The Northern Powerhouse agenda has the potential to change the economic path of the North of England. Many previous attempts haven’t managed to deliver the scale of change required. Ultimately, to really shift the path of the North’s economy we need some big ideas to move us forward.
I like to start by looking at what others do around the world. For this reason it's sensible to start in the Netherlands when talking about cycling. The Netherlands’ cycle network is the envy of the world and whilst the flat topography is a huge advantage; the infrastructure is key. This includes segregated bicycle tracks, parking and changing facilities. I believe that the North of England has the potential to create a cycle network that could radically alter how people travel to work, school and for leisure along with reducing congestion and improving quality of life.
The North of England is a diverse geographic area. However, there are several intra-urban linkages which could benefit from improved cycle infrastructure. Key urban areas in the North are close enough to each other to have significant cycling movements between them, for example Newcastle to Sunderland, Bradford to Leeds, Barnsley to Sheffield. If you are reading this and are familiar with the congestion between Manchester and Warrington, primarily on the M60 and M62, you may want to consider how congestion could reduce if the 18 mile route between Manchester and Warrington was easier to cycle. In many parts of the North, there is existing infrastructure such as canals, old railway lines and roads, which could be adapted to improve the cycle network and provide a viable option for commuters.
What’s the big deal about bikes?
The health benefits from cycling are well known but understated. As someone who is comparative late comer to cycling, the health benefits are striking. Cycling is low impact, a cardiovascular workout and is reported to reduce stress. These are seen to be a key reasons cycling prevents around 11,000 deaths each year in the Netherlands and Dutch people have half a year longer life expectancy than the average European. There are also benefits of school children cycling, with strong cycle networks pointing to their lower rates of obesity, better performance in sports and improved attendance levels.
The economic benefits are also calculated to outweigh investment. A reported €0.5 billion investment per year by the Dutch government on road and parking infrastructure for cycling estimated to yield total economic health benefits of €19 billion per year, linked to health, job and environmental benefits. This goes back to the idea that if you focus on the outcome you may decide on some surprising outputs to achieve it.
The North has already shown that it can host the ‘Tour de France’, maybe now it’s time we designed and created a cycle network, linked with the wider transport infrastructure to support local people, businesses and the economy in the North of England.