Make room for us.

Let’s hope fine weather helps a group of Bath parents – who are organizing a mass family bike ride and picnic next Saturday – bring out large numbers to help them make their point. the 22nd of May, the first in Bath & NE Somerset

Frustrated – they say – at the hostility of a minority toward making the streets safer for most people, especially the disabled and children, to walk, scoot, or cycle, Bath parents Tom Garstin, Saskia Heijltjes and Wendy Zakiewicz have decided to remind the council of the demand for, and their promise to give us, people-friendly streets.

They are organising Bath’s first Kidical Mass family bike ride with a start point at 11 am in Orange Grove.

They’re calling on the new council cabinet to keep its promises and match the leadership of their predecessors who made such great progress in listening to and hearing the majority of residents who want action to improve everyone’s lives.

Saskia said: “As a parent I’m concerned about the safety of my children as well as for myself when I cycle around town. We need safer infrastructure to protect us vulnerable road users. Paint on the road is not enough; comprehensive research has shown that this is not effective. I strongly urge the current council to create more segregated cycle routes so that more people can feel safe enough to ditch their cars for short trips and cycle instead.”

“This is why I will be riding in the first Kidical Mass in Bath: to show everyone that I want safe spaces to cycle, and I want my children to be able to cycle safely too. They are young now, but I want a future where they’re able to cycle safely to the park, to the swimming pool and to secondary school; this should not be an unrealistic dream.”

Over 36,000, 38%, of the population are under 25, and most of them don’t have a car, this includes around 15,000, 16%, who are under 17 and have no independent means of transport at all. Yet we keep prioritizing our streets only for those that are old enough and can afford to own and run a private car. The car has given greater freedom and choice to some, but it has stripped it away from everyone else: families, the disabled, the less well off, and children.

We’ve all experienced the health benefits of less traffic and quieter, safer, streets for cycling and walking because of COVID-19, and we’ve also had a glimpse of what it might feel like to be a young person in a UK city. We didn’t like being trapped in our homes through lockdowns for just a few weeks, but to a young person, especially children, that’s their reality all the time.

That’s not fair or right, our children deserve the health, physical and mental, that we had – being able to, independently, enjoy our city and surroundings without fear of being hit by a car or breathing in their toxic fumes.

In 2016 the University of Bath and Transition Larkhall, led by Cllr Joanna Wright, produced the Community Matters 2016-2017 study[i] revealing that there were 4,041 private school children in BathNES, and they were almost twice as likely to be driven to school versus the 10,081 state school pupils who were twice as likely to walk. Yet our streets prioritize cars for the wealthier at the cost of those that have to, choose to, or want to walk.

Our schools need to remove all cars from their vicinity, we all know the fumes are especially harmful to children causing lung, mental health, and brain damage to our most vulnerable[ii] – the irony being that being inside a car is even worse, so the “school run” is especially lethal.

It is vital that our biggest employers and commuter destinations (the Royal United Hospital, University of Bath, and Bath Spa University) also allow people to choose healthier, lower pollution, transport options – walking, wheeling, or cycling. Employers are already taking steps towards this because they see the obvious health benefits. Our council has a duty to ensure the roads are redesigned to allow them to begin this shift away from private car use.

The council’s 2019 Climate Emergency Study[iii] highlighted the social inequity and injustice of climate change, with wealthier areas such as Bathwick, Combe Down, Lansdowne, and Widcombe and Lyncombe having up to seven times the private car emissions and significantly more car ownership than the less well-off areas.

And, during the recent consultation on active travel, we’ve seen that the most hostile, misleading, and ill-informed opposition has come from a very small minority, including some councillors, in the wealthiest areas of Bathwick, Widcombe and Lyncombe where car use and ownership are amongst the highest.

The current council received a landslide win, 42,682 votes, an 18.7% swing, and a clear 44.7% majority; an unambiguous mandate to rapidly deliver liveable streets, cleaner air, and excellent walking, wheeling, and cycling facilities that serve the entire community. Yet, the new council cabinet is withholding the consultation results for no good reason, they will have known whether it was in favour or against in March. And we’ve all heard that the leader called for the plans to be dumped – prioritizing vocal affluent areas, no matter the cost to the rest of the 97,000 residents of Bath.

The Government has made their position very clear. All cities must create high standard routes that prioritize walking, wheeling, and cycling[iv]:

England Will be a Great Walking and Cycling Nation

Places will be truly walkable. A travel revolution in our streets, towns and communities will have made cycling a mass form of transit. Cycling and walking will be the natural first choice for many journeys with half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030.”

They’re providing funding only for schemes that meet strict criteria[v] that enable people to break free of their car-dependency and remove private cars from roads. This has evidenced benefits for:

  • Health, physical inactivity cost the NHS £8.2 bn a year, and 20 minutes exercise a day reduces the risk of depression by 31%.
  • The economy and business recovery, cycling contributes £5.4 bn and supports 64,000 jobs, and retailers overestimate the number of customers that drive by 100%.
  • social equity, it includes the young and those who cannot afford to own and run a car.
  • It is a critical part of meeting our demanding climate emissions targets, with transport, in BathNES being the single biggest, 29%, source of our Greenhouse Gas emissions and private car use the main culprit.

The arguments being used against the schemes in Bath are based on a, very human, fear of change, worsened by myths, and forget the needs and wishes of the rest of the community[vi]

As Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath specializing in perceptions and behaviour in relation to climate change, energy and transport recently commented: “It [active travel] is one of the cheapest ways to improve everyone’s health – it tackles air quality and gets people moving and at a time when our NHS has been under considerable pressure anything we can do to be healthier is a good thing.”[vii]

The route for Saturday’s ride.

The organisers say they’ve already had a great response to this event at fairy short notice and we’re encouraging as many families as possible to come and lend their voice to this call to the council to listen to all the residents, not just the noisy ones.

People should meet at 11:00, on Saturday the 22nd of May, on Orange Grove behind the Abbey and enjoy a gentle, flat, thirty-minute ride through town and end in Henrietta Park for a picnic (remember your 20p coins for the public loo!)