By SLDC councillor Jon Owen

Cycling isn’t for everyone. There, I’ve said it. Whenever I make the case for getting more people to make more everyday journeys by bike it’s almost inevitable that someone, thinking that I’m suggesting that everyone should cycle, replies with some shade of “I can’t cycle because I have ( a medical condition)” or “not everyone lives close enough” or “not everyone’s fit enough to tackle the hills around here”. Let’s clear that up:

I’m not saying that we should aim to get everyone cycling.

I’m saying that, if we manage to get modest numbers of people to switch away from their cars for some trips, some of the time, that the impact on our towns will be transformative: far less congestion, and far better air quality. Not to mention the health benefits for those folks who use a bike to get about.

Let’s touch on those health benefits. If your GP offered you a treatment that’s been proven to halve your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease, reduce the likelihood that you develop cancer by 45%, reduce cancer mortality by 40% and all cause mortality by 41%, you’d jump at it, right? Well, that treatment exists: it’s commuting by bike. And health economists have calculated that every person who commutes by bike saves the NHS £630 per year. In my book, that makes folks on bikes healthcare heroes.

So what’s stopping people? A large scale survey commissioned by the Department for Transport found that 90% were physically capable of cycling, and just over half owned or had access to a bicycle. Almost half of the respondents said that they simply will not cycle on roads, with almost three quarters of women saying that the roads are too dangerous. All very pessimistic. However, a subsequent survey by the cycling charity Sustrans gives us a glimpse of what we can do about that: it found that 65% of those that don’t cycle regularly would be more likely to do so if the roads were made safer by changes like lower speed limits, more segregated cycle lanes and if drivers took more care.

So what? Well, I suggest that as individuals we should push for and welcome more cycle lanes and reductions in speed limits (Kendal Town Council are developing a plan for a default 20mph limit), and, if you’re a driver, think of that cyclist you’re behind as a healthcare hero and a congestion-buster.