Get on your bike marra!

Article submitted by Sarah Johnson

Cycling through the park, the wind rushing over me and my legs working hard to push me faster and faster over the bumpy path, it amazes me to see not one other bike gliding past the trees and shrubs.

This article was taken from

I enjoy the cool breeze on my face, the sun on my back and the sounds of nature rushing by until I come to a sudden stop and dismount to push my bike up the ramps leading from the subway beneath Hardwick Circus. Here I am, the pivotal point between the north and south of the city, the only way across the River Eden. Faced with the choice of braving the busy traffic or sticking to the shared pathway over Eden Bridge I choose the latter.

It is difficult to build up speed as children walking home from school clutter the path, I stop, say excuse me, then slowly battle on. Why bother to bring my bike at all.

Traffic problems over Eden Bridge and Hardwick Circus are horrendous. Every car, pedestrian and cyclist wanting to move from one side of the city to the other are forced to use this route. The Carlisle Cycle Campaign believes traffic problems in Carlisle could be improved if more people cycle to college, work or school even just once a week. But with everyone still having to take the same route would this improve the problem or simply create a new one.

Campaign leader Dallas Brewis is working with the county council to improve facilities for cyclists and get more cycle routes established across the city to link Carlisle with national cycle routes.
“The county council are in favour of promoting cycling in Carlisle but I think there is not a great political will behind it. Unfortunately there are not a lot of votes in cycling, but there are motorists who see cyclists as a nuisance.
“We need to change peoples’ attitudes about cycling, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If people decided one day a week to go by bike, when they have less things to carry into work, that would be a start,” she said.

The Carlisle Renaissance is the latest in a long line of plans to cut the traffic congestion around Hardwick Circus. Mrs Brewis believes promoting cycling is the greenest and most effective way of doing this.
“We are hoping to get some money towards (new cycle routes) from the Carlisle renaissance project. One of the aims of the project is to improve the flow of traffic and if they decide cycling is one way of doing this, they will hopefully help fund a new track.
“We need to look ahead and think about alternative travel, because when the oil starts to run out, which it will, we will have to find other ways to get around.”

There are plans to build a new off-road cycle route over the disused Waverly Viaduct. This would take cyclists along the coast, through Silloth then Carlisle and on to Brampton, Hexham and Tynemouth. The viaduct would take cyclists over the River Eden near to the Cumberland Infirmary, a good distance away from all of the chaos at Hardwick Circus. Sustrans, a national charity that aims to promote cycling and offers grants to councils to improve cycle facilities, are behind these plans. Sustrans is currently conducting a survey to check the safety of the viaduct, and then it is up to the county council to provide planning permission for the route. However, Mrs Brewis knows there will not be enough money to complete the new route without help from the council. Last year Sustrans gave away £10 million of grants to councils across the country to build cycle tracks to and from schools. These grants had to be partly matched by the council but Carlisle county council did not apply, letting thousands of pounds worth of grants slip through their fingers.

Frank Smith, a member of the cycle campaign and organiser of group rides around the Cumbria countryside, is angry at the lack of support that seems to come from the council.
“(Hardwick Circus) is a problem for cyclists and traffic. There are four schools south of the river and a major population north of the river.
“Carlisle was due to get a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists around the millennium when there were all these millennium projects happening. It would have been ideal for kids getting to school and would have kept them completely away from the roads.
“At the moment, parents are getting their kids into the car and driving them to school meaning that between eight and nine o'clock Hardwick Circus is jammed and then again after school between three and five o’clock.
“Cyclists need that bridge. Other towns got theirs, Newcastle got the blinking eye, but all we have in Carlisle is this bottle-neck area of road,” he said.
I phone up the county councillor responsible for transport in Cumbria to ask about plans for cycle tracks in Carlisle and intentions for grants and funding.

I get through to a pleasant sounding gentleman, who is happy to help but tells me that as he lives in Barrow, he is not too familiar with cycling issues in Carlisle. He thoughtfully gives me the number of an officer based in Carlisle, but upon ringing this number I learn the officer in question no longer works for the county council.
A young woman from the head office does attempt to help but advises not to contact the elected councillors directly, instead to go through the media department in order for them to approve any quotes put forward by councillors. This takes me by surprise. I expect to be able to talk directly to someone democratically elected. Even if the councillor in question has told me he is unsure of issues facing Carlisle’s cyclists, despite Carlisle being an area he is responsible for.
Undeterred and warmed by the councillor’s helpful manor, I decide to try again. This time asking directly about the Area Transport Advisory Group meeting which I believe he attends along with Mrs Brewis.
Many phone calls later and I have still not managed to contact him.

Spokesperson for Cumbria Police, Mike Head disagrees that Hardwick Circus is a problem for cyclists.
“Because of the number of cars, speeding is not that common during the day when cycles are likely to be out and about, at night speeding is more common, when cycles are rarer,” he said.
However, the small number of cyclists in Carlisle show that people are not encouraged to cycle in gridlock, slow moving traffic. They are put off by it.
Mr Smith said: “People don’t like cycling in heavy traffic. It’s dangerous, especially if you have children. We need off road cycle routes.
“I can use York as an example, they were a railway city, all of the old railways were tarmaced and turned in to off-road cycle routes directly into the city. York appointed a cycling officer in 1990 when their cycling figures were two to three per cent for journeys under five miles, now their figures are 16 per cent for journeys under five miles. Carlisle is still at two to three per cent.
“People say that places in Europe like Belgium, are flat and that is why they have 40 per cent of people cycling short journeys, but Switzerland isn’t flat, and they have a huge number of cyclists too.”
Currently Mr Smith is organising one bike ride a month, leaving from the Sands Centre and travelling 25 miles at a comfortable pace. On a good summer day around 16 people will turn up for the ride, but during the colder months only five or six people will be cycling.

The recent accident involving cyclists in Wales, where four members of a cycling group were killed when a car, travelling at a safe speed, slid on ice causing a head on collision with the group, has highlighted the dangers of on-road cycling during bad weather.

Mrs Brewis realises it is not always practical to have just off road routes, but she stresses it is important for beginners and children to have a safe, quiet place to get their cycle proficiency.
“It is important to have off-road cycle tracks while people work on their provision, become confident and also for children, but I think there is also a need to have cyclists on public highways. They are the most direct routes and often the surface is better.
“People see one or two bad cyclists without lights or whatever but there are far worse motorists out there who are not being tarred with the same brush. The majority of cyclists are law abiding, but people forget that it can be quite threatening cycling in traffic, especially for beginners.
“Cyclists and pedestrians have an automatic right to use public highways, motorists do not. They have to have a licence and that licence can be revoked.”