As I rode about on a fun ride earlier in the week, I passed a small parade of shops and it got me thinking about the practicality of using the bike for short trips, instead of the car.
Leaving aside the matter of cycling infrastructure on roads which is, of course, often cited as a big deterrent for new/unconfident riders to switch to pedal power for local trips, I wondered about how feasible it is to actually ‘park’ a bike at a destination. It’s all very well and good having wonderful infrastructure (which we don’t, but I can dream) but if you can’t safely leave your bike at the place where you’re going, people will continue to use the car.
Once home, I decided to do a small bit of unscientific research, and looked up four parades of shops that I know about locally. Not one had proper facilities to lock up bicycles. Some had other convenient street furniture that might suffice (e.g., lamp posts, road sign posts, railings) but nothing designed for the purpose. No Sheffield Stands or similar. Others literally had nothing suitable that I could see, unless locking the bike to an A-frame sign counts – hardly an immovable object as required by most insurance policies.
Another shop I looked at – a large Co-op Food supermarket – did have facilities, but hardly of a suitable nature. These were in a secluded area and of the sort where you sandwich a wheel between two metal arms. Not only does this prevent locking the frame, it’s unstable and risks damaging the wheel.
This isn’t to say that nowhere has good facilities. Certainly, a Sainsbury’s Local I checked does and the town centre has a number of Sheffield Stands at most entrances to the pedestrianised area, but what is common to everywhere is that they all have parking facilities of some sort. Whether it be a dedicated carpark, a separate road for the parade with side parking or safe on-street parking, it’s almost guaranteed that popping to the shops by car will result in a convenient, mostly safe place to leave the car. The same cannot always be said for bikes.
I can understand the difficulties from the view of the owner of shops and parades. People travel by car so, parking spaces are a no-brainer. If people can park, they’ll shop. We don’t have the bicycle culture in this country so, putting in cycle parking facilities may well be a waste of money. Of course, this is the chicken and egg scenario though. The infrastructure is bad (all of it, not just stands) so, people don’t cycle. People don’t cycle, so why spend money improving the infrastructure?
At some point, if we’re serious about getting people out of their cars for short trips like like popping to the shops, the doctor’s surgery, the hairdresser etc. then we need to start putting facilities in place to encourage it. We should ensure that all shops have at least one proper, fit for purpose, bike stand available. Something with space to secure the frame of the bicycle, that is immovable as required by insurance. I’m not asking for rows of racks, but a single stand to start with, that can be added to in future if demand rises.
I’m not going to risk my bike by leaving it unsecured and so, if I don’t know with certainty that locking facilities exist at my destination, I’m not going to use my bike to get there.