Cycling for all in Ipswich

Cycling is not as accessible as it used to be.

Yes, if you have a bike in your shed or garage and the tyres aren’t flat, you can just jump on – and away you go. But for many people it isn’t so simple.

So what are the problems?

Busy roads

Cars are faster, there are more of them and the perception of many cyclists is that  some drivers are almost blind when it comes to cyclists. So much so, that a new campaign group has been set up in the UK called Stop Smidsy. SMIDSY is “Sorry Mate – I Didn’t See You!” – the frequent refrain heard by both cyclists and motor cyclists after near misses and actual crashes.

Poor road layouts and surfaces

Many roads are not well set up for cycling. There are problems with road edges and markings. Drain covers can be slippery in wet weather; some of the larger drains are the right size to trap a bicycle wheel; edges may be scattered with gravel and other rubbish, creating an extra hazard for cyclists. Potholes can also be a greater hazard for cyclists than for car drivers.

Then there are the “cycle lanes” which are sometimes more of a hinderance than a help. Many are ess than two feet wide, in the gutter and prone to disappearing when most needed – at junctions and other hazards.

Enough of the negatives!

So what can we do to help people cycle more?

There are schemes to help train would be cyclists. Children over the age of  eight can do Bike Ability in some schools and adults can benefit from BikeAbility in some workplaces. Bike Ability trains participants in road skills, and safety. You only need a reasonably roadworthy bike and suitable comfortable clothing. One of the first things that happens on a BikeAbility course is you bike is checked for roadworthiness. And of course you will be given advice on suitable clothing.

Schools may have schemes to help pupils get to school by bike. There is at least one Bike Train operating in Ipswich (from Ravenswood to Nacton School).  See Alex’s post about the bike train for more details.

Bike routes and facilities in Suffolk is a good starting point for finding out about cycling in Suffolk and has some useful links too.

The Ipswich Cycle Map is a very useful thing to have. Routes are clearly shown both for central Ipswich and for the outskirts. There are suggestions for safer routes and potential danger spots are highlighted. You can get copies from the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre in St Stephen’s Church besides the Buttermarket shopping centre. There’s also local bike shops and other bike facilities shown on the map.

The success of the Nacton School Bike Train

For National Bike Week 2009, I organised three events for the three main areas in my life:

  1. Work: Our very own Bicycle Doctor Kevin visited my workplace for a day offering on-site bike maintenance. He worked on 7 bikes.
  2. Cycle Ipswich: I arranged a public “pootle” from Corn Hill to The Douglas Bader public house at Martlesham, using a route suggested by Ray (I think). A few work colleagues joined us for the event.
  3. Community: I publicised through a school news letter that a “bike train” would run from Ravenswood to Nacton. The aim was to get more kids and parents on bikes. If I am honest, I hadn’t expected many people to participate.

The Bike Train turned out to be the runaway success. After the first trip, the mums asked me if we would do it again, and basically since June 2009, every Wednesday and Thursday morning the bike train has run, following Sustrans NCN Route 51 to Nacton Village. Except for during the worst snow and ice that is!

The head-mistress of Nacton School, Mrs Ditton also backed our efforts up, by contacting SCC Road Safety Team and organising playground training for the kids and adults. This was a first for the County because Bikeability is typically aimed at older kids. There simply wasn’t a training programme for kids like ours, who are in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (aged ages 4-6 in old money). SCC presented us with high-viz vests as well as providing the adults with some important training on cycling as a group. SCC road safety officer Jennie Butcher also accompanied us on the ride, offering her advise when we arrived. I found the whole experience not only very positive, but also very informative. I am sure that we are much safer on the roads and we feel very supported by the school.

The school also revised its School Transport Plan in late 2009 to make better provision for cycling, and SCC have run further playground workshops in early 2010.

Trying to measure the success is hard. It’s a small school and at our most we have had 16 participants, with a hard-core group of six or eight adults and kids, but that is nearly 10% of the school! The kids are getting out, into their communities in ways that they don’t in cars. They are getting active, and building a strong sense of community and independence.

I understand that the school has also been contacted by Cycling England and local authorities for information on how to form their own bike train. We were even featured in a local newspaper!

My aim for 2011 is to iniate a second bike train. It doesn’ t have to be at Nacton School, it can be anywhere, but I would love to start spreading the news!