By Zoe Holliday
At this time of year, it can be a bit gloomy being single. There’s something about the cold weather that makes loved up friends want to cuddle up indoors, which means that you’re left with the option of either staying in on your own or rocking up at their flat as a bit of a third wheel.
Being a cyclist can also be a bit dreary, because the reality of cycling at this time of year is less hair flowing in the wind, more Michelin Man-style waterproof layers, and I tend to turn up most places looking mud-spattered and windswept (which probably doesn’t help my relationship status, either).
But even more depressing is that feeling of being a bit of a ‘third wheel’ or an unwanted guest on the roads. The lack of cycle paths is never more obvious than at the time of year when all the potholes at the side of the road fill with water, and what off-road cycle paths there are often go for weeks with fallen trees across the way, treacherous ice and un-navigable muddy diversions.
There’s nothing like a proper snowstorm to show up how little priority there is for those of us who use active travel. Within hours of it snowing, the middle of the roads are ploughed and gritted, but anyone cycling on the edge of the road or walking on the pavements will see their journey progress through sometimes terrifying stages of ice and slush over a number of weeks.
Which I suppose begs the question as to why I bother at all; it would be pretty simple for me to lock up my bike in the stairwell until the sun comes out again sometime in May. But I genuinely believe that cycling is the best way to get around town. It’s nearly always faster to cycle than to go by bus or car; I save myself a small fortune by not paying for petrol or bus fares and – apart from breathing a bit faster – I’m not emitting any carbon dioxide emissions.
This opinion is not the popular one though; the Scottish Government has a 10% cycling target, but currently only 2% of journeys here in Scotland are made by bicycle. Admittedly there are a few hills here, but that’s not stopped commuters in alpine Germany, where cycling already has a modal share of 10%.
There are loads more great examples in Europe that show that with the right investment and pro-cycling planning policies, cycling can become a natural choice – if you’ve ever walked past the sea of bicycles outside the main stations in The Hague and Amsterdam you’ll be well aware that cycling is more popular in the Netherlands, where a massive 30% of all journeys are made by bicycle. It’s also been suggested that if everyone followed the lead of cycle-happy Denmark, EU countries could together save anything from 12% to 26% of their transport emissions reduction target.
There have been some good steps towards being a cycle-friendly nation, like the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland that was published in 2009, but real progress isn’t going to be made until this really becomes a priority and significant resources are dedicated to active travel. So here’s hoping that somewhen soon, someone notices that this cycling idea has got legs. (And that a nice chap notices that underneath all these waterproof layers, I do too.)
There’s plenty of useful tips and links about cycling and walking on our website.