"Why we have to change the way people move around Sheffield"
Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian was trying to get to Kelham Island last week.
After mislaying a cycle route, she and her colleague squeezed along a pavement blocked by parked cars, then continued stoically on past a series of scrap yards and unnerving road junctions to lunch.
“We have to make a change to the way people are moving around,” said the Sheffield City Region Active Travel Commissioner, aka Paralympic cycling champion Dame Sarah Storey. “To ease congestion, and to allow people to make their journeys with more consistency in time.”
Also, she added, to help meet the region’s targets to reduce air pollution, tackle the obesity crisis and try and curb the nation’s type two diabetes epidemic.
“The health agenda is all part of this too,” she said.
Dame Sarah and her sidekick, sustainable transport expert Pete Zanzottera, have been cycling round South Yorkshire to learn the scale of their task to help more Sheffield region citizens become enthusiastic active travellers. But they’re optimistic.
“We’ve been appointed to make it happen,” said Sarah.In October, the public will be invited to contribute their ideas to an online ‘Network Map’ on the Sheffield City Region website showing where they’d like to travel on foot or by bike.
Up until now, planning routes for walkers, runners and cyclists has taken second place to easing the flow of motor vehicles, says Pete.As a result, road crossings might steer walkers to four or five staggered traffic lights leaving them standing and waiting to get on with their journey in the middle of the most polluted roads.
And, as Sarah puts it, people aiming to get about by bike are often faced with “cycle routes for the brave, often painted lines on the road, in the gutter, with vehicles turning onto you, that aren’t signed well, that aren’t swept, and that suddenly end.”
“We can’t any longer pretend that the infrastructure we’re building is halfway good enough. It’s not good enough,” said Pete. “We think we need a network map, that tells us what our utopia is, that asks what is our goal?” said Sarah. A proper network of walking, running and cycling routes that take most people from most communities to most destinations will be more cost effective than the billions currently spent on road networks every year, she added. And she’d love people to shout about things they like. “If people get behind good schemes, they’re more likely to come through.” It might take a generation to fully realise, she said, “but it has to happen.”Mayor Dan Jarvis and the city region team have made a bid for £100 million from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund to make a start on active travel routes around South Yorkshire in a few months, subject to approval early next year. Dame Sarah’s active travel team are insisting on high standards for the new infrastructure: protected two way cycle routes three metres wide, for example, single stage road crossings for walkers, accessible routes for people with disabilities and poor eyesight, and if roads are busy, with speeds higher than 30mph, or have lots of heavy vehicles, the routes should be segregated.There should be faster routes for cyclists (or e-cyclists) wanting to travel quickly from one town to another, and improvements to help people taking their kids to school - arrangements for short term car parking at local pubs or offices well away from school gates, for example. Pete believes people are increasingly thinking about quality of life and quality of neighbourhoods rather than shaving a few seconds off their motorised journey to work. Things have to change, he says. “We have 1,800 road deaths a year in the UK. For a long time, we have managed to tolerate collisions, fatalities, and serious injuries on our roads, along with this hidden fact of thousands of people dying every year as a result of poor air quality. And add to that all the people who are becoming increasingly unwell because of inactivity. That’s a crisis right there,” he said. The changes we need will ultimately cost billions, he said. “But now potentially we can have some politicians that are brave enough to look at all this.”