The first meeting of the Winchester Cycle bus network took place on 6th November at the South Downs Social, kindly hosted by Neil, the owner. A ‘bike bus’ or ‘cycle bus’ is a mixed-ability group of cyclists, following a pre-defined route, where stronger, more-confident cyclists provide a protective cordon to less-confident cyclists. In effect, the experienced riders provide a rolling cycle lane, which can make busy roads less daunting. Bike buses can encourage kids to cycle to school, helping the kids to stay active, reducing transport costs, and decreasing congestion and pollution.
Emma and Tony presented their experiences of running primary and secondary cycle buses in Winchester, illustrating the differences in making this a success for kids of varying ages. This included ideas around how to motivate the children but also importantly how to keep marshals enthused through the positive impact clearly seen in the confidence and independence of children taking part. There were many unintended consequences from starting up the cycle buses, including the post-ride coffee stops to put the world to rights! The underlying message was simple – it is a fun community activity that both kids and marshals enjoy.
This was followed by an open discussion, chaired by John, where views were heard from councillors, general cyclists, parents and people who had turned up to find out more … to see if this was something they could help support.
It has taken 2 years to get this far. Every person that becomes inspired can lead to opening up an opportunity for a whole group of kids to be able to cycle to school. And the model would work equally well for commuters coming into Winchester from surrounding villages.
Although it is thought to be safer if an individual cyclist is part of a mass cycling group there was a concern raised about the potential ramifications if there is an accident: setting back the bike bus initiative and bringing reputational damage to a supporting organisation, such as the council. This reflected a mindset that the bike bus network would like to challenge … and change! A complacency that allows cyclists to take higher risks as individuals so long as there is no direct accountability to the authorities – authorities who should be tackling the lack of safe cycling infrastructure as matter of high urgency.
Overall, there was a general feel-good factor from the meeting because anything that helps communities to feel more empowered to adopt active travel will make people feel better about themselves and where they live.
Paul, a volunteer with the St Bede bike bus said: “Helping out with the bike bus is the best part of my week!” He hopes that St Bede’s success can be replicated at other schools. “All it takes is a parent who wants to make it happen.”
Many useful comments were made and helpful contacts established. If only one or two bike buses are set up in the next year as a result of the meeting it will have been worth it.
But Winchester, although ahead of the game in some respects, in terms of developing bike buses, is far from the point at which the transformational change – seen in cities such as Worcester – can occur. That’s something we aspire to.
Watch this space!
And contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a parent interested in your child(ren) being part of a cycle bus or if you’d like to be added to our list of volunteer marshals.