Cycling around Liverpool: The city region’s success story
Words by Matthew Smith
From sprawling facilities in its boroughs, distinct city centre initiatives and spectacular views and attractions, the Liverpool City Region has potential for those of all ages and abilities to participate in a sport which has enjoyed a recent meteoric rise in popularity – cycling.
YM Liverpool explores the reasons behind the region’s cycling success and asks Olympic champion Chris Boardman MBE how improvements can be made to ensure cyclists can make the most of ITs facilities and infrastructure.
Cycling has enjoyed a remarkable rise in popularity in recent years. Much of its considerable appeal stems from its affordability, convenience, accessibility, and connectivity relative to other modes of transport.
In an attempt to boost cycling journeys in the city by 10% by 2025, Liverpool City Council has developed an extensive 12-year ‘Cycling Revolution’ pledge. It’s aims to increase the number of people cycling once a week from 15,000 to 45,000 by 2017, alongside investment in on-road infrastructure and an increase in the number of bike safety schemes provided at local schools.
Princes Park roundabout has been one such destination chosen for investment – with improved signage and better road markings leading to a 35% increase in bike usage at the junction. This follows the installation of cycle paths on Leeds Street, connecting the road directly to the commercial district.
“With the money we are spending on improving roads in the city, we aim to put Liverpool at the forefront of building sustainable transport into everyday life, allowing us to improve the health and fitness of local people and visitors,” explains a council spokesperson.
As a result of the improvements the council observed an 11.9% increase in cycling across the region in the 12-month period up to March 2014, and a 62% increase since 2006.
Local schools are also reaping the benefits. Bikeability, a cycle training initiative aimed at improving children’s road cycling skills, has been offered free to all primary school pupils in an attempt to increase the amount of children cycling. In 2015, over 3,000 Liverpool pupils took part.
The council is keen to stress the importance of organised events such as the annual Sky Ride, which has attracted tens of thousands of participants and takes place in Sefton Park this month.
The region boasts a range of facilities which provide opportunities for all ages and abilities to engage with the sport.
Sefton Council’s facilities include a 400m athletics track, a £300,000 1km cycling circuit and a fitness studio which forms part of the £5.5m Litherland Sports Park.
Elsewhere in the region, British Cycling, NHS Knowsley and Sports England have funded a £1.4m facility in Knowsley, which includes a 400m velodrome and BMX track.
Regional initiatives have also been crucial in determining bike usage. In 2014, Liverpool City Council launched the citybike scheme which is now the UK’s largest public bike hire initiative outside of London, with up to 1,000 bikes in circulation across 140 locations. To date 850,000 miles have been covered by 180,000 hires.
“I got involved with city bikes as I saw it as one of the tools which would inspire people to get around this wonderful city on two wheels.”
Hoylake-born Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman MBE was influential in helping to establish the citybike scheme in his home region.
“I got involved in setting up the citybike scheme in Liverpool as I saw it as one of the tools – albeit a lesser one – which would inspire people to get around this wonderful riverside city on two wheels,” says Chris.
It was hoped that the citybike scheme would also encourage a greater provision of infrastructure to support cyclists.
“I thought visible and easily accessible bikes would act as a catalyst for the city’s leaders to invest in cycling as a viable way of getting around by producing joined-up protected space,” he adds.
Borne out of the region’s increased interest in the sport, Ryde coffee house has sprung up in The Courtyard of Cains Brewery Village. Nestled next to Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, Ryde blends the unique style of a conventional coffee shop with a bike workshop and small retail outlet.
Run by a trio of former Bikeability instructors; Don Maclean, Ian Magill and Natasha Rocks, the owners share a mutual love of cycling.
“If people have easier access to bikes there is a greater chance they will use them,” says Don.
As a Bikeability instructor, Don has first-hand experience of how the scheme encourages participation, but cites the importance of further initiatives to ensure sustainable growth.
“Providing young people with the facilities and information to increase their skills and awareness means there is a greater chance they will ride as an adult, which can only be a good thing.”
Don credits the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Paralympic achievements and Team Sky’s Tour de France success, together with the region’s attractions, as driving the recent upswing.
As for the future, Chris feels the city region still has the capacity to benefit from further rounds of productive investment, providing the funds are allocated to enhance safety.
“The people we want to attract are current non-cyclists, just normal people doing normal things in normal clothes, but these people won’t get out of their cars unless they feel safe.”
Chris reveals that he is saddened by what he sees as a lack of vision in creating safe space to cycle in Liverpool and in Wirral, where he lives.
“Liverpool city leaders, it’s over to you, what do you want your city to be like in the future for our kids, a place for people or a place for traffic?”
The city region offers a diverse set of on-road and off-road routes, ranging from rural and semi-rural to fully urbanised areas.
Going for gold!
On the border of the city region, Sir Bradley Wiggins has competed several times in Bickerstaffe’s 10-mile time trial event. The local region is also a particular training hotspot for some of the nation’s other professional cyclists, including Wirral’s own Stephen Cummings who has recently competed in the men’s Olympic Road Race and the 2016 Tour de France.
The Liverpool Loop Line forms part of the award-winning Trans Pennine Trail and is a popular destination for less experienced riders and families. Tracing the abandoned British Rail track running from Halewood to Aintree, the route offers 13 miles of flat terrain through a ‘green corridor’ around East Liverpool.
The five mile route starting from the Liver Building along Otterspool Promenade takes in stunning views of the River Mersey and beyond. Elsewhere in the region, Sefton and Calderstones Park, the Mersey Forest, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, Formby and Crosby beach, the Cheshire Lines and Wirral all provide picturesque settings for a relaxed ride.