What can be done to get more people cycling in Bury St Edmunds?
Cycling in Bury St Edmunds has been an interesting experience. Since moving here from Kent, I have started riding my bike on a daily basis to get to the office and about town.
“There is no point in driving,” I was told upon arriving in Moreton Hall. “The roads in the town centre were not designed for this many cars and it is gridlock.”
And I have found the advice to be quite true. I can make it to the office on two wheels in less time than it would take me on four, and that’s not me bragging about my ability (I’m regularly overtaken up Mount Road!) Cycling is also cheaper and doesn’t harm my running ambitions.
Listening to advice before I started, I was expecting to see a good number of bikes and was surprised how many more cars are on the road. But a couple of months later I am starting to see why. Many of my own thoughts were summed up by users of the Bury Free Press Facebook page.
Katy Frith said: “I cycle to work every day and am grateful for what paths there are – but some just randomly start and stop, which makes no sense.”
Matthew Shotbolt commented: “I’m a relatively fast road cyclist and it simply isn’t common sense for me to use sections of cycle path such as that at Eastgate Street. There are so many junctions and driveways, not to mention pedestrians walking all over the place. I end up being more of a danger on the path than on the road.”
Neil Skillings added: “Eastgate Street is rough for cyclists, especially with the cobbles. The cycle path is not practical, especially travelling at speed.”
Others raised concerns about a lack of protection against bike theft, while Dave Boor spoke for a lot of people, by commenting simply: “Sort out the potholes.”
With its high number of bike shops and routes, as well as dedicated cycling clubs, I expected Bury to have a large number of riders.
But the Department for Transport data for St Edmundsbury for the number of participants is similar to the Suffolk and English average.
While 21 per cent of adults complete any cycling in a given month, higher than the English and Mid-Suffolk average, fewer are doing it regularly (five days a week) than all but one comparative area.
Chloe Hailstone, manager at Mick’s Cycles, has spoken to hundreds of riders since taking over her family’s shop in St John’s Street in 2011.
She said the bulk of her custom came from those aged 30-60, with under-30s making up 20 per cent and over-60s around 15 per cent.
“Overall, I would say Bury is quite a good place to be a cyclist and car drivers are largely aware of people on bikes,” she said.
“It does, however, depend on where you come into town from. There are a selection of cycle paths that seem to be inconsistent, for whatever reason.”
On what might be stopping people, she added: “I would say that the cost of bikes and ease of driving play a part.
“But it also comes down to the weather, and general inconvenience.
“I would like to see more safe places to leave bikes, more zones that are car free and more quality cycle lanes.”
Responsibility for roads in Suffolk comes largely under the county council’s remit and highways is the responsibility of deputy leader Mary Evans.
She said: “Our vision is that as many people as possible, who are able to do so, choose walking or cycling for their local everyday journeys.”
The council is supporting the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, a professional road cycling stage race set to pass through Suffolk on June 10 at the start of the week-long event.
County Hall is also investing in a programme called Most Active County – a partnership with other authorities, appealing for residents to build fitness.
Cllr Evans added: “We always work to ensure that routes are coherent and safe, with safety audits always carried out when new cycling facilities are implemented.
“We have been made aware of some places where this has happened and would ask that the public continues to notify us of these locations, as well as any issues with the conditions of roads and cycle paths. This can be done using the Highways Reporting Tool online.”
“We always work to ensure that routes are coherent and safe, with safety audits always carried out when new cycling facilities are implemented," Cllr Mary Evans
Her party colleague, Cllr David Ritchie, however, said he could empathise with cyclists who had found surfaces and conditions to be a challenge.
The member for Bungay has somewhat unwittingly come to lead the council’s push for greater cycling infrastructure since speaking in a meeting last year.
“The figures are not where we want them to be,” he admits. “The desire is to increase cycling and the facilities and routes in place to give cyclists confidence.
“I think we had a debate on cycling and we wanted as a council to support cycling and look at our strategy. In 2016, we published a cycle strategy in Waveney district, which sets out suggested improvements to make cycling easier. I thought we could do the same for other regions.”
Without previously planning to, Cllr Ritchie found himself then asking councillors if they wanted to join him on a ride from St David’s in Wales’s west to Lowestoft, at the far east of England. After finding no takers in the chamber, he then completed the 400 mile ride with friends in aid of children’s charity FitzRoy (pictured) and also to research other cycle routes.
Following his comments and this venture, he is now chairing a new cross-party policy development panel, which will be developing a cycling strategy.
Cllr Ritchie said this would focus on improving the safety of commuter routes, promotion of cycling to schools and work and boosting tourist routes.
He continued: “We have had two meetings so far, we are reviewing the strategy and are working closely with district councils as to how we implement it.”
For many cyclists in town, better quality routes cannot come soon enough.
But reading between the lines, while council budgets are limited, would the authority choose to invest in something not seen as a priority to residents?
People may be put off cycling because of poor quality surfaces, which may not be fixed if there are fewer bike-users to report them.
To break what is literally a vicious cycle, it is up to residents to make best use of the cycle paths Bury does have and hold the council to account by flagging up where improvement works are needed.