Thursday, 13 October 2016

Doing the bike thing

I have been the cycle support Officer at Leeds Beckett University for two years now, dream job. When I tell my friends what I do I get a look of benign tolerance or "Is that actually a job?". Honestly it's great. I get people riding bikes so they are active and their Co2 and NOx emissions are then so low as to be not worth mentioning. I have discussed adherons and detecting anthrax in the blood whilst changing brake blocks and I have got tops tips about where to ride and climb to last me the rest of my life. For a year or two more, until my kids hit secondary school this will do nicely.

In previous lives I have driven a CAD machine to design robots, project managed a few heavy industry jobs and spent a decade at the chalkface in secondary education. All had their rewards, this is better.

We have a little more than a 100 bikes, that we hire out to students. £50 the academic year which has got to be the travel bargain in Leeds. Lots of our international students take advantage. I wish more Brits would, I'm working on that.

We help fix staff and students own bikes in our workshop one at the Headingley campus. One down in the city which we share with Leeds University. You never know what will come into the workshop next. Generally you can help and when people realise they aren't paying for labour often they are delighted.

We have quality facilities on campus, lockable bike cages, showers lockers. All things that make a cycle commute more viable. We have staff pool bikes, one of which is electric. I would like some more of these, they play well with people who might cycle but don't. Much has been done, much more needs to and will be done.

I am part of a great team at Sustainability a few of which help me directly. Jason the transport planner and also my boss is a cycling nut too. He gets involved with bike stuff as well as all the other things in his in-tray and increasingly is getting his hands dirty in the workshops. More importantly he is helping shape long term planning as I'm often in the workshops getting bikes under people. Esme is our intern and is turning out to be a social media wiz so hopefully we can get the message about what we do out to even more people.

We are lucky to have an excellent team of volunteers at both sites, who give up their time because they love what we do. Because they like to do some good and learn how to keep their own bikes in good order. Ultra volunteer Kathryn is soon to start a PHD in Hamburg, over peak hire period in the city she has helped every day and made this super busy time fun rather than a trudge.

If I have frustrations about my role its that you can only take what we do so far. The biggest barrier to people riding a bike in the UK is the perceived danger. It's safer than you think, but in Leeds with its poor cycle infrastructure and car-centric design that fear is ever present in many. We desperately need improved cycle provision on the Otley Road corridor into town. That more than anything is the single thing that could make cycling an easy and obvious choice for many more people. Leeds has £175 million to spent on transport after the trolley bus went the way of all things. Surely we can find 10% of that to spend on walking cycling on one of the busiest routes into the city that is nothing more than a linear car park at rush hour on weekdays?

Leeds needs political will now to make a difference like great world cities already have. More than ever this dynamic city, economically vital to the region risks grinding to a halt at rush hour, as last century's engine of choice belches fatal fumes into it's air. We can do better than that and we have the money to make that happen. I'm doing my small bit, who will help me do more?

Can the two universities acting together lobby local government to bring about a change in transport policy that would make Leeds a nicer city to live in. One where the population would also reap the massive benefits of activity that lead to longer lives that put less strain on our health service?

Before this turns into a rant let me finish by saying. If you are needing your bike fixed, If you need to know about facilities on the campuses. If you want to know the best routes through the city and there are best routes even if non are great, If you want to hire, borrow, buy or improve a bike. Or if you want to volunteer and help us make our city more sustainable Email

If I can help, I will.


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