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Richmond Park cyclists urged to ride alone as motor traffic banned after weekend with bizarre bank holiday vibe despite crisis

Royal Parks welcomes cycling but urges responsible riding and social distancing

Cyclists using Richmond Park have been urged by a group that represents them to ride alone or risk being banned altogether after rules on social distancing were widely ignored by many visitors this weekend, resulting in motor vehicles being banned from three Royal Parks in outer London and cafés and kiosks there that were still selling takeaway food and drink closed.

Acknowledging the physical and mental health benefits of riding a bike, Royal Parks has made it clear that cycling is welcome in the parks, so long as it is undertaken “carefully and considerately” and respecting social distancing advice, but says that “if cyclists do not adhere to these guidelines, we will have no choice but to close the parks.”

Despite the government urging people to keep at least 2 metres apart from each other in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, and on Friday also ordering the closure of pubs, restaurants, cafés other than for the sale of takeaway food and drink, photos and videos shared widely on social media this weekend show that social distancing advice is being widely ignored, including by cyclists.

With yesterday and today being the first warm weekend of the year for much of the country – the gale-force winds and torrential rain that characterised weekends in February and earlier in March seem a lifetime ago – astonishingly there seems to be something of a bank holiday vibe in many popular destinations throughout the UK despite the pandemic.

Whether it’s people flocking to seaside resorts, Snowdonia or the Scottish Highlands or Londoners thronging the capital’s parks, to give just a few examples, it seems that many people are ignoring official advice to stay at home and, if venturing outside, to observe social distancing.

As this video from broadcaster and cyclist Jeremy Vine shows, police needed to be deplotyed today to stop the flow of cars into Richmond Park.

While people have been travelling there by a variety of means of transport this weekend – in cars, on foot, by public transport or on bike – one of the most widely shared images yesterday on social media showed cyclists queueing at one of the refreshment kiosks.

Today, shortly before it was announced that the three Royal Parks in outer London – the other two are Bushy Park and Greenwich Park – would be closed to motor traffic, another video shared widely on Twitter and now appearing on mainstream media sites showed motorists queueing to get into car parks, together with groups of cyclists, joggers and walkers enjoying Richmond Park in the sunshine.

In the video which you can watch here on Yahoo! News, one woman, apparently on her own, addresses a group of cyclists congregated in a car park, saying: “If you all stay like this, they will close the park. Come on, please, everyone help.”

Not long after that video was posted to Twitter this morning, Royal Parks tweeted an update on its policies during the current crisis.

A statement on the linked page on its website gives details of which facilities in the park are open and says:

The Royal Parks remain open and are vitally important at this time. However, social distancing, as set out by the Government, is absolutely crucial. We have, therefore, taken the decision to close all our remaining take-away cafés and kiosks with immediate effect as people are not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

We have also made the decision, based on police advice, to start closing our roads to traffic in the outer parks (Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks). Roads will remain open in the inner parks (Hyde, Regent’s, St James’s Parks), but all designated car parks are now only open for key workers with a permit. All parks remain open to cyclists.

We will keep this situation under constant review. If people do not follow social distancing guidelines, we will have no choice but to consider closing the parks.

Royal Parks added that it will continue to update that page each day.

In a subsequent post to Twitter clarifying its earlier statement, Royal Parks stressed that it was not banning people from cycling, but urged them to be responsible. It said:

We are not banning cycling from any of our parks. We have temporarily banned cars from Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks, following police advice, because these parks saw a huge surge of traffic on Saturday and Sunday morning with large numbers of people pouring in and ignoring the government’s advice on social distancing. We hope that by closing these parks to cars we will help mitigate this situation.

Cyclists are welcome to continue cycling in the parks but please cycle carefully and considerately and do not congregate in large groups. Social distancing is vital so please stay at least 2 metres apart at all times.

We understand the importance of being able to continue cycling in our parks for both physical and mental wellbeing, but if cyclists do not adhere to these guidelines, we will have no choice but to close the parks.

Richmond Park Cyclists, which according to its Twitter page “represents the interests of all cyclists who use Richmond Park,” urged people to ride alone or face being banned from it.

While many cyclists at the park this weekend have been doing that, or have been riding with partners or children, many locals have said that they have seldom seen it that busy, and not just with people on bikes riding in groups – one cyclist, who was out alone, highlighting that chidren’s play dates and family picnics were also taking place.

As highlighted in our article published this morning, How to ride responsibly in a time of pandemic, people riding in groups elsewhere in the country have also been pulled up on social media this weekend, including by other cyclists.

> How to cycle responsibly in a time of pandemic

And while, as we’ve highlighted above, it isn’t just some people out on bikes who are ignoring social distancing advice, and its not confined to Richmond Park or indeed London, in all likelihood it will be featured heavily in the mainstream media – and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if calls to ban cycling altogether during this period ensue.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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