This week a team of ten cyclists carrying models of the Olympic torch will take part in a 100-mile relay cycling event in order to raise awareness of the Olympics and Paralympics among pupils in schools across Derbyshire. To that end they’ll be joined by local students from Bakewell, Ashbourne and Buxton, as well as a group of adults with learning difficulties who attend sessions at Bakewell’s Medway Centre. “We hope that by taking part in the relay people will be encouraged to make cycling part of their everyday life, with all the health benefits that brings,” said the Peak Park’s chief executive Jim Dixon. “The best legacy of the excitement around the Olympics would be for people, young and old, to cycle more as part of their lifestyle and for leisure.”
I couldn’t agree more. After all, a bike is not just for the holidays. But how many Derbyshire schoolchildren actually cycle to school at the moment? Despite the bike racks, School Travel Plans and bike awareness days, the proportion of local students who cycle to school, or for general leisure and utilitarian journeys for that matter, is almost certainly very low. You could blame it on computer games; or us wrapping our children up in cotton wool; or even on the lung-busting Derbyshire hills (have you ever tried cycling up from town centre Bakewell to Lady Manner’s School?!); but perhaps more than anything else it’s roads and traffic.
Traffic-free cycleways like the Monsal Trail are so evidently popular with families, in particular, precisely because you won’t meet a quarry truck hurtling towards you or a motorcyclist roaring past your shoulder. We need to acknowledge this and build on the success – sustainable travel, exercise and health benefits, green tourism, accessible recreation, climate change agenda… cycling ticks ALL the boxes!
The National Park, together with its partners like the Highway Authorities, needs to complete the backbone of cycle routes (connecting the Monsal and High Peak Trails with Buxton, for instance) and at the same time look to build on these traffic-free cycleways – where cyclists and pedestrians come first – and begin plotting safe connections with local towns and villages. I don’t mean cycle lanes on the A6, but routes expressly for non-motorised users. Perhaps upgraded bridleways and green lanes between villages, safe cycle routes in and out of our principal towns, maybe even the creation of some brand new cycle routes, all of them plotted in a joined-up and strategic way so that the routes make sense and link with places where people want and need to go, so that residents as well as visitors are encouraged to cycle. But, above all, they need to be car-less so that people have the confidence to go out on two wheels. In our car-dominated national park only then will cycling ever really become a lifestyle choice for more than the diehards.