Lockdown 'cycling boom' has not reached Merseyside as rates drop in lockdown

By Zoe Peck

The cycling boom that swept parts of the country throughout lockdown was nowhere to be seen in Liverpool.

Cycling in some parts of the country increased significantly during lockdown - with the gap between men and women closing as reduced traffic made the roads much safer.

As driving returns to pre-Covid levels, Labour is calling for rapid extra spending on safe cycling and walking to prevent the trend from reversing.

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But figures from the Department for Transpor t show that in Liverpool, 15.3% of the population cycled at least once a month in the year to November 2020 - down from 15.7% the year before.

This could be attributed to the mass call to work from home from the government in March 2020, reducing the need to cycle regularly to and from Liverpool’s urban areas for work.

Wirral saw an even more significant drop, from 15.1% to 13.8%.

In comparison, Sefton - which already had the highest proportion of cyclists in Merseyside - saw an increase from 16.6% to 17.3%.

St Helens also saw a rise, from 9.7% to 10.9%, while Knowsley saw the biggest increase in Merseyside, from 11.2% to 12.6%.

This period saw a huge slump in the number of cars on the road, reaching record lows, with rates of traffic not fully recovering to pre-Covid levels until May 2021.

But the cycling boom of lockdown is making many politicians ask the question of how the healthy and eco-friendly trend can be sustained.

As restrictions eased throughout summer 2021 councils across the country weighed up the temporary road closures put in place to ensure social distancing could be followed on pavements, a move welcomed by many cyclists.

With some councils reversing these road closures this summer, many cyclists had to again contend with increased traffic for the first time since June 2020.

The statistics show that across England as a whole, the cycling picture didn’t change, with increases in some places balancing out the decreases in other areas.

However, while the proportion of people cycling didn’t change nationally, the figures show that people were cycling more.

The overall proportion of women out on the roads went up by 1.1 per cent in the year to November 2020, rising from 10.9 per cent to 11.2 per cent for those going out at least once per month.

The significant rise in female cyclists is likely due to the safer and quieter roads seen during lockdown - with research from Sustrans showing women cited traffic intimidation as the main reason they avoided the sport.

Kerry McCarthy, the shadow minister for green transport, said: “It’s time this government showed some real ambition, striking while the iron is hot on active travel rather than rehashing old pledges.

“It’s very worrying that we’ve gone back to the levels of pollution and congestion that we had before Covid, and in some places things are even worse.

“Unless the Conservatives do more to make our roads safer for cyclists, the problem is only going to escalate.

“We need to see a proper plan from government to get people cycling and keep them safe on our roads.”

Cyclist Thomas Claffey of Liverpool Mercury Cycling Club said: "It can be really, really aggressive on the roads where I am in north Liverpool, so much so I won't cycle to work because of it.

"When I do go out [5 times a week], I know I am going to get abuse and/or a near miss with a vehicle.

"It can range from drivers coming in too close, hanging out of windows shouting foul language, stopping and becoming confrontational, even completely wiping me where I end up in hospital with leg injuries.

"Add in some bad weather, some pot holes, poor conditions and you can see why it's an issue.

"If an awareness campaign was commissioned [in Liverpool], and the law was strengthened it may encourage more cyclists out onto the roads."

Janet Storm of Liverpool Road and Trail Cycling Club has cycled all her life and believes Liverpool is "one of the worst cities in and outside of the UK to cycle."

She said: "Infrastructure [in the city] is geared towards cars and every day I am shocked by the behaviour of the drivers in Liverpool.

"All major roads are unsafe."

She believes road infrastructure in the city should be better tailored to cyclists to improve safety.

She said: "I realise that separate cycling lanes are not feasible and expensive, but repainting the borders between roads and cycle lane, the bike boxes at traffic lights and smart traffic lights will help.

"New traffic lights on Brownlow Hill are a good example; they go green for cyclists first and then after a few seconds for the cars."

She too called for a city-wide campaign geared to drivers encouraging them "to be good, considerate and not selfish."

She added: "Half the drivers do not indicate anymore, or the millisecond before they turn, coming from side roads they stop too far into the road, speeding and going through red lights.

"[A campaign could] make driver realise that they are danger for vulnerable road users; cyclists and pedestrians too."


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