For several years I would regularly drive to work because it was the quickest option. That was before I became aware of air pollution and all the health and inequality problems it wreaks on our communities. Around then I also got switched on to climate change and I started getting the train and walking to work instead. And then COVID came along. I live in Forest Hill and work in central Greenwich, so although it’s not only four miles as the crow flies, it’s not a direct journey.
I don’t have the longest commute but I’d always been too scared to brave the roads on a bike.
Now that COVID has taken away my public transport option, I’ve had to weigh up my fears with my climate conscience. If everyone who previously used public transport now drives to work there will be a huge increase in air pollution which has already been widely linked to increased risk of Covid deaths. Travelling by bike means you are much less exposed to air pollution than inside the car.
If we don’t reduce most of our car driving for walking and cycling, Lewisham will not meet its target of reducing car transport and becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
During the UK Lockdown of March – July this year there was a 77% reduction in road traffic but traffic has bounced back to normal levels by now, and even exceeded previous levels on some places, even though many are still working at home and schools have barely re-started.
However, the uptake of cycling, for leisure and exercise has sky rocketed. Half of employees in cities are now considering cycling to work following coronavirus.
How Safe is Cycling?
My fears weren’t irrational, cyclists do die on the roads, but cycling in London is statistically as dangerous as walking, and I do that every day and I feel very safe doing it. The road I was most scared of was the A205, known as the South Circular, which is very close to my home. With HGVs being a disproportionately high cause of deaths, no wonder academics are calling for them to be banned from urban roads.
Quiet Routes and more cyclepaths
But after exploring my local area much more during lockdown, I started noticing the blue cycleway signs and I realised I could get to work without going anywhere near big scary roads. In fact, I could go along the river and through a park. There are a huge number of cycleways in London that take you on much safer backroads with less traffic and cleaner air.
Commute, Cyclestreets, TFL journey planner are good apps and give three different journey options giving quickest, medium and quietest routes. Quietway one runs from Greenwich to Waterloo and then links up to Holborn.
Councils are making changes to encourage more people to cycle to work and to enable social distancing on busy, narrow pavements. Out of a TfL fund of £45M, Lewisham was awarded £450K in June to create new cyclepaths, widen footways and close side roads and rat runs. Pop up cycle lanes have been nearly finalised along the A21/A229/A2210 corridor (Deptford Church Street, Brookmill Road, Lewisham High Street, Bromley Road); Lewisham Road; Belmont Hill/Lee Terrace; Brockley Rise; Brockely Road and Shardeloes Road corridor; Perry Hill corridor; Southend Lane, Downham Way; Lee Road, Burnt Ash Hill, Baring Road corridor; and Ladywell Road corridor. Other measures are being taken in neighbouring boroughs and into the City of London to enable residents to get into town. Even Waterloo and London Bridge may be closed to cars.
My first Bike Ride
I really enjoyed my first ride and I felt surprisingly safe. It took me 30 minutes, but I was going very slowly and carefully and I will certainly speed up as my confidence grows. Cycling by the river was lovely, it gave me a real lift, and the amount of time I actually had to spend on busy roads was minimal. It would have taken me 20-35 minutes driving, depending on traffic, and about 50 minutes on my train/walking route. There is an unholy hill at the end of my route, which, gritting my teeth, I valiantly attempted, about 30 seconds later I realised that I had run out of gears (ahem) so I hopped off and walked the rest of the way- I noticed another pro-looking lycra-clad cyclist did the same so there is no shame! I’m hoping to get a bit further up the hill and a bit fitter with each ride. When I had to cross the busy roundabout in central Lewisham, I just got off and walked.
Where do I get a bike?
The enthusiasm for cycling has led to a scramble for bikes- so where can you get one? Lewisham cyclists are a fantastic local group and have some good ideas. Lewisham Cyclists also offer bike lessons, bike repair workshops, bike hire and group bike rides to give confidence, these will resume soon so check their website/facebook page. If you are unsure about anything you can email Lewisham cyclists with queries about your route and they will help. You can get one to one lessons and they are also offering a buddy system, so if you want to cycle with someone to practice your route get in touch. If you are more experienced and would like to volunteer to be a buddy please also get in touch. Bikeabiility is a course which covers routes, technique and confidence on the road at three levels from complete beginner (for those who can’t ride a bike) to those who want to gain confidence/learn routes.
You can also purchase a bike as part of a cycle scheme and save between 25-39% on the cost of a bike and pay it off over time.
You can apply to get bike hangars here: Cycle storage for hire
On yer bike!
Obviously I’m not the first person to discover cycling during lockdown, but if you haven’t tried it yet and are on the fence, give it a go. I’ve only done a few rides so far, but when I go back to work I want to make it my main transport option. For now, I’ll still be using the car for big shops or to go somewhere that my four-year-old son can’t manage to bike to yet. But shopping locally has meant I don’t need to drive as much and I hope that as I build confidence I will transition to being a proper cyclist. Every gram of carbon counts and each journey we can do on a bike is a winner for climate and our health.