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.
Going south to speak to my mum through a closed window today, I cycled alone through what I assumed would be an almost empty Richmond Park. But it was the busiest I've ever seen it — so busy that the police had just moved in to block cars from entering. pic.twitter.com/YAO1Szn0Ca
— Jeremy Vine (@theJeremyVine) March 22, 2020
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.
Lycra-clad Londoners putting their community at risk. This photo was published today on local social media. Its a popular cafe in Richmond Park that presumably is offering take away refreshments. Cycling clubs are aghast. Asking isn't working - we need lock-down here. #covid19UK pic.twitter.com/KunYosjyBS
— Matt Preston (@mhprestonjp) March 21, 2020
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.
#SocialDistancing as set out by the Government is a priority and not a choice. All remaining cafés and kiosks offering takeaways in our parks are closed with immediate effect. We are also closing Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks to traffic.
More info: https://t.co/YfLcV1WjpW
— The Royal Parks (@theroyalparks) March 22, 2020
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.
STAY SINGLE: Loads of traffic in Richmond Park right now as the closure of the outer road begins. Cyclists are still allowed in... for now. That will all change if riders continue to ride in pairs or groups. So please RIDE ON YOUR OWN! We all need the park at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/0Rpuv6FLDb
— RichmondParkCyclists (@RichmondPkCycle) March 22, 2020
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.
Back from a solo cycle through Richmond Park. Exercise and fresh air are important but have some fucking common sense. The amount of people I saw running/cycling in big groups or (incredibly) having kids play dates and family picnics in the middle of a literal pandemic is insane. pic.twitter.com/wkx94M1dZm
— Gary (@_KingGJ) March 22, 2020
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.
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 road.cc 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.