SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
TDA Reports From The Field: Cycling Unlocked In London
Beth Jones worked with TDA Global Cycling as the medic on the 2019 Hippie Trail Cycling Tour.
In March 2019, I was approaching the end of a remarkable 6-week cycle through India as the tour medic on TDA’s Hippie Trail. As we headed south, I could feel Goa getting closer; the landscape was changing, the climate growing warmer, palm trees were sprouting up and the food was becoming noticeably more coconut and fish-based. Fast forward to March 2020, and life was very different: I was back home and working as a doctor in a central London hospital, not knowing that the prime minister would soon be admitted to our intensive care. For the moment I was watching with horror as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded across the world and swept steadily closer to the UK.
On March 23rd, our lockdown began. We could only go out to buy groceries or medicines, or to help the vulnerable with theirs. Essential workers could go to work, but should avoid using public transport. This included me. I suddenly felt strangely grateful to be able to leave the house every day, to see colleagues and get a dose of fresh air and exercise during my two-wheeled commute; having always been a cyclist, I felt more deeply than ever the freedom it gave me. Finally, and thankfully, we could exercise outdoors alone once a day.
This resulted in a surge in walking, running, and best of all cycling across the country. With bike shops among the few ‘essential’ businesses allowed to stay open, bike sales soared, repair slots booked up weeks ahead and queues trailed down the street. Thousands of people discovered the independence cycling provides, as it enables them to avoid crowded buses and trains to safely make essential journeys they couldn’t otherwise make. London’s bike rental scheme has been made free to healthcare workers, acknowledging that in contrast to pre-COVID times, cycling is the new safe way to commute; it allows social distancing, while the significant reduction in road traffic mitigates the risk of accidents or pollution.
Others are using cycling to take their daily exercise. It encourages innovation, as the cancellation of club rides and races means people are taking on virtual challenges and socially distanced relay rides. It also builds new connections – when we could only exercise with members of our own household, I saw more parents out cycling with their children than ever before.
This new role for cycling didn’t require much adjustment from me, but my life changed in other ways. I was asked to move to the Emergency Department, working long shifts throughout the day and night (although our hospital generally coped well and wasn’t overrun). High fences suddenly sprung up around the hospital grounds to keep out reporters, cameras and unwelcome visitors: the Prime Minister had been admitted.
This served as a wake-up call at an individual and national level. The PM, who had previously been healthy, blamed his weight for his vulnerability to the virus. After he recovered, he resolved to tackle our nation’s obesity crisis: he announced that this could be a ‘golden age for cycling’ and pledged £250 million in emergency funding for active transport infrastructure. This could include pop-up cycle lanes and streets closed to all traffic except for bikes and buses, which I’ve already been enjoying here in London. This aims to reduce overcrowding on public transport as lockdown lifts, and make for ‘happier and healthier citizens’ in the long term.
I’m looking forward to the world reopening, and I truly hope that new cyclists keep pedalling. But if your bike broke down, you wouldn’t repair it with worn-out tyres and a rusty chain: we need to rebuild society better than before, with parts that will last. This starts with improved cycling infrastructure, to allow people to become safe and confident cyclists and to strengthen our national immune system.
This blog is part of our ongoing initiative TDA Community News. Learn more about how you can contribute here.
Leave a Comment for "TDA Reports From The Field: Cycling Unlocked In London"