As Hull pre­pares to be the City of Cul­ture for 2017, Rob Ains­ley hopes that it doesn’t short-change cy­cling

Cycling Plus - - FIRST RIDE -

I’m from Hull. So you’re not al­lowed to make snide jokes about it be­ing City of Cul­ture 2017. That’s my job. Sure, we haven’t given the world many great writ­ers, painters or com­posers. We’re more about ev­ery­daylife cul­ture. We per­fected the boiled sweet, flat screen TV and but­ter­fly stroke. We de­vised the rules of foot­ball, the Venn di­a­gram and Elasto­plast. So if you fall and graze your knee, be grate­ful: thanks to us, you can use ele­men­tary set the­ory to de­cide the treat­ment.

Hull had a big tra­di­tion of cy­cling be­tween the wars – World War One and Two, that is, not Cod. Ev­ery­body biked to the docks to work. When glum ge­nius Philip Larkin moved there to be a recluse poet in the 1950s, he fa­mously noted it was ‘nice & flat for cy­cling – that’s about the best I can say’. I learned to ride there, so I was un­likely to be a climber.

When the Hum­ber Bridge was built in the 1970s, it in­cluded cy­cle tracks. Though over­taken sub­se­quently by longer bridges round the world, none of them al­low bikes. We still have the long­est in the world you can pedal across. Not that there’s ac­tu­ally any­thing on the other side.

Even our City of Cul­ture bid it­self, made in 2013, was de­liv­ered on two bikes. (De­liv­eroo’s just started in Hull: its rid­ers would have got it there for just £2.50, and still hot.) The press re­leases promised a ‘car­ni­val of pedal power’, bikes sym­bol­is­ing a ‘green revo­lu­tion’.

But there’s a prob­lem. Cy­cling is strug­gling in Hull. In 2001, the Cen­sus says, 12 per cent of com­muters there went by bike. In 2011, it had plum­meted to 8 per cent. It’s still in the cy­cling cities top 10, but only just.

It’s sim­i­lar in most other UK cities. How­ever busy the coun­try lanes might be with Sun­day club rid­ers, town cen­tres are be­ing ped­alled less. Ev­ery­day cy­cling is low, with modal share barely 2 per cent.

There are ex­cep­tions. Cam­bridge went from 25 to 29 per cent in the same pe­riod. Bris­tol, Brighton, Ox­ford and cen­tral Lon­don all rose too. But they’re boom­ing economies with sat­u­rated roads; much faster by bike than car to your new of­fice job or lab post. Hull’s fish­ing-bo­nanza years fin­ished decades ago; now peo­ple are driv­ing to the Job Cen­tre in­stead.

Derry (‘Derry- stroke- Lon­don­derry’ as it’s usu­ally an­nounced, to ap­pease repub­li­cans and loy­al­ists) was City of Cul­ture in 2013. They got a splen­did, and use­ful, pedes­trian and cy­cling bridge. Noth­ing quite so im­pres­sive for us (‘Hull- stroke- Kingston-upon-Hull’ per­haps, to ap­pease repub­li­cans and roy­al­ists). We’re promised bet­ter city cen­tre ac­cess, a 1km closed-loop sports­cen­tre track, good new traf­fic-free routes along the prom­e­nade and out to the Ferry Ter­mi­nal... We may not be on a cy­cling par with Am­s­ter­dam yet, but at least it’s eas­ier to get the ferry there.

I hope these City of Cul­ture plans don’t short-change cy­clists. Be­cause there’s a big in­ter­sect in the Venn di­a­gram be­tween Hull’s social cul­ture and cy­cling cul­ture. A cheery kind of all-in-this-to­gether in­de­pen­dence, verg­ing on the up-yours. No big-bud­get ex­trav­a­gance; we take just what we need. An un­pre­ten­tious plea­sure in the busi­ness of ev­ery­day life, of fun and friends and food and drink. Hull’s a trusty town bike, not a £5k car­bon-frame racer.

I don’t care much about Hull’s artis­tic legacy from this year. You can make all the gags you like about the only cul­ture be­ing in the close-to-sell-by yo­ghurt in Booth­ferry Road Aldi. City of Cul­ture is about social and eco­nomic re­gen­er­a­tion.

So what I want is for its cy­cling to start grow­ing again, there and ev­ery­where else. I’ll be pes­ter­ing city and county coun­cils even more over in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties. Be­cause more ev­ery­day cy­cling, the A-to-B stuff, means win-win-win: less pol­lu­tion, less con­ges­tion, friend­lier pub­lic spa­ces, and health­ier, hap­pier peo­ple. Health­ier pub­lic fi­nances too. A city with­out a thriv­ing cy­cling cul­ture is not a city of cul­ture for me. Will Hull 2017 de­liver on those prom­ises about bikes and green revolutions? Well... I hope they pleas­antly sur­prise me. Then I can write my Book­er­prize-win­ning novel about fish, cy­cling and Elasto­plast, and re­ally put Hull on the cul­tural map.

How­ever busy the coun­try lanes might be with Sun­day club rid­ers, town cen­tres are be­ing ped­alled less



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