Sheffield Council on cycling: 'We want to be like the poster boys’

“There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam and we aspire to be like those poster boys, we know it won’t come easily or quickly but it’s worth trying,” Greg Fell, cyclist and director for public health, said.

Monday, 29th July 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 29th July 2019, 11:58 am
Greg Fell, director of public health at Sheffield Council.

“It took the Netherlands 40 years to get where they are, I hope it won’t be that long but as soon as possible but I also don’t underestimate how much work it will be. We all celebrate it and we all want to be there.”

Sheffield City Council is pushing to get more people on bikes which they believe will better health, wealth and the environment and cut congestion.

In an ambitious long-term strategy the council are aiming to eventually reach Dutch-levels of cycling infrastructure.

Cycle Sheffield riders leave Devonshire Green during an event to encourage more cycling

In the Netherlands, hailed the most cycle-friendly country in the world, around 25 per cent of all journeys are made by bike.

In Sheffield, this figure sits at around two per cent but the council hope to boost this with things like electric bikes and improved paths.

Tom Finnegan-Smith, head of strategic transport and infrastructure, said: “Our Transport Strategy which we adopted earlier this year puts cycling and sustainable travel really strongly at the centre of our strategy and we have big ambitions to improve cycling. It ticks a number of policy areas.”

The city has already seen the introduction of electric bike hire, pedal ready courses for children and temporarily blocked off certian streets to cars.

Coun Bob Johnson, cabinet member for transport and development

As pressures mount to tackle issues such as illegal levels of air pollution and growing obesity, councillors say more needs to be done to ditch cars for active travel.

One of their biggest challenges is creating good infrastructure and routes that link together around the city so people feel safe on paths they can follow all the way to where they want to go.

Mr Finnegan-Smith said: “There is a big cost with new routes. We do have good bits of infrastructure we’ve put in but we are aiming for higher standards. One of the things we are looking at is creating more space for cyclists.”

In an ideal world, campaingers say they need segregated paths, kerbs creating a barrier to cars and routes without gaps.

Sheffield City Region are currently seeking around £220 million from the Transforming Cities Fund to try and put some of these into practise, alongside improvements to public transport.

Some areas are already seeing improvements such as the planned £2 million cycle route linking Portabello Road, the University of Sheffield, western suburbs and Heart of the City which is set to hit the streets by 2020.

But Mr Fell said despite wanting to invest more in cycling it can be difficult due to government priorities not matching with what they want to do locally.

Earlier this year Cycle Sheffield said creating a joined up network of routes would be the crucial key to getting more people in the saddle and out of their cars.

In the meantime the council are pushing ahead with their E bike scheme. It was introduced two years ago and has already seen more than 3,000 people borrow a bike, many of which Mr Finnegan-Smith said had continued cycling with their own two wheels.

People can rent a ride out for a month free of charge and have maintenance sessions. The council track their use and give encouragement if sat idle.

The scheme is targeted at car drivers – Cycle Sheffield said the vast majority of car journeys were less than five kilometers long, many of which less than two – and the bikes help “flatten” hills while still requiring enough human power to make it good exercise.

As well as health, councillors and campaigners say more cycling would benefit business and footfall around the city.

Coun Johnson said: “Twenty years ago people thought it would be the trams that killed Hillsborough off and it doesn’t seem to have happened. Not only that, while we’ve been having the recent tram works, businesses were up in arms which has turned that thought on its head. People are almost at riot point saying get that tram put back on.”

But as for environmental impacts, authorities believe it will take much more than pedal power.

Coun Johnson said: “It’ll contribute to tackling climate change but it’s not a silver bullet solution. It doesn’t save a great deal on air quality.”

Greg Fell added: “You’d need to get a ginormous levels of cycling, that’s not to say it’s not important but the real big winner around carbon footprint will be a massive shift from cars to buses and trains.”

With all the focus on pushing people away from four wheels and onto two, Sheffielders might expect to see some gradual changes to roads and streets heading into the future.