Keen to see more people transition from driving to cycling, Chris Boardman is leading by example. Despite working as Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner while living on the Wirral, the nation’s most prominent cycling campaigner recently sold his car.
“I've been using the bike to commute because I've been helping out in my local Halfords in Bidston,” Boardman told the Telegraph.
“When they had a massive increase of orders and no staff, I helped to build bikes one day a week. I said: ‘Okay, I will go two months without a car and see what it's like’ – and it was fine. So I've given up the car. That’s quite a big step.”
He believes that this is something a lot more people could do.
“Cycling is safe, cheap, and quick,” he says. “If you try it, most people will stick with it.”
Boardman suggests keeping a car as a “comfort blanket” for two months and to try travelling by public transport, cycling and walking for that period to see how it goes.
“I live by an old Beeching line – a disused railway – and it’s just 30 minutes to a station that links to Liverpool or Chester, so I can get to Manchester for work.
“Without insurance, fuel and maintenance, I am already saving £800 a month.”
That isn’t to say it’s as simple as just making up your mind to do it though. He says safe space is the number one thing needed to persuade more people to cycle to work – because even if cycling is statistically safe, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it.
“Either you turn off the traffic, take the traffic speed down, reduce the volume on roads – or create separate space for cyclists,” he says, explaining the ways in which a safer environment could be achieved.
Expanding on this, he repeats his statemetn that the next two weeks will set the transport agenda for the next two decades – a comment that is becoming something of a refrain of late.
At one point during lockdown, cycling had doubled on weekdays and more than tripled at weekends – although with more and more cars back on the roads, we now seem to have passed that peak.
Even so, Boardman says those numbers are evidence of the latent potential for cycling.
“In some places we have seen 300 per cent increases in bike journeys,” he says. “You turned off traffic. You gave people a safer environment. And more people have been using bikes.
“We’ve shown we're just as capable of being a cycling nation as anywhere else in Europe. So in the midst of this crisis you think: actually we could change the future here.”
He goes on to suggest car-free days as a way to engineer a similarly encouraging environment for would-be cyclists.
“We could start with one day a month. That’s what they did in Bolivia and it's had a massive effect.”
Dealing with local councils on a day-to-day basis has however given him a sense of how difficult it can be to deliver meaningful changes to infrastructure.
"At local council level it gets harder because if you reallocate road space you will cause a traffic jam for drivers and they're going to start screaming at you. And now the traffic has returned so it’s harder. But we have the potential to make big changes.”
As we’ve been reporting regularly, the Government recently allocated £250m of funding for emergency active travel measures, such as pop-up bike lanes.
While every single council applied for money, the Department for Transport (DfT) has given some only a fraction of what they requested, informing them this week that it wants to see “an even higher level of ambition” in future proposals.
Those who made stronger bids have in some cases received more money than they asked for.
Almost inevitably, the Telegraph also questioned Boardman about cycle helmets, which he has previously called “a red herring” and “not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe.”
He framed his response in terms of the broader message that helmets and hi-vis convey.
“Messaging is something the car industry has known for decades,” he says. “You don't see a car advert with a car sitting in a traffic jam. You see it on big open roads.
“So we shouldn't be showing cyclists in body armour and high-vis. We should show it how it can be. And cycling can be nice.
“The beauty of cycling is that it is simple. You can wear your work clothes and just ride to work. You don't have to be sweating. You don't need special clothes. That's the bit we forget.”