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Council's free bike initiative praised... but “huge issue” of safe cycling routes must be addressed too, campaign argues

“Suggesting that ‘Ealing is leading the way in active travel’ on the back of this initiative ignores many other barriers to cycle use”

Cycling campaign groups have welcomed Ealing Council’s plan of giving out 2,500 free bikes to Southall residents as “laudable”, but also argued that lack of bicycle ownership is not the only reason holding back people from cycling, and urged the council to improve active travel infrastructure in the area as well.

Let’s Ride Southall is the initiative run by Ealing Council to promote cycling among residents by giving away bikes as well as free cycling lessons to people of all skill levels. The programme has a £1.2 million funded by Sport England and is aimed at transforming Southall which has the highest rates of vehicle ownership in Ealing.

However, cycling groups have raised concerns about the delivery of the plan and the objective and outcome of the initiative as well, MyLondon reports. Simon Munk from London Cyclist Campaign (LCC) said: “Giving away free bikes to people who need them is laudable – indeed, LCC recently worked in Enfield with Londra Bisiklet Kulubu to give away bikes there.”

He added: "But suggesting that ‘Ealing is leading the way in active travel,’ as council leader Peter Mason recently did on the back of this initiative ignores many other barriers to cycle use in Ealing and overstates Ealing’s current standing in London on active travel delivery.

“Not owning a bicycle is far from the only issue keeping most people in Southall from cycling – the lack of safe cycling routes in the area and across Ealing is a huge issue, that Ealing Council is currently failing to act rapidly on.

“LCC has released a report on progress in every London borough on delivery of schemes that reduce car use and enable alternatives, that asks on Ealing ‘What will the new administration actually do to move forward not back in a borough where already over one-third of households have no car or van?’ From our local group’s tracking of activity, the answers so far are not promising.”

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Martin Gorst from Ealing Cycling also expressed concerns about the lack of enough safe routes in Southall currently. He said: “The lack of safe cycling routes in the area is a huge issue. The council has just released plans to improve active travel infrastructure in parts of Southall but, at first sight, they are not encouraging. They include a lot of shared-use footways, where cyclists and pedestrians will be expected to share the same space.

“This is not comfortable for either pedestrians or cyclists and goes against Department for Transport guidance that says: ‘On urban streets, cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians and should not share space with pedestrians.’

“There is also a lack of cycle parking in the area. It is two years since the new Southall Station was completed but it still has no cycle parking. The council has recently announced plans to install some stands about 90 metres south of the station, but it would have been better located right next to the station, as we suggested back in 2013.”

The scheme Let's Ride Southall intends to provide up to 2,500 adult and children’s bicycles to individuals and families who sign up for cycling training. This will consist approximately of a mixture of 1,500 brand-new bicycles and 1000 fully repaired and recycled second-hand bicycles, with 35 bespoke bicycles for those with disabilities also being provided.

Recently, Councillor Josh Blackner, cabinet member for healthy lives, answered concerns raised over safe cycling routes by announcing a £10 million investment into new cycle lane, school streets and bike hangers as well road and pathway repairs and revamped canal towpaths.

Adwitiya joined in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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