As we all continue to adapt to the changes in our lives as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, the challenges ahead from a personal and societal perspective continue to evolve. The vast majority of people have encountered dramatic changes to their daily routine, and it’s anyone’s guess how much time will pass before we return to normal life, whether that’s weeks, months or years.
Probably the most notable change since the lockdown has been a dramatic reduction in the movement of people, and as the vast majority of distance travelled in the UK is by car, this has translated into a sudden reduction in cars on the road. For those able to venture outdoors for exercise, to travel to work or the shops on foot or bicycle, or even just sitting in the garden, there are then notable positive changes to our environment.
Most obvious from my perspective is a reduction in noise from motor vehicles, resulting in my commute to work now being accompanied by bird song. It is likely that air quality in Worcester has improved, although getting results from any instruments in the city has so far proved difficult. In addition the roads certainly feel safer for pedestrians and those riding bicycles, as the frequency of interactions with motor vehicles has reduced.
I think it is the latter then that has contributed to an increase in people out walking and travelling by bicycle. Undoubtedly the removal of other leisure activities has also provided some of us with the opportunity to spend more time walking, jogging and cycling outdoors, but the sense that roads are safer has started to remove an often cited barrier to greater active travel; that cycling on the roads is dangerous.
It appears that people of all ages are choosing to travel by bicycle around the city, whether that’s a leisure ride with their family around the river, visiting the shops for groceries, or traveling to work. Looking at the cycle counters installed adjacent to the Diglis footbridge, the results are impressive, and perhaps should be noted by the City and County Council when considering the ability of residents of Worcester to embrace change. For April 2020 12,900 crossings were made by bike, a 34% increase compared with any month since the bridge was opened, and more than doubling the average April figure of 5,500.
My hope is that all of these additional journeys remind us that the bicycle is an excellent choice of vehicle, particularly when travelling around a small city such as Worcester. There are some dedicated cycle routes in and around the city which provide a good foundation for further development. There are also many examples where small improvements would make life easier for travelling by bike, thus removing barriers for more people to make a positive choice. Bike Worcester is a local group with the aim of increasing bike use in the city. One area of work is to collect suggestions for improvements to make it easier for people to travel by bike, which can be submitted to the website. Any ideas for improvements can be uploaded with a photo, whether it’s a helpful dropped curb, removal of barriers, or improvements to road or cycleway surfaces. Previous suggestions are available to be viewed, along with improvements that have already been completed by the council.
Choosing to make short journeys by bike is an easy way we can have a positive effect on our city and society, by reducing congestion and emissions, and improving our own physical and mental health. In the coming weeks it is likely the conditions around the COVID19 lockdown will be relaxed, however we will still be advised to follow social distancing guidelines. As you are reading this cities around the world are reallocating space currently dedicated to motor vehicles to make it easier for people to travel by foot or bike whilst maintaining two metres of space. At this time I’m not aware of any plans Worcester has to follow suit, however it would seem likely that this will become a necessity.
The increase in walking and cycling in recent weeks in Worcester is a trend seen worldwide. Elsewhere in the UK and the world, where there is political will and investment cities can dramatically shift how their residents chose to travel, and as a result improve the life of everyone who live, work and play in the city. It will be interesting if we see any change in Worcester.