We can’t become a carfree household… But we have managed to convert our shorter journeys to cycling.
At the beginning of 2020 I embarked upon a journey to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. It began with trying to reduce our plastic waste. We switched from endless plastic milk bottles to milk delivery in glass bottles. I gradually worked through our kitchen and bathroom products, moving to refills or ‘zero waste’ options. I became practised in never leaving the house without my reusable coffee cup and a refillable water bottle.
However, at the time I was also driving a huge number of miles in my car. Most days I drove my youngest (then age 3) 1 mile down the road to nursery, my oldest (age 5) 1.5 miles up to school and then onto Horsham and back for work. Then there were all of the trips to swimming lessons, music lessons, children’s parties, the supermarket and trips into town.
Once a week I drove to Shoreham on a Monday night for my job conducting a choir. The rest of the time I was touring with my theatre company, driving the set and performers all over the country. It felt pointless to be worrying about my coffee cup and then using my petrol car so heavily. But I didn’t feel I had any choice. I just accepted I couldn’t do anything about it.
On Monday 16th March 2020 I was on my way back from work. I was due to pack the car with the theatre set that evening ready for shows early the next morning. I was driving down the A27 when Boris Johnson announced that theatres would be closing. A week later the country went into lockdown.
Like so many of us, my life changed overnight. The car remained parked on our road for days at a time and the whole pace of life slowed. There was time to contemplate doing things differently. The temporary cycle lane on the Old Shoreham Road popped up almost overnight, providing us with a safe route from our doorstep all the way into town.
We didn’t own any bikes at the time. I hadn’t ridden for years and wasn’t sure how I would get on. I have a mild neurological condition which causes weakness in my hands and feet and I am neither fit nor sporty. My husband was a nervous cyclist and had always been terrified of cycling on the road.
We started borrowing BTN Bike share bikes for short journeys and discovered we both really enjoyed cycling. We spent a happy summer’s day hiring a bike with a child seat from the seafront and cycled to the marina and back. We bought a cheap standard road bike and before long my husband was using it to get to work every day, wanting to avoid the bus at that point in the pandemic. We started thinking about how we could transport the children by bike and I went to try out an e-bike. It was so much fun and I was instantly hooked.
Before long we made a commitment to cycle all journeys within Brighton and Hove wherever possible. It’s not a big city and e-bikes allow us to tackle the hills. We have managed to shift lots of our journeys away from the car. Both children are now at the same school a mile up the road so that journey is easy on foot. We do the supermarket shop by bike and have no problem carrying a large family shop. Trips into town we do as a family by bike. This summer I’ve even managed to switch my weekly commute to Shoreham from car to bike. I never thought I would be able to manage a 10 mile round trip but I can do it now and I love it!
I still drive around the country for theatre shows. There’s no alternative at the moment. I also can’t get to my work in Horsham any other way than by car. It’s too far to cycle and there’s no good train route. I now make this journey far less often, using video conferencing for meetings and only travelling to lead choirs and projects. I also struggle with the children’s weekly swimming lesson. There’s no good direct, safe route so I still often take the car despite it being only a mile down the road.
We can’t become a carfree household and I’m reliant on the car for much of my work. But we have managed to convert our shorter journeys to cycling. These are the most polluting. According to the ONS – ‘Making short journeys by car causes more pollutants as catalytic converters designed to reduce these pollutants do not work effectively on trips under 5 miles’.
More people switching journeys around our city to walking, cycling and public transport will reduce air pollution, alleviate congestion and make our city a much nicer place to live. It’s also good for your health and great fun! Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can. You don’t have to be carless to cycle more.