500 local commuters make the journey to St Albans City station by bicycle each day. It’s not hard to imagine the complete snarl-up if they came by car instead. So why don’t we make it easier and more attractive for more people of all ages to make their regular journeys by bike – adding to peace and tranquillity in the process?
Last night saw the 10th anniversary St Albans Cycle Campaign AGM. STACC was founded by Liz Rutherford 10 years ago, and it has gadflied and prodded the city and county councils ever since.
The predecessor to STACC was St Albans Cycle Survey set up by David Hook in the 1970s. I was a member of that too. As well as congenial and social bicycle rides – one of which occasioned my first visit to Welwyn village and its strange connection with Vincent Van Gogh – we campaigned then for a better deal for cyclists. I remember spending a Saturday morning at the Smallford railway bridge symbolically hacking at undergrowth filling the disused railway cutting as part of a campaign to turn the old line into a cycle path. It’s now the Alban Way providing a safe (though not very smooth) route between St Albans and Hatfield.
I still ride the same great black Puch 12-speed tourer as I did then. STACC by contrast is a sleek machine and one of the largest (if not the largest) local cycle campaigns in the country. And by heavens do we need it given that Hertfordshire Highways keeps making perverse decisions in terms of cycling. The St Peters Street “improvements” have been much criticised for many reasons but narrowing the carriageway by one metre without making alternative provision made the centre of our city just about the most danagerous and difficult place to cycle in St Albans when it should be just the opposite to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
Hertfordshire spends 60 pence per year per head of population on cycling provision. London spends £8 per year per head. But Amsterdam spends £20 per year and they have been doing that for 50 years or more. As a result it and other Dutch cities are infinitely more pleasant than their UK counterparts – and their population is much more healthy and certainly less obese.
Cyclists take up less road space and certainly less parking space. There are no greenhouse gas emissions to worry about. The health contribution is self-evident. Yet the UK government keeps under-valuing the contribution of cyclists. When calculating the “cost of congestion”, the notional calculation for the worth of every journey minute saved is 44p for a car driver, 33p for a bus passenger and 28p for a cyclist.
As for two wheels versus four wheels, car-driving highway engineers who shove in random bollards and tight chicanes of railings forget that many pedallists have more than two wheels, with cycle trailers for children and shopping etc etc.
I hope that STACC’s 20th anniversary AGM will be able to record massive improvement in St Albans cycling provision.