The wheels of change are already in motion to bring cycling to the masses in Yorkshire.
Multi-million pound Government-funded projects and ambitious cross-border Tour de France legacy campaign Cycle Yorkshire are being readied in a bid to make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime arrival of the Tour de France on July 5 and 6.
And anticipation is already building ahead of steam.
The likes of Ilkley Cycling Club have reported record new member sign-ups, 20,000 free Grand Depart tickets from York Racecourse were snapped up within hours of being made available and huge numbers of cyclists are riding along the two Yorkshire Tour routes.
But tapping into that growing interest in road cycling long term in a way that makes our roads safer has sprung dozens of landmark schemes aimed at improving the fact that only 13 per cent of people in Yorkshire cycle at least monthly at present.
Following the success of Yorkshire’s bid to host two stages of the world’s most watched annual sporting event, the Government waded in with an unprecedented £77m two-wheeled war chest in August which Prime Minister David Cameron said was an attempt at “starting a cycling revolution” in the UK.
The headline plan came in the shape of a £30m cycling superhighway from east Leeds to Bradford funded by £18m from the Department for Transport and £11.2m from the local authorities and passenger transport authority Metro.
The 14-mile route, which will touch on areas including Armley, Stanningley, Seacroft and Bramley in Leeds, will feature a cycle path separated from main roads by dropped kerbs or segregating stone flags to make it safer and easier to cycle.
Coun James Lewis, chairman of Metro, said the plan would try to boost safety on roads following 30 years of growth that “hasn’t been kind to cyclists in Leeds”.
He said: “The Tour de France will be a great event for the couple of days it’s in Yorkshire but once the party has dulled we want to make sure there is a physical legacy in place.
“We know that West Yorkshire and Leeds has below average is for UK levels of cycling commuting, it’s gone up in Leeds over the years but not so much in Bradford so it’s important we have something in place.”
And though much of the renovation work will take place after July’s Grand Depart, cyclists will see dozens of cycling parking facilities including railings, cycle racks and a number of manned ‘cycling hubs’ for repairs and parts spring up in Leeds city centre before race day. Planned Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath resurfacing covering the 16km stretch from Armley to Shipley for cyclists and pedestrians will also be finished in time for the Tour.
Wide-ranging 20mph zones will ease access to the superhighway for riders but final details are being ironed out through an ongoing consultation exercise that will yield results in July.
Manager of communications and engagement of the project dubbed Cityconnect, Ginny Leonard, said that local input was key to the highway’s aims of improving health and social issues in some of the most deprived areas of West Yorkshire.
“We want the people that benefit from this and use it to have their input now,” she said.
Elsewhere in Yorkshire, around two-thirds of the £7.5m funding for a string of cycleway improvements in the Peak District has been pledged by Central Government.
With the rest of the cash for the second phase of the Pedal Peak scheme coming from local councils, residents in South Yorkshire towns and cities including Sheffield and Barnsley will be among the 3.5m people within reach of four new cycle routes through the national park.
The 12-mile Little Don Link, from Beeley Wood to Winscar Reservoir, and the 3-mile Little John Route and Hope Valley Link, from Bamford to Hathersage, are among those to boost cycling links.
Coun Roy Miller, cabinet spokesman for development at Barnsley Council, described the work on the Little Don Link as “a great move for the local area, linking us with the Peak District, and making cycling easier and more enjoyable for local people.”
Meanwhile work on the Hope Valley Link, which will involve an over 2.5metre-wide shared route segregated from A6187 traffic, is due to complete at the end of March.
A spokeswoman for Derbyshire County Council, the authority leading at Hope Valley, said the next phase of work will draw up plans for the route from Bamford towards Hope before consultation with residents to help “provide the best scheme that we can”.
Further north a £4m road investment package was unveiled by North Yorkshire County Council last week. It will resurface roads, improve pedestrian links and cycle facilities before July’s Grand Depart.
And it is these huge investments in cycling provision that are hoped to stimulate a step change in attitudes to two wheels, making it more of an accepted part of daily life than a long-lost youthful past time.
Dr Louise Ellis, head of sustainability at the University of Leeds, said: “These projects will break down barriers as well as perceptions of safety, of not being sure how or where to cycle on the roads - sometimes it’s just not seen as normal. But we can’t just think that one thing will answer everything.
“Of course change and infrastructure is vital but we need to be able to support people to use that infrastructure so we need to endorse what is safer cycling and have a holistic view on transport.”
This flurry of investment in cycling on the back of Team GB’s London 2012 Olympic success and the UK’s Tour de France triumphs might not be the end of it however.
When August’s Department for Transport funding was announced, early plans for an unprecedented national super cycleway broadly following the entire HS2 route were mooted.
The move could see existing footpaths and cycleways joined or upgraded to create a single route between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. A feasibility study into the idea is now underway.
A DfT spokesman said: “The study is assessing design requirements as well as the potential benefits the trail could bring to communities near the HS2 line of route, such as helping to demonstrate how high quality cycle infrastructure can promote safer cycling and walking.”
The jury is very much out on whether such a mammoth cycleway can become a reality but one thing is for sure - these ambitious public-funded plans can only do more to help see the surge in cycling we all want to see.
- Visit www.cyclecityconnect.co.uk/events.php for the latest consultation events for the Cityconnect Leeds to Bradford cycleway.
BID TO MAKE BIKES ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Everyone in Yorkshire will have access to a bicycle by 2023.
That is the ambitious aim of Cycle Yorkshire, the Tour de France’s flagship legacy campaign which is backed by all 21 Yorkshire local authorities, tourism firm Welcome to Yorkshire, cycling charities CTC and Sustrans as well as partners including British Cycling.
Led by City of York Council, the project which is a first nationally is already bearing fruit and launched its Tour de France educational packs for school at Kettlethorpe High, in Wakefield, in December.
Regional director of the scheme Graham Titchener, who previously headed up the successful i-Travel York sustainable transport initiative, claims more Sportif cycle rides and cycling safety measures are already springing up but added that the bulk of work will come post-Tour de France.
He said: “More Sky Rides and Breeze networks and more velodromes and cycle tracks are examples of things we would like to see happen in time – hence the 10-year strategy.
“What we do promise is a unique thing nationally where the whole region has come together with one aim – to get people cycling.”
But in spite of the ambition, there is no funding outside of existing local authority cash singled out for Cycle Yorkshire. Instead it is hoped private sector sponsorship could help yield widespread cycling change.
“We want to develop at least a perception and the aim is to become more of an Amsterdam of the world – but they have had decades for this,” he said.
“We don’t aspire to become a cycling paradise by any means but we do aspire to become something better for cyclists.”
For further information visit www.cycle.yorkshire.com.