Guide for local decision makers, and Cyclenation have set out practical design principles in their publication Making Space for Cycling.
Our ‘Small Ride’ on Saturday showed that only fifteen minutes separates the hustle and bustle of the shops and businesses in one of London’s flourishing metropolitan town centres, from the calm of the grassy expanse of Cheam Park with its own historic shopping centre nearby. By providing high-quality Space for Cycling, many short journeys like this will become more readily achievable by bicycle. And more people from all walks of life will recognise that local trips can be fun again too, even when the sun is not shining or Patrick is not there to provide musical accompaniment!