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Bristol's year as a Cycling City

Christine Hall
By Christine Hall
Producer, Bristol: Cycle City

The Cycling City programme team, Christine Hall (l), Miles Warde and Sally Heaven
The team consists of Christine Hall (l), Miles Warde and Sally Heaven.

I hadn't meant to make a programme about cycling. I walk, I use public transport, I drive six-and-a-half miles to work every day.

Then, as I was taking an innocent stroll one lunchtime, a young Lycra-clad cyclist whizzed at great speed round a corner on the pavement in Whiteladies Road and nearly knocked me over.

I felt keenly indignant, knowing that Bristol, the pioneer Cycling City, has just been allocated almost £23m to promote cycling. Why, I wondered, are they spending money on people like this, and what could possibly be in it for the rest of us? And so a programme was born.

As a non-cyclist I had to learn a lot very fast. I quickly discovered why some cyclists do occasionally use pavements and how the idiot who'd nearly run me down would have been condemned by virtually all of them; I looked at some awful cycle lanes, including one which has literally been painted around a huge tree; I absorbed the key information that to be safe a cyclist has to be visible and confident that the roads are for two-wheeled users and well as four.

Create the UK's first on-street bike rental network
Establish a 're-cycling' scheme that repairs bikes and provides them free of charge to deprived communities
Build state-of-the-art facilities for cyclists commuting to the city centre
Create a dedicated cycleway to link the suburbs with the city centre
More than double the number of children receiving cycling training
Develop a Personalised Travel Plan programme, focusing on changing the way people conduct short journeys to work

Presenter Miles Warde and I would arrive at our recording destinations separately, he on his bike (he hasn't owned a car for years) and me by car. I started to notice that Miles usually arrived before me and parked a lot more easily.

I also noticed, recording an interview at the BBC in Bristol, the dozens of staff bikes in the car park. Our researcher Sally travels everywhere on her trusty three-wheeler. Gradually I began to feel a bit out of it… I knew that one of the aims of Cycling City is to get everyone, of whatever age and ability, confident enough to ride a bike.

Could that possibly include me… ? When I first took to two wheels, Kennedy was US President, the Beatles were still playing in Hamburg cellars and National Service had only just been scrapped. Could I - a granny - really get back on my bike?

The turning point came when we recorded a piece on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, 15 miles of disused track turned into a linear green space running between the two cities. It's a wonderful resource, used by cyclists, walkers, dog owners and people with pushchairs (including me and my baby granddaughter). It was a lovely day and the path stretched away invitingly into the distance. I suddenly wanted, desperately, to be able to saddle up and try it for myself.

A few days later I met Veronica, an accredited National Cycling Standards trainer and had an hour's training (a bargain £5 to Bristol residents). It was the most exhilarating lunch break I can remember — not only could I do this, it was fun! The next step is to try the route into work, again with a trainer, and then I can truly claim to be one of Cycling City's successes.

So if I ever meet the young man who nearly knocked me down, I ought really to thank him. But I'd rather suggest he gets a £5 lesson in responsible cycling.

Bristol: Cycling City is broadcast on Radio 4 on Monday, September 28 2009 at 11.00am.

National Standard cycle training is available to anyone all over the country - log on to www.ctc.org.uk for further information.

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