Sheffield cyclists share their experiences of taking to the roads during lockdown

Sheffield cyclists have enjoyed the city’s empty roads but fear that permanent changes to cycling infrastructure may not be implemented.

The UK’s lockdown measures have seen levels of traffic on roads plummet, with Sheffield currently seeing 80% less traffic on its roads, according to a Hillsborough Councillor.

Cyclists from across Sheffield have enjoyed how the quieter roads have facilitated greater and safer cycling opportunities for families – especially those with young children, or riders who are inexperienced or lacking in confidence.

Paul Noble, who often cycles with his 10-year-old daughter, noted that cycling alongside fewer cars had enabled them to travel along more urban routes.

He said: “We’ve done recreational rides along roads that would have had more heavy traffic so that’s actually encouraged more cycling than might have happened in the past.”

In an interview with JUS News, Emily said the low levels of traffic in the city centre meant that she and her daughter could exercise without fear of the usual dangers or hazards, such as buses or cars.

Although many cyclists said the reduction in traffic increased the appeal of cycling as their daily form of exercise, the lack of cycling infrastructure and the occasional brush with reckless driving were deterrents.

Dr Brian Tweedale, who cycles around 20 miles every day, said while his experiences of cycling in Sheffield remained largely positive, he had had some poor experiences with other motorists.

He described how he was sure he was about to be trapped by a car after a motorist made a dangerous manoeuvre on Handsworth Hill, leaving a gap of centimetres while overtaking him.

Dr Tweedale said: “I’ve had that with a few motorists who either feel it’s okay to travel really fast past you because the roads are empty or feeling that, because the roads are empty, they’re relieved of the normal duty of indicating they’re going to turn.

“There are fewer cars and proportionally there’s less disregard for cyclists, but it does make the ones who are doing it much more visible.”

Andy Douglas, a GP in Sheffield, commented how cycling with his seven-month-old daughter allowed him to understand how some cyclists may lack confidence in Sheffield’s “busy and potentially dangerous” roads.

Improving cycling infrastructure was a common suggestion amongst those sharing their views.

The lack of a designated, separate space on the roads as well as poor paving were highlighted as disappointing aspects of Sheffield’s roads from a cyclist’s perspective.

Emily suggested adapting existing routes in and out of the city centre, such as the A57 or Ecclesall Road, to make them more suitable for cyclists.

Citing Manchester’s Oxford Road corridor, Emily added how Sheffield would benefit from creating a similar cycle route which linked the city centre, universities, and hospitals to the suburbs.

The need to adapt roads and infrastructure in Sheffield was a sentiment shared by Dr Tweedale, who stated that the UK lagged behind other nations in setting the standard for encouraging cycling, such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

Dr Tweedale said: “If you’re serious about healthier lifestyles, addressing pollution and climate change, then you would prioritise cycling a little bit more.

“It’s very hard to encourage people to cycle when they perceive the roads to be dangerous.”

Cyclists remained sceptical, however, as to whether positive changes to infrastructure would be implemented or simply forgotten after lockdown is lifted.

One of Cycling UK’s latest campaigns, #SpaceForDistancing, focuses on the fight for creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists, both in and beyond the lockdown period.

Dexter, a representative from Cycle Sheffield, stated how the low volume of motorists on the road would allow Sheffield City Council to try and implement temporary road changes which could potentially become permanent.

He said: “The increased levels of cycling in Sheffield shows that there is demand for it, if people feel safe on the roads.”

Sheffield City Council have since announced that they are considering a range of options to help facilitate safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians, including road closures and clear social distancing markings on the road and pavement.

In an emailed statement, Green Party councillor Ruth Mersereau, said: “I have consistently campaigned for active travel, and would love to see more space for it – e.g. segregated bike lanes, better opportunities for walking, better public transport, and far less motor traffic.”

Discussing the importance of emergency measures being considered by Sheffield City Council, she added: “These emergency measures will become increasingly relevant as life after lockdown evolves and people look for socially-distanced ways to travel.”

While the changes being considered by the council appear to be positive, many cyclists fear that roads will soon return to their normal state after lockdown.

Emily and Dr Tweedale shared the same concern that as soon as lockdown measures are eased, traffic levels will soon climb to where they were before, if not become even worse.

Mr Noble, however, said it was important that cycling in a city needed to be made an attractive option, with driving being made an awkward option.

He said: “This could be a catalyst but, in the scheme of priorities, the government’s not going to focus on shooting out of lockdown and building bike lanes.

“There’s lots of talk about why do we need to go back to the way we were – the new normal doesn’t need to be like the old normal.”