This week’s debate: Does Sheffield need to become more of a cycling-friendly city?

Cycle Sheffield riders leave Devonshire Green
Cycle Sheffield riders leave Devonshire Green

‘We don’t need to wait for the perfect infrastructure’

Prof Robert Copeland, Sheffield Hallam University, Director of National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine

Dr Rob Copeland

Dr Rob Copeland

The straightforward answer is yes but a conversation about cycling, car use or public transport easily turns into ‘us vs. them’ and in this instance we’d be missing the point. This needs to be a conversation about how to create better outcomes and quality of life for Sheffield and its residents!

In February, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust along with councils, businesses, and individuals produced Better Future Together, a 25-year vision for Sheffield and the city region. This document talks about the importance of outstanding quality of life, world-leading health care and exemplary environmental stewardship, where together with innovation in business and industry we’d see economic growth, prosperity and benefits shared by all. Sounds great but how can we achieve it?

The evidence from over 500 academic reports, across 17 different countries suggests creating an active Sheffield has to be at the heart of the solution. Study after study has showed that cities that make physical activity easier (e.g. via comprehensive cycling/walking infrastructure) are healthier, wealthier, safer, greener and happier. This is at the heart of Sheffield’s Move More plan, and Move More Month in June, which aims to transform the city into the most active in the UK.

A fantastic road infrastructure is undoubtedly important for economic growth and there are certain journeys that can’t be made on foot or by bike but multiple studies have shown that making places better for walking and cycling can also boost trading, enhance work productivity and return abenefit-to- cost ratio of 13:1. Cities built on active travel also deliver better air quality, less congestion and the roads are safer for our children.

Ultimately, if we want to live and work in a city that delivers superb quality of life, economic growth and greener and safer communities then creating an active city, a cycling city, a Move More city even, has to be at the heart of the plan.

We don’t need to wait for the perfect infrastructure to achieve this.

‘No drug compares to effect of movement’

Dr Ollie Hart, GP partner, Sloan Medical Centre

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: James Rogers from CycleBoost looking at routes with a potential cycle commuter

Cycle commuting in Sheffield: James Rogers from CycleBoost looking at routes with a potential cycle commuter

The answer is absolutely yes.

Just this week the British Medical Journal led with a feature on why cycling is so important for health.

A study looked at 250,000 people in the UK, and compared people who regularly either walked or cycled to work, with those who don’t.

Although walking reduces heart attacks and strokes, the strongest evidence was for cycling. It halves the risk of all cases of death, across all areas of cardiovascular and cancer diseases.

Planning Officer Les Sturch, who cycles to work.

Planning Officer Les Sturch, who cycles to work. lestb

I don’t know of any drugs that can do that across so many diseases. Having a cycle-friendly city and culture of cycling is a key ingredient in creating a ‘person-centred city’. In October 2014 the NHS wrote a plan for the next five years. It dedicated a whole chapter to self-care. Sometimes we all need looking after, but in the long run, the more we do for ourselves the better we feel, and do. We feel more in control, have a better self esteem, and better physical and mental health.

Sheffield CCG is very committed to this approach.For the last three years it has been investing in developing skills and tools to help people self manage. This involves all types of healthcare professionals working in partnership with people, families and their communities to make plans and shared decisions about how they manage their lives. We call this a ‘person-centred’ approach.

When we make plans with people very often finding ways to be active is high on the list. Having a city that supports cycling is crucial to this. I am really excited that the Move More project, involving so many stakeholders in the city, is really driving a culture of physical activity as a whole. Couple this with Sheffield as The Outdoor City of the UK and we are on track, be they mountain bike trails, cycle routes or mass cycling events.

‘Routes for bikes can ease planning fears’

Les Sturch, Sheffield and district ctc and retired council planning chief

Modern cities need great transport to work well, attract jobs and meet people’s needs. Cycling is a means of transport that also happens to be non-polluting, healthy, convenient and sociable.

Dexter Johnstone.

Dexter Johnstone.

Now is the time to act on the Government’s ‘Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy’ (alongside Sheffield’s own ambition to increase cycling to 10 per cent of journeys). Their vision is to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys.

Fear of injury is the main deterrent. That means we need better than the present well-meaning, but fragmented, mish-mash of cycle paths. We need safe and attractive routes, carefully designed. Recent Sheffield attempts show room for improvement. Getting it right is vital with limited funds.

More cycling and walking benefits us all by reducing pollution, improving air quality, and exercise helps us live longer. It can also reduce congestion and the frustration motorists suffer. There is also a burgeoning economy around cycling with start-up businesses alongside the longstanding stalwarts. You can still buy a handcrafted Sheffield bike.

At work I was conscious that some opposition to the schools, houses and businesses we need centered around traffic and pollution fears. New development where cycling, walking and public transport are easy or can be improved can overcome such concerns.

Government wants cities to draw up Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure plans, a chance for a fresh start between cyclists and the council. There are positive signs. Lots of Sheffield’s 50,000 students are out and about on bikes (including the new hire bikes).

But cycling in town can be tough and unsafe in places. A bit of Sheffield’s traditional tolerance would come in handy on all sides between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Try cycling and you’ll soon make passing friends. If you lack recent experience, there is free training for kids (Bikeability)and adults (Pedal Ready), and great local clubs - like Sheffield CTC.

‘Riding generates a vibrant economy’

Dexter Johnstone, Cycle Sheffield

A ‘cycling city’ isn’t about pelotons of lycra-clad athletes heading for the hills on sleek carbon machines each Sunday morning. Sheffield is a great place to get out of on a bike. For wider benefits to our health and economy it needs to be a great place to get around by bike too - where it is safe, easy and enjoyable for people to use bikes as a means of transport. Why would we want this?

Cycling is great exercise that’s cheap and fits easily into daily routine. Inactivity leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke with awful personal consequences and healthcare costs. There’s a massive gap in health and wellbeing between rich and poor in Sheffield. Cycling can close that gap.

Children who cycle to school are healthier and do better in class, and it helps them become independent. But we need to make it safe.

Cycling to work almost halves the likelihood of heart disease or stroke. Employees who do tend to weigh less and have less likelihood of becoming diabetic. The savings for both employers and health service are massive. And they arrive at work happier!

More people cycling means nicer streets. More cycling leads to reduced traffic. With that comes less air pollution, noise and the danger motor traffic brings to our schools and neighbourhoods. Sheffield’s air is polluted above legal limits, the majority coming from vehicles, and it kills people weekly. Cycling saves lives.

Sheffield is congested and as more people live and work in the city centre congestion gets worse. Bikes are an efficient way of getting around so more cycling will reduce congestion – which benefits all road users.

Cycling cities are better for business and commerce. Our Outdoor City brand promotes Sheffield as a vibrant, modern economy with an appealing lifestyle. It makes perfect sense to make everyday cycling core to this. And of course, cycling is lots of fun for the whole family.