Increasing cycling is key to overcoming our biggest challenges

An opinion piece by Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority's Transport Committee, published in The Yorkshire Post on Monday (27 May).

[caption id="attachment_3702" align="alignnone" width="450"] The Young family on the Bradford Leeds Cycle Superhighway at Pudsey.[/caption]

As I’ve discovered in this role, good or bad, nearly everyone has a view on cycling and its role in the transport network, but I’m very clear getting more people on bikes benefits us all – and the same goes for walking too.

From connecting people with places, to reducing air pollution and congestion, and combatting physical inactivity and obesity, we know increasing the numbers of people choosing to travel by bike or on foot has a vital role to play in making our region a great place to live, work and play.

In his recent column, Mark Casci’s raised some interesting points around the benefits and challenges of everyday cycling.

We are playing our part in making cycling and walking a natural choice for short, everyday journeys across West Yorkshire and York.

Through our CityConnect programme and in partnership with others, the Combined Authority is not only building new cycling and walking routes and improving existing infrastructure, we are working to help people change their travel behaviour through a series of initiatives, including free adult cycle training and bike maintenance sessions, online cycle challenges, and support for businesses, schools and grassroots initiatives.

By 2020, the Combined Authority, through our CityConnect programme, will have invested £60 million in cycling and walking schemes across West Yorkshire and York since 2015.

In addition, we are currently developing business cases to unlock a further £12 million from the Local Growth Fund to deliver further cycling and walking schemes.

Furthermore, an estimated £69 million from the Local Growth Fund will be spent on walking and cycling improvements within our wider delivery programme up to March 2021.

There are so many reasons why this is important. The population of Leeds City Region is expected to grow to 3.4m by 2035, with between 10,000 and 13,000 new houses being built each year.

As the region grows so will the demand for travel and with Public Health England estimating 1 in 20 deaths in West Yorkshire are attributable to air pollution, the case for cycling and walking has never been stronger.

Two-thirds of journeys made by West Yorkshire residents are under five miles, yet according to data from the last census, although 11% of journeys to work are already made on foot, just 1.3% are by bike.

Cycling and walking has incredible potential to meet travel demand for shorter journeys, helping reduce congestion and air pollution.

In terms of health, life expectancy in West Yorkshire is already below the national average and 38% of people are considered inactive.

More than one in three of our children in their final year of primary school are classed as overweight or obese.

Building more cycling and walking into our busy daily routines is part of the solution to our health as well as out transport challenges.

Thanks to our partnership working, communities across West Yorkshire and York are seeing the benefits of new, high quality cycling and walking infrastructure, including the Bradford Leeds Cycle Superhighway, the Castleford to Wakefield Greenway, a series of canal towpath upgrades in Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale, and the construction of Scarborough Bridge, York.

Work currently underway in Leeds and Bradford will see more than 6km of additional segregated cycle lanes added to the network.

Crucially, we are showing that investment delivers results. Since opening in July 2016 the Bradford Leeds Cycle Superhighway has been used for nearly a million trips (953,595 up until the end of March 2019), increasing access to work, education and leisure opportunities in communities facing barriers to participation.

The cycle superhighway is not just catering for people who already cycle. Evidence shows the cycle superhighway is convincing large numbers of people to take up or return to cycling. Surveys of people using the cycle superhighway show 30% describe themselves as new or returning to cycling.

More than 60% per cent say their confidence to cycle has increased as a result of the provision and 80% say they use the route between three and five days per week.

The approach we’re taking is more than just a numbers game. We’re putting people at the heart of what we do, opening up walking and cycling routes to some of our most disadvantaged communities and increasing people’s access to opportunities for work, training and leisure.

We know it’s not enough just to build routes. Through our Bike Friendly Schools scheme, for example, we’ve delivered training sessions at 30 schools near our cycle routes, half of which are teaching children to ride a bike for the first time.

We have a great story to tell, but this is just the beginning, and we continue to explore future funding opportunities to build on the significant progress already made.

We want West Yorkshire and York to be a place where everyone benefits from a modern transport network and a strong, successful economy, and the role of cycling and walking cannot be underestimated.

Creating an environment conducive to everyday cycling for everyone, regardless of ability or circumstances. That’s the true legacy of the Tour de France five years ago, a legacy we are delivering for future generations.