I’m lucky. When I ride, I can choose where I go and for how long. I look for routes that avoid my competing with the 29,000,000 cars that throng this country’s roads. 

I wonder what my grandmother Alice, an intrepid traveller, would make of it. She explored the lanes of north Essex on foot, and in 1900 the sight of just one of the country’s approximately 700 cars would have astonished her.

Many cyclists are less fortunate. If they want to get to work, school, or the shops they must brave busy, dangerous routes. Or, on reaching their destination, vainly search for a suitable place to park their bike securely.

Politicians shrug, saying: “We can’t spend lots of money improving cycling infrastructure because the numbers don’t justify it”. While would-be cyclists reluctantly get in their cars saying, “I need a safe cycling route if I’m going to use my bike”.

Cycle Alton was set up in May 2020 to try to break this most vicious of vicious circles. A small group of volunteers decided in the best British tradition “THAT SOMETHING MUST BE DONE”.

Challenging the status quo is not easy. Vested interests, fear of change, apathy – all have to be confronted and overcome. And there’s more to increasing “utility” cycling than painting a few white lines at the side of our busiest roads.

Cycling increases when cyclists feel safe. So, off road routes need to be identified and assessed – there may be steps or other barriers on otherwise suitable paths; the safety of pedestrians and wheelchair users must be taken into account. 

There has to be engagement with local politicians – at town, district and county level. Understanding which tier of government controls what pot of money and has responsibility for what can or cannot be done in practice requires patience and a PhD in persistence.

It can be done. Fifty years ago, The Netherlands decided to change their approach to city and town centres, and now the Dutch cycle everywhere.

Cycle Alton are slowly making progress with local councils to develop plans for safe, joined up cycle routes. Even more public support will speed that process.  

In 2021, 25 per cent of all UK car journeys were less than one mile and 72 per cent less than five miles.  

Surely, we can do much better? And be healthier.

Support Cycle Alton. And let the tenacious Barbara, Chris and Janice take a bow!

By Alton’s Secret Cyclist