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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 joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Mungecrundle | 4 years ago
1 like

I guess it seems like a good idea, with best intentions to keep a distance and follow the official advice re exercise, but when you get there and find that too many others have had the same good idea, it sort of breaks down. The perspective of the media pictures may give a wrong impression. View those same scenes from above and there may well be a 2m space between household units.

Even so, the advice is quite simple, and there are definitely people who think they know better or are somehow immune. Probably better in the circumstances to apply a bit of social shaming to get enough people to take this seriously. There will come a point, maybe quite soon where patients who would otherwise survive will be denied access to ICU resources which have simply run out. At that point the whole thing becomes a much larger threat to the otherwise fit and healthy.

Rik Mayals unde... | 4 years ago

I cycled to Malham and back yesterday, on deserted roads. But when I descended down the side of Malham cove into Malham, at before 10.30am, it was bedlam. In all my years I have never seen it as busy. It was like a dozen bank holidays rolled into one. People were crammed onto the pavements, spilling out on to the road, laghing and smiling as they bumped into each other. Nobody seemed to have a care in the world. There was a long stream of walkers walking from the village all the way up the side of the cove. I didn't stop, just cycled out as quick as I could. For the next few miles, until I turned onto a tiny lane to escape the madness, there was a constant stream of daytrippers driving in. To park where, I have no idea, as the road and car park was full. Unbelievable, and reckless. Probably these people are the same ones who have crammed their houses with bread, rice, pasta, flour, bog roll etc etc. I'm alright Jack, fuck everyone else. 

MarsFlyer | 4 years ago

Excellent news that motor traffic has been banned.
The latest movement strategy report from the Royal Parks was soft on motorists and hard on cyclists, so please send comments to the email here by Wednesday 25th March:

MrGear replied to MarsFlyer | 4 years ago
MarsFlyer wrote:

Excellent news that motor traffic has been banned.
The latest movement strategy report from the Royal Parks was soft on motorists and hard on cyclists, so please send comments to the email here by Wednesday 25th March:

Worth reading this and commenting... They identify cyclists as a "challenge" instead of recognising the real source of conflict, which is poorly driven motor vehicles. Reducing cars and encouraging cycles is the only way to improve transport within the park.

srchar replied to MrGear | 4 years ago

Being a North Londoner, I don't frequent Richmond Park, so I don't understand why vehicular traffic is so heavy there. Is it an important through route?

MrGear replied to srchar | 4 years ago
srchar wrote:

Being a North Londoner, I don't frequent Richmond Park, so I don't understand why vehicular traffic is so heavy there. Is it an important through route?

No, there are alternatives, they even lock it at night. They just treat driving as a divine right during the day. Free car parks and everything.

Also, it gets busy because it's one of the few high quality outside spaces available to many Londoners, and people will drive for miles to gawp at the deer and empty their dogs.

caw35ride replied to MrGear | 4 years ago
1 like

There may well be alternatives, but Richmond Park has been allowed to become an essential part of our daytime road network by the councils that surround it, which is a disgraceful way to treat this amazing space. The result is that the vast majority of daytime traffic is cutting through the park, not stopping there for any recreational purpose.

The activity at the weekend was obscene: it really was like a Bank Holiday, huge crowds of poeple socialising (including a child's birthday party), and riders doing their usual 3-laps in tight groups. In short, fairly normal albeit a lot busier and in obvious contravention of the guidelines

If people can't follow a few rules, I fear that they'll close it which would be a terrible loss.

One last thing: apart from during culls, the park is only closed to motor traffic at night. It is a real pleasure to ride or walk after sundown. Beware the deer!

brooksby replied to caw35ride | 4 years ago

I've wondered if people have misunderstood some of the guidance.  Think that being outside is of itself safe ("It'll be fine, we're in the fresh air"), instead of it only being possibly safer because you can distance yourself more effectively...

HarrogateSpa | 4 years ago

Yes people need to follow the advice.

"Lycra-clad" - that's not relevant. Except if your hobby is to go on about lycra and "riding two abreast", in which the good news is you don't have to give it up, and you might even get a wider audience.

I saw plenty of people walking together today, but you have to remember that some of them will be part of the same household, and social distancing from each other when you're out and about serves no purpose in that case.

elyobelyob replied to HarrogateSpa | 4 years ago
1 like

I look forward to a responsible cycle alone tomorrow. I decided aginst this weekend, as it was clear from Saturday people were disobeying the most important rule.

Agreed, cycling or walking as a family is social distancing. Cycling in a group and then each returning to their families is criminal behaviour.

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