COVID-19 – Message from the Chair

Apologies for the radio silence from Newcycling of late. Like everyone, it’s taken us some time to adjust to the new normal in these very worrying times. We hope that you and your families are well and that you are managing to keep up with family, friends, work, and perhaps even some cycling as part of your daily exercise.

The future seems very uncertain at present and many of us will have serious health and financial concerns. While cycling might seem like something quite far down the list of priorities, we hope to contribute something to the debate about how to build vital resilience into our city’s transport system and street network to cope with COVID-19 and beyond.

One of the main problems which the pandemic has highlighted is just how narrow our pavements are and how little space we have set aside for walking, cycling, playing, running and socialising in our streets. At present, people in my neighbourhood are regularly using the full width of the carriageway for all of these activities, but this is only possible while levels of traffic remain low.

The dramatic reduction in motor traffic in Newcastle does seem to be enabling many more people to cycle around their neighbourhoods. This week I watched with delight while a little boy on my street learned to cycle without his stabilisers for the first time. I’ve also been amazed at the numbers of families cycling past my street on what is usually an unpleasant rat run filled with speeding drivers. We know from research that fear of motor traffic is the biggest reason that people don’t cycle for everyday journeys, and it seems that this is true for Newcastle too. Take away the traffic and people will cycle. 

We’re calling on Newcastle Council to make plans for temporary measures which create more space for people on our streets. The time to act is now, before the lockdown is lifted, to ensure that people can move around their neighbourhoods safely. High volumes of traffic and speeding traffic will make this very difficult if we don’t put in measures to safeguard people. The next step is to make a plan for the longer term which includes increasing space for cycling. There are many reasons that planning a sustainable transport transition makes sense, including climate change, air pollution and social equity. 

We’ll set out what we think are the priorities in a series of articles, starting with asking what can Newcastle do now to act on COVID-19? We’ll examine what other cities are doing, what we should be doing to plan for the future and who benefits from traffic reduction in our city (spoiler – it’s everyone!) 

If you have a story to share on the blog or on social media about your experiences of cycling in the lockdown or what kind of changes you think are necessary to make cycling safer in your part of the city, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us by email at newcastle.cycling.campaign@gmail.com, on facebook or on twitter.

Best wishes and hope you keep well.

Sally Watson

Chair, Newcycling