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Cycling in the age of social distancing: Advice from Camcycle for Cambridge cyclists

How has the Covid-19 outbreak affected cyclists? Cambridgeshire police say there are no specific rules, but a spokesperson notes: “The normal two-metre social distancing should be adhered to.

“All guidance regarding social distancing and whether you are required to wear protective masks can be found on the Public Health England website.”

The Public Health England website reiterates this, advising: “Where possible, try to maintain social distancing when you walk or cycle, for example when approaching or passing other pedestrians or waiting at crossings and traffic lights.

“Where using bikes - private, docked or dockless - wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or sanitise your hands before and after cycling.”

But this leaves plenty of questions. For example, how can you overtake someone and stay two metres away from them without getting run over by a car?

We asked Camcycle’s communications and community officer, Anna Williams, for advice.

How do we observe social distancing while cycling?

“National charity Cycling UK advises that when overtaking walkers or slower-moving cyclists, you should leave plenty of space and allow time before pulling in again, so that you’re not leaving them in your slipstream. However, if you are concerned about being overtaken too closely by another cyclist, it’s worth remembering that the risk of catching coronavirus from a short, outdoor interaction is extremely low, which is why the government has relaxed restrictions on outdoor activities.

“Where cycle routes are narrow or involve being passed closely by speeding motor vehicles, it may be worth investigating alternative options – the journey planning tool CycleStreets is useful for comparing routes. The lack of alternatives in many locations is one of the reasons why Camcycle is asking the county council to act quickly to deliver temporary spaces for safer walking and cycling as part of our Spaces to Breathe campaign.”

What’s your advice on wearing masks, sunglasses or other kit?

“No special protective equipment is required for cycling outdoors. The UK government recommends that masks should be worn in enclosed places where it is hard to keep two metres away from others, such as on public transport or in certain shops, but not for outdoor exercise or in schools or offices. If you do choose to wear a mask, you should use a cloth face covering (eg a scarf or homemade mask) to avoid reducing the number of masks available to healthcare workers. You should also follow current guidelines on removing and washing the mask.

“Sunglasses are always a good idea to protect your eyes when the sun is shining brightly in the way we have been enjoying lately. They can also help stop grit from kicking up into your eyes, which is handy if you decide to explore some less maintained routes. It has been reported that sunglasses (and spectacles) may offer an additional layer of protection against the virus as one of the ways it can enter the body is through the eyes, and they may help prevent you rubbing your eyes or touching your face too. Specsavers recommends using a glasses cleaning liquid or diluted pH neutral hand wash to disinfect your glasses.”

Executive director Roxanne De Beaux, left, and communications & community officer Anna Williams of Camcyle. Picture: Keith Heppell
Executive director Roxanne De Beaux, left, and communications & community officer Anna Williams of Camcyle. Picture: Keith Heppell

In busy places like Trinity Street or on King’s Parade, should you dismount? And what of Cambridge’s narrowest streets?

“Use your discretion in these circumstances – remember that dismounting and pushing a cycle takes up more space than riding it. People should always ride legally and act considerately to other road users – if an area is narrow and it is not possible to pass another person walking or cycling without getting too close to them, slow down and wait until you reach an area where it is safe to do so.”

Should there be restrictions on cyclists in the historic city centre to provide more space for pedestrians?

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that the post-lockdown period must be a ‘golden age of cycling’, with people walking and cycling for as many journeys as possible. To encourage more people to switch some of their journeys from driving, it must be as easy as possible to make them using active travel options. This means local authorities must consider all types of journey – including routes to school and the shops – as well as more popular commuter routes.

“When planning temporary measures for the city centre, it will be important to consider the space requirements for those walking, cycling and using mobility aids as well as areas for people to queue outside shops.

“The historic centre of Cambridge is limited in size, but is also an essential and safe link between surrounding areas. Solutions may involve some limitations for all road users, but should ensure that children can still cycle through the area to school and that people can load up a trailer or cargo bike at the market.”

Cycling on King's Parade is unlikely to remain like this forever. Picture: Camcycle
Cycling on King's Parade is unlikely to remain like this forever. Picture: Camcycle

What new cycle lanes can we look forward to?

“On May 21, Cambridgeshire County Council announced a draft list of temporary measures which included new cycle lanes on Chesterton Road, Milton High Street, Girton Road and King’s Hedges Road. A potential new cycle lane is also suggested for Trumpington Street to King’s Parade.

“Work is under way on longer-term projects such as the cross-city Chisholm Trail and has restarted this month on the Dutch-style roundabout at Queen Edith’s Way and new cycleways on Histon Road.

The city is slowly becoming more cycle-friendly and it’s been great to see many new people taking to their bikes recently.”

What should be the priority when government money arrives in Cambridge to improve conditions for cyclists?

“The Greater Cambridge Partnership has recently been awarded up to £400m of funding for its programmes in the region, which include sustainable transport schemes such as the Chisholm Trail.

“Key routes including Histon Road, Milton Road and Madingley Road will be improved for cyclists and we’d like to see swift progress on the much-needed Greenway routes linking Cambridge with surrounding villages.

“The Combined Authority is lobbying government for the region’s share of a £250m pot for temporary schemes for safer walking and cycling, and Camcycle would like to see this allocated using a network-first approach which looks at the corridors needed for safer journeys to work, school and local shops.

“The government has also just announced local authority grants for e-cargo bikes which could be used to help businesses switch some deliveries to cycling. Cambridgeshire County Council’s grant is one of the biggest in the country, with funding for 30 electric-assist cargo cycles.”

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