Letter to Editor

As a parent, I have a dilemma. Naturally, I want to protect my children and the biggest risk in their lifetimes will come from the impact of climate change. The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) states that the impacts of a heating world are with us today and that, even if we meet our targets, we will need to invest to protect ourselves against inevitable consequences of further heating. We must meet our commitments on emissions to make sure that we pass on a world that is fit for future generations.

Part of the CCC’s strategy is to reduce, by one third, the carbon dioxide from vehicles that account for 22% of our current output.  Some of this improvement will be met by an increase in walking and cycling, or active transport. This is relatively easy in urban areas where most journeys are short enough to be achieved by bike. Bikes are an order of magnitude better than even electric cars for emissions. One such journey, the “school run”, is the cause of my dilemma. Do I protect my children’s long-term future by encouraging cycling to school when I know the current lack of cycling infrastructure means there is a risk of injury or worse? Being a parent also makes me aware of my own safety. It is alarming that the Department for Transport reports that cyclist deaths rose by 40% in 2020 when cycling increased and car journeys decreased because of COVID restrictions.

This is why I have joined the Exeter Cycling campaign because I cannot just carry on, cocooned in my car, and do nothing. Active transport just has to increase and so it needs to be safe and I know there are solutions.  

Exeter Cycling Campaign engages with local councils and communities to improve the situation in two main ways. Firstly, we promote the development of protected bike lanes where possible as these are proven to be the safest solution for everyone.  Secondly, we advocate low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) as these are the most effective way to calm traffic in residential areas.  

These achievable and effective measures have been proven around the world to increase confidence in cycling. Look at cities like Copenhagen and Paris and, more recently, the progress that has been made in London and Manchester.  I have a vision of a safer and cleaner environment with stronger communities of healthier people. Statistics show that LTNs even reduce street crime, particularly violent crime. 

In Denmark, the percentage of journeys made by bike is 16% when in the UK it is 2% so there is a lot to be gained. In the Netherlands it is now a massive 27% but this was not always the case because, like here, it became too dangerous to cycle as traffic increased. A child being killed cycling to school sparked a public reaction and government investment in cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. We care for our children just as much, surely? 

There are wider benefits of active transport. Did you know that a quarter of children attend schools where the pollution levels are above World Health Organisation guidelines and air pollution is estimated to kill 32,000 people a year in the UK. The benefits of exercise on physical and mental health are so important and the independence cycling gives to children prepares them for life. Cycling is no longer restricted to the young and fit – the electric bike provides a solution for a very wide range of abilities and longer journeys.

We all feel uncomfortable with change, but once established the community benefits of such changes are applauded by the majority. For the health of your family, your community and the planet, please look at cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods with an open mind.  And think what journeys you could do on that bike that is sitting in your garage.

Caspar Hughes for Exeter Cycling Campaign