I have a vision for Sheffield without the traffic. I’m not anti-motorist. I’m anti-motorised vehicles. All of them. Let’s remove everything except emergency services and mobility scooters from the city centre. The dominant transport method is the motor-powered creation of the 20th century petrochemical industries and it’s time for change. Imagine a vehicle-free urban area, […]

I have a vision for Sheffield without the traffic. I’m not anti-motorist. I’m anti-motorised vehicles. All of them. Let’s remove everything except emergency services and mobility scooters from the city centre. The dominant transport method is the motor-powered creation of the 20th century petrochemical industries and it’s time for change.

Imagine a vehicle-free urban area, with buses allowed only to drop off at the perimeter. Cities shouldn’t be for cars. Even heavy goods vehicles could be excluded. Some Dutch cities manage it. People walk and cycle, so why not allow this everywhere? Think of the sounds you’d hear. No more traffic din in Sheffield’s civilised, low-stress streets. We could re-brand as ‘Sheffield, Cycling City’. Surely that’s the way we should be living?

Is it even necessary to list all the benefits of cycling? It improves air quality, cuts carbon emissions and traffic jams, it’s safer, healthier and increases social contact with everyone except those pilchards in motorised tins. It’s really good fun. Local shops benefit vastly if people don’t race off in cars to out-of-town megastores. And don’t forget the rising cost of running a vehicle.

Expect resistance. When former transport minister Norman Baker called for motor vehicles to be banned from the high street, the knee-jerk reaction from the Alliance for British Drivers was to say that it just doesn’t work and could affect trade. “We’ve got to accept the car’s been invented,” said director Brian Macdowall.

Britain’s cycling has dropped from 15% to 2% of journeys since the 1950s, driven down by huge pressures on transport planning from the powerful construction, automobile and oil industries. In contrast, in Denmark and the Netherlands cycling accounts for 19% and 28% of journeys respectively, and they both ranked in the top five countries in the UN Global Happiness Report2013. Any connection?

Yorkshire has poor figures for cycling. As a percentage half the national average of commuters cyclein Sheffield and Leeds. Even public transport operator Stagecoach is fighting tooth and nail not to accept bikes in the new Sheffield bus tram designs. To hear Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion, who sits on the Transport Select Committee, talking about balancing the interests of all road users, then admitting she’d be “much too terrified” to cycle to work in London, is just not good enough.

There are many initiatives now happening in Sheffield which point in the right direction. To name a few, the Move More and Green City agendas, SkyRides, the Air Quality Action Plan, Bike Week and Space for Cycling, linking us within the UK’s nine largest cities in a campaign for the next election. Even the Streets Ahead road repair scheme is consulting cycling groups.

There is a whole herd of offers for bike sales, maintenance and repair. As well as the commercial shops, there’s Recycle Bikes which helps people to take the DIY approach. They also give lessons, as do CycleBoost and Pedal Ready. We have a great cycle pressure group in the form of CycleSheffield and even the council does its bit with things like city cycle maps. There are loads of cycling and walking events including the anarchic ‘right to ride’ approach of Critical Mass, a subversive celebration of cycling on the last Friday of every month on city streets worldwide. Friday Night Ride also deserves a mention. Organiser Mick Nott puts in huge efforts to produce interesting themed bike rides to get people cycling together. This month they are doing their bit for the city’s food banks.

Activities like this are publicised on Alt-Sheff, which has a whole section on cycling organisations, because it’s the sort of radical lifestyle choice that everyone should make. ‘Business as usual’ just won’t do any more. The motoring lobby is quick to label this viewpoint as green fascism but, let’s face it, the pro-road lobby has operated as an anti-eco mafia for decades. It’s time for a massive change, and paradigms do change. Maybe not overnight, but sometimes things just turn a corner. Keep your eyes open, see which way the road is going and ride with it.

Recycle Bikes
Critical Mass Sheffield
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