My Daily Exercise
One of the ways that I get my daily exercise, is to go out and cycle. Due to the current exceptional circumstances the roads are much quieter than normal. This has meant that my cycling is more pleasant than normal. Because there are much fewer cars out than normal, cycling is a better option to get about than it usually is. On top of this, public transport is seen as a risky mode of transport now.
On my daily exercise I have noticed the difference in my cycling experience from two months ago. For starters, because there is less traffic, there is much more space for cycling. Getting about on a bike is quicker and I’ve encountered less near misses and aggressive drivers on the roads. However, whilst there is less traffic on the roads, it feels like speeding has increased. For some car drivers, because there are fewer cars on the road, they can get to their destination quicker, speeding is seen as a “non” crime. Another benefit of there being less traffic is that the air feels so much nicer to breathe. I live in a car dominated city, in the middle of the country, with illegal levels of air pollution. Nitrogen Dioxide and Sulphur Dioxide negatively affect my lungs daily. My lungs are not used to clean air. When I go to the coast I can notice the difference from the air here and where I live in Birmingham. Initially my lungs struggled to cope. What is this air with lower levels of those nasty air pollutants? This is what my respiratory system is currently asking. There is a link between air pollution and Covid 19 deaths. The cleaner our air the better for us all.
Whilst I have been out cycling, I have felt that I have seen more cyclists than I normally would and best of all, lots of younger people cycling. As a cycle on my exercise or to the shops, I regularly see families with young children cycling. In normal circumstances, this is a rare sight, but in the current climate, it is the norm. Cycling feels less dangerous than it normally does and the alternatives are being used less than they usually are.
The World’s response
Across the world, major cities are making it easier to walk and cycle. Social distancing is difficult on pedestrian paths. From Bogota to Berlin, cities are reallocating road space away from cars to create temporary cycle paths. There has been little movement in terms of the UK. One example I do know of in the UK is Madeira Drive in Brighton, which has been closed to motor vehicles. I know of this from an #IdeaswithBeers Zoom cycling campaigning session. There has been talk of something similar happening in some London Boroughs, but I don’t know of any that have been started.
What happens next?
We are assuming that as we go further in time, the lockdown will be decreased, and people will be allowed to move more freely. The question we need to ask ourselves is; what kind of transport system do we want to move back into? In my job I drive up and down the country in a small van. I lose hundreds of hours, sitting in traffic, whilst breathing in illegal levels of air pollution. When I do this, I ask myself; how can anyone want to do this? When I see people complaining about rush hour traffic, without realising that by driving, they are part rush hour traffic, I get frustrated. What happens when we have to start travelling across the city and beyond again? We can’t go back to what we used to do. Air pollution from congestion kills 1000’s every year. Worrying signs from Wuhan, suggest that people have lost faith in public transport and are driving more now, then before Covid 19. In the UK will we pretend that Covid 19 never happened and just drive like we did before? To combat the Climate Emergency and reduce the illegal levels of air pollution, we can’t do that.
In the UK we have done very little to make cycling easier. In contrast, Milan has announced that it will 22 miles of road space will be reallocated for cycling infrastructure. Milan has recognised that pre Covid 19 levels of congestion and pollution are not desirable. In France 116 towns and cities have announced that they will introduce new cycling infrastructure, including Paris to help with social distancing when people travel. Cities across the world recognise that relying on the car as the primary mode of transport is damaging our health and paralysing our journeys.
The Climate Emergency
Many UK cities have signed Climate Emergency Bills, including Birmingham. The next step is to implement policies that will help us reduce our carbon emissions and live more sustainably. Covid 19 has taken us by surprise. We now have an opportunity to take a critical look at how we can move from the transport system of before to what a future transport system will be. Our future transport system must involve better cycling infrastructure. Wuhan could potentially be a warning sign, that faith in public transport will decrease. If people are less willing to use public transport than we must give them an alternative to the car. As campaigners it is upto us to pressure Governments to implement cycle friendly policies. We have the examples of other cities across the world. If we are lapse than congestion will be worse than pre Covid 19. To tackle the Climate Emergency we need urgent action. Prior to Covid 19, we were not moving quickly enough on action to do what we need to do. Now Covid 19 has given us the chance to take a step back and evaluate what we must do.